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

Monday, April 9, 2018

Interview with MASSCreative's Matt Wilson, Part II

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

The Interview with Matt Wilson, Part II

Barry: Storytelling, or data arguments. Where ought the emphasis—or balance if you will—lie to be effective with elected officials? What are the most effective tools you use to make the case to elected officials? Political messaging has become increasingly specialized to specific target audiences. How adept and sophisticated at that are we?

Matt:  MASSCreative works to shift the prevailing narrative that political leaders believe that the arts are nice, but not necessary. Our message is that the arts are both nice and necessary. To convey this message and influence decision makers, we use both data and storytelling.

We collect stories in the field about the impact of the arts on individuals, families, schools, businesses, public health, and our broader communities. These stories make the case that art, culture and creativity is a public good deserving of public support. We also rely on economic data. The Americans for Arts Economic Prosperity 5 report provides figures on the impact that the arts has on jobs and the local economy. MASSCreative’s experience has shown that this data is helpful when talking to legislators and political leaders who often think in an economic frame. While data has been helpful in discussions with decision makers, storytelling has been more effective in building support with the field and grassroots advocates.

MASSCreative’s core narrative was adapted from The Arts Ripple Effect, which was written in 2010. Prepared by the Topos Partnership for the Cincinnati Fine Arts Fund, the report focused on telling stories about the impact of arts and creativity as a vital asset to the broader society. This narrative has been further supplemented by the ongoing Creating Connections initiative sponsored by Arts Midwest. This research shows the importance of the connections that creative expression provides for individuals and communities. To build broad-based support of the arts supporters, it is these stories that motivate and engage the public to the sector.

Barry: Successful lobbying is built on public support for the cause. How do we move the needle of public support for our advocacy efforts? And is that a vastly different challenge depending on the territory?

Matt:  Politicians determine their priorities from two factors. First, they need to be convinced on the merits of the issue. It’s your job to convince them that the arts matter. Second, political leaders need to be convinced that supporting the arts will help them politically. They need to know that a vote for the arts is supported by the voters and that it will help them come election time. So, it’s also your job to educate arts voters and make sure they get to the polls. The arts sector needs to be loved for its work and feared for its political strength.

One of the clear challenges facing the community is that there is a broad, yet shallow level of support for the arts and creative community. Virtually everyone is an arts supporter, yet very few are champions who are willing to go to the mat for the sector.

Saul Alinsky, one of the great political organizers from the ‘60s and ‘70s, says that to make change, you have got to create a little heat, a little friction, a little uncomfortable-ness. Many in the arts community are uncomfortable with putting pressure on decision makers and creating tension. Leaders need to be able to say, “Yes, I like you, but you have got to do a little bit more? You cannot just say you like us; you have to be a champion.” Through its public education and advocacy, MASSCreative works to create that heat and that friction.

Barry: Besides funding, what are the most critical arts related issues for which the sector ought to be advocating, and what trends do you see over the next few years?

Matt:  Policy development is key. Just look at what California has done with the Arts in Corrections program. I think it’s going to be critical for the arts sector to demonstrate how it can contribute solutions to current socioeconomic issues. For example, how can the sector build healthy and vibrant communities with cultural institution and artist as center pieces? How can it drive a strong economy fueled with creative workers? How can it strengthen public education by ensuring arts education is a core part of the system? How can it build a diverse, equitable and inclusive community with arts and creativity as a catalyst?

It also needs to look for opportunities to have a positive impact on healthcare, public safety, veteran services, elder services, youth development, substance use, and other areas of concern.

Looking ahead, the sector also needs to figure out what level of government to focus on. While the chaos in DC needs attention, it is unclear on how much the community can move the needle in the Congress or White House. For MASSCreative, state agencies and municipalities provide better opportunities for real change. Advocacy groups need to look at their states and decide whether a state or local focus is the priority.

Barry: How do we mobilize the millions of artists in the country to join our advocacy efforts? Why has there been so little progress in that area?

Matt:  When I first took this job, many folks in the sector warned me that it would be like herding cats. “You’ll never be able to organize artists.” Those predictions have proven false. The passion I see every day from working artists and arts supporters is equal to what I saw working with people trying to clean up the environment or expand access to healthcare. The problem, from the state, has been that many artists and arts supporters don’t know how to engage effectively in the political process. And just like families dealing with health issues related to pollution, they need opportunities and structure, from advocacy organizations, to tell their story to their elected representatives. That is the essence of any advocacy organization – to craft campaigns and provide opportunities for people to tell their stories.

Barry: The arts have long sought effective partnerships with business, the entertainment community and with other government agencies. Arguably, considerable progress has been made in establishing those connections via programs in which the arts are a component - e.g., arts and health, arts and prisons, et. al. How do we expand on that direction and bring it to a larger scale? Again, where can / should the leadership essential to those efforts come from?

Matt:  As much as we collaborate with other organizations—the best example would be our work with education organizations who partners with us to push for universal access to sequential arts education from grades K-12—we learned a valuable lesson during last year’s budget campaign: We need strong political partners.

Last year, the Massachusetts governor vetoed the arts budget. It was the third year in a row in which he did so. The campaign to override the veto was successful. But it consisted almost exclusively of member of the arts community. We didn’t have the community-development folks, or the healthcare community, or even the education advocates working on our behalf. It was clear to us that if we want their help, we need to look beyond our own agenda and help them. The arts sector really needs to create partnerships to help create coalitions with mutual interests. By adding the arts sector’s support to other’s causes and initiatives, it is much more likely to receive reciprocal help on its own issues

So, we’re expanding our campaign platform to explore policy initiatives on how arts and creativity must be a key part of our economic and education systems and is a driver to building more vibrant, healthy, connected and equitable communities. An ongoing executive branch “policy audit” will look at existing programs in the current Administration to identify opportunities for the arts and creative sector to be an asset for the government to address issues of concern. Through identifying these opportunities, the sector can partner up with advocates outside the arts sector on campaign work.

Barry: How do we make advocacy training an integral part of the education and preparation of every single upcoming future arts manager? To what extent do you see that kind of professional development integrated into University Arts Management curriculum?

Matt:  University Arts Administration programs regularly bring MASSCreative into their classrooms to introduce and engage their students in arts advocacy. The sector needs to make sure that administrators know that public education and advocacy for the arts and creative sector is part of their jobs.

The sector can do more to build a more comprehensive curricula and training for students that helps them better understand the political process, where arts and creativity fits in the governmental structure, and strategies and tactics that can be used to mobilize institutions and individuals as effective advocates for the arts.

The sector also need boards and staff to imbed arts advocacy in the missions of its institutions. For the sector to thrive, artists and institutions need to be thinking and acting about the broader health of the sector. Time and resources need to be dedicated to this work.

Barry: Should arts organizations do more to involve their members, supporters, audiences and volunteers in being political? How best to get over any reluctance by organizations to do that?

Matt:  Grassroots movements create change. When ordinary people who have a passion to improve their community come together and a thoughtful and strategic plan for change is implemented, things start to change. It can be seen on a grand level such as the women’s and civil rights movement or the LGBTQ and environmental movements. Or it can be on a more local level, when a neighborhood comes together to put a stop sign at the end of their street.

The arts sector has the capacity to mobilize its leaders, supporters and partners into a powerful voice for change. Cultural institutions need to engage their boards of directors, staff, donors, and the vast audiences that embrace their work in campaigns for change. When in front of live audiences, when emotions are real, and passions are high, institution leaders should provide the opportunity for audiences to act. Why not send a text to the Governor or a state representative to take that vote in favor of the arts? When a vote on the state arts budget is imminent, they should send an email (not to fundraise or recruit for a show) to encourage their supporters to send a quick message to their state senator to support increases in the budget. When a public art project is being proposed down the street, a museum can urge attendees to send a postcard to the Mayor asking her to support the installation.

These actions don’t need to take away from the artistic beauty or essence of the show. It should only add. It will help supporters and audiences realize that the work is part of a broader community and a broader movement to bring more vibrancy and connection to the area. It will show to the organization’s network that not only is the institution’s work important, but that the creative health of the broader community is significant.

A nonprofit institution can engage in advocacy – a 501c3 organization can spend a limited amount of time and resources on advocacy. Not only will it help the broader community, but it will help the institution in the short and long run. The sector needs to dive into political activity. Everything is inherently political, and not only can the sector be engaged in political activity, it has to be. Arts advocacy groups like MASSCreative help train and engage the leaders and supporters of the sector in political action.

Note:  For a summary discussion of the differences in definition, and the applicable rules for nonprofits, to advocate and to lobby, click here for a Grantmakers in the Arts Podcast on the subject.  Nonprofits can do both, and should.

Barry: In an interview I did recently with Sofia Klatzker, she mentioned that she encourages arts organizations to volunteer as voter polling places on election days. That exposure, while perhaps small, nonetheless helps to expand awareness of the arts by bringing people into the sites. I thought that was brilliant. Do you have any little tricks like that you can pass on?

Matt:  Well, one is the curtain speech ask I mentioned above in which audience members are asked to send a text to their state lawmakers urging support for the arts. Another one is to hold an on line virtual Lobby Day. We do it in October as a way for people around the state to participate without having to go to Beacon Hill, where our legislature works. We simply ask people to share why arts matters to them with a video that we share to YouTube and Facebook, or other social media posts. Some people hold mini-Arts Matter Day events in their communities. The point is that all of these stories are shared with lawmakers and makes a huge impact on social media.

Barry: Where would you like to see arts advocacy in five years, and what has to happen to get us to a point that you would like us to get to?

Matt:  I’d love to see us get to a place where the policymakers working on criminal justice reforms or opioid epidemic interventions include arts advocates in their work from the beginning. Our sector can and does improve lives.

Also, the people who thrive in the decades to come will need to be creative. They’ll need to be comfortable with innovation. They’ll need to be able to think critically. These are skills that artists have, and that arts education imbues to others who are not artists. The sector has an opportunity to positively influence our economies; our local, state, and national politics; our public health and safety; and all of us as individuals. To reach this potential, the arts sector (arts leaders, supporters, partners, funders, and state arts agencies) needs to commit to advocacy as a part of its mission, job, and responsibility. Specifically, they must:

  • Fund arts advocacy organizations so they have the capacity to run effective advocacy campaigns
  • Develop bold policy proposals to put before national state and local officials that will bring more resource and support to the community.
  • Engage in nonpartisan election work to inject arts and creativity into candidate’s platforms and the minds of voters
  • Broadcast the stories of impact that artists and cultural institutions bring to communities that bring vibrancy, health and connections
  • Run professional issue campaigns that bring together advocacy, organizing and media tactics that create change.
  • Engage institutions’ networks—board staff and audiences in telling their story as one voice to political leaders with passion at the right time. 

Thank you Matt.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Interview with MASSCreative's Matt Wilson

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

MassCreative is one of the sector's best advocacy organizations, and its Executive Director, Matt Wilson, is one of the sector's best Advocates / Lobbyists; experienced, savvy, smart and focused.    As with January's 
interview with Arts for LA's Sofia Klatzker, I believe this is a major interview on advocacy, and I hope as many people as possible will read Matt's spot on observations and insights.   I've divided it into two parts.  Part I today, and Part II tomorrow.

Matt Wilson Bio:

Hired as MASSCreative’s first Executive Director in March of 2012, Matt directs the advocacy campaigns and organizational development for the organization. For 30 years, he has run campaigns and organized volunteers and communities for the public interest on a local, state, national level.

In 2011, Wilson directed environmentalist and social entrepreneur Bob Massie’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. Previously he coordinated Health Care for All’s campaign to monitor the takeover of the nonprofit Caritas Hospitals by a for profit private equity firm.

As the National Director of the field staff for from 2005-2006, Matt helped develop and implement the strategy behind’s successful 2006 Call for Change, which recruited and trained more than 100,000 volunteers in 60 swing Congressional and Senate districts.

As the Founder and Director of Toxics Action Center from 1989 to 2005, Wilson assisted more than 300 neighborhood groups address toxic pollution issues in their communities. He grew the organization from one staffer working in Massachusetts to a New England-wide organization with 11 staff.

Wilson graduated from Dartmouth College in 1983 and also earned a Masters of Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in 2008.

Here is Part I of the interview:

Barry: MASSCreative—the Massachusetts Arts Advocacy organization you head—has positioned itself as supporting creativity as essential to build “a more vibrant, healthy and equitable Massachusetts.” Was it a conscious decision to emphasize creativity in the name and vision statement and to promote a not necessarily arts specific description? If so, why?

Matt:  This is such a great question, and it gets to the heart of what MASSCreative is all about. The decision to emphasize creativity not just in the name of the organization, but also in its mission was quite deliberate. It was a bold statement that we were going to be much more than a narrow, self-interested advocacy organization working to increase the Massachusetts budget’s line item for our state’s arts and cultural agency.

MASSCreative’s mission is to build a more vibrant, healthy, and equitable Massachusetts by advocating for the support and resources the arts and creative community needs to thrive.

In the six years since we formed, we have indeed done much more than advocate for a greater public investment in the arts (which, it must be said, is still a very important piece of what we do). But we also advocate for changes in state policy on the arts curriculum for grades K-12. We work with political leaders around the state, educating them on how integrating arts and cultural planning into other city initiatives on public health, public safety, economic development, and education can significantly scale impact.

We also partner with other organizations working on social justice initiatives related to racial equity, LGBTQ equality, and anti-violence work. These partnerships and collaborations give us a broader base of political support, expands our ability to impact policy and the sector, and increases our overall effectiveness.

Barry: By all accounts you and MASSCreative have had great success. What are the key elements in that success, or in any arts advocacy success?

Matt:  The keys to succeeding as an arts advocacy organization aren’t all that different from those needed for success around any other issue. But there are some challenges.

First, you need to create and maintain a strong organizational infrastructure led by a talented staff, powerful board, stable and sustainable revenue sources, and a strong administrative foundation. We have a staff of five and a 15-member board of directors and everyone contributes. It would not be possible to do what we do without this organizational stability.

Second, you can’t change anything without political power. So, you need to build your base. Get out in the community and meet people. Hold events. Create an email list so you can communicate directly with people who care about arts advocacy. Be active and engaging on social media. Write blog posts so you can demonstrate knowledge on the issues and propose ideas.

Third, build a deeply knowledgeable group of supporters and advisers. We recruit, train, and engage working artists, educators, and the leaders of nonprofit arts institutions who provide incredibly valuable feedback on our policy initiatives and campaigns. They also act as our ambassadors. When we issue a call to action, they immediately share it with their networks. Our Leadership Council has 54 members. We’ve also recruited 400-member organizations. Our regular base of supporters who participate in advocacy campaigns and events is more than 25,000 people.

Fourth, get media to cover you. Our own channels of communications are great. With Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, (we have 14,000+ followers) and our blog, we can share our policy goals, comment on relevant news, and issue calls to action. But mayors, city council and school committee members, and policy makers listen to the radio and read the press. So, it also helps when the state’s media outlets cover our issues. So, we’re always thinking about ways that editorials, letters to the editor, feature coverage, and op-eds can be used to move our agenda forward.

Finally, keep growing. Look for new sources of revenue. Build an individual donor program. This type of work can be the most difficult because it’s hard to ask for money. When you’re asking for money to support creativity, it can even feel doubly uncomfortable compared to other compelling issues like health reform, gun control, racial and gender equity, and climate change. But doing this work will force you to hone your message and make the case that art, culture, and creativity does, in fact, intersect with these other issues.

Barry: You have a practical, political background - having run a Senate campaign, a state health care campaign and involvement with It seems to me that is precisely the kind of practical experience arts advocates need. How critical has that previous experience been for you in effectively advocating and lobbying for the arts in Massachusetts? And how do we recruit more seasoned political veterans to head our arts advocacy efforts?

Matt:  I’ve drawn a lot on my background in politics, community organizing, and running campaigns as MASSCreative’s executive director, and it’s made all the difference. When you’re building a political movement, your first move isn’t to hire an artist or an arts administrator. Your first move is to find a political organizer. To its credit, the local arts community that backed the formation of MASSCreative recognized that it didn’t have the skills or experience to run an advocacy group. While the arts sector certainly saw itself as a public good worthy of public support, it didn’t know how to effectively engage in the public political process which involves making bold asks and sharing compelling stories that demonstrate impact.

I spent 30 years in environmental and social justice organizing before coming to MASSCreative. I spent most of my time at people's kitchen tables hearing their stories about how they’d lost their supply of clean drinking water and how it was harming their health, or how air pollution was trigging asthma attacks in their kids. My job was to figure out how to get these stories out and bring communities together to figure out how to fight polluters and get the government to do its job and protect our health. I also had experience with organizing nationally with to advocate an end to the Iraq War. My whole career has been focused on working with people who are passionate and have a clear vision of how the country should be but lack the political power to get there.

It is so clear to me how art, culture, and creativity intersect with all these issues and how we dramatically improve people’s lives and bring communities together when we invest in creativity. Given the deep divisions in our country now, I really believe that art has the power to open up channels of communication that are otherwise closed. Given the times that we live in, it shouldn’t be at all hard to recruit seasoned political activists to take on arts advocacy work. But the people doing the recruiting and hiring must demonstrate that they understand it takes real craft and skill to organize a movement and be willing to work with other movements to build power.

Barry: If all politics is local, how key is local community organizing to the future of effective arts advocacy? And how is that kind of approach best organized given our limited resources and personnel?

Matt:  I don’t think there is any place in the country where the arts are viewed as a top tier advocacy voice that is both respected and feared. To get there, the sector needs to build its political power and campaign capacity. The old adage tells us that to create political change, you need power. And political power comes from money, people or, better yet, both.

In Massachusetts, MASSCreative has chosen to train and engage a network of people, our Leadership Council which I mentioned above, to build a base of people power. It’s important to note here that historically arts advocacy work in Massachusetts relied on a “grasstops” advocacy model. Grasstops advocacy is a tried and true strategy as its spokespeople are articulate, strong, and well-connected. But supportive statements by powerful leaders in the arts didn’t provide the clout needed to get results. We also needed an army of supporters who would send 25,000 emails to the State House, show up at state education department meetings around the state, meet with their local reps in state government to ask for their support.

When we were trying to figure out how we would bring advocacy to the arts in Massachusetts, we looked to other social movements ton which to model our work. The Sierra Club is a great example. It has talented leadership, but its real strength is in its numbers. The Sierra Club has over two and a half million members. These are people who are passionate about clean air, clean water, and open space. When they cast votes in presidential, Congressional, and local political races, they look at the candidates’ positions on these issues when deciding who to vote for.

We now do that in local campaigns for school committee, city council and mayor. Through our Create the Vote campaigns, we host debates, issue questionnaires, and garner local news coverage that educates voters on candidates’ support for the arts. This work is labor intensive, but it’s not hard to get people involved. Everyone has a story about how the arts has impacted them. Parents care about arts education in the schools. Business owners care about downtown districts that are open and inviting and compel people to get out of their houses to get dinner and see a show or attend a concert. Residents and voters love to live in places that are interesting, and art does this for communities. Our Create the Vote campaigns get candidates on the record about what they’ll do for the arts. These campaigns also teach grasstops leaders not just that they can be arts advocates, but that they must be advocates if the sector is going to get the resources and support it needs to thrive.

Barry: Effective lobbying and playing of the political influence game requires money. You have the support of the major Massachusetts arts supportive foundations. What percentage of your budget comes from those sources vs. from other sources such as memberships or earned income? What options are available to states that do not have the same access to foundation support? Along that line, MASSCreative has a robust membership participation. How was that accomplished and how is it continually sustained?

Matt:  MASSCreative has built a funding base based on three pillars – foundation support, organizational members, and individual giving. The organization believes there are opportunities in corporate giving and earned revenue, but has not yet pursued those areas.

Foundations: The Boston Foundation, the state’s major community foundation, was MASSCreative’s seed funder. They understood the need for advocacy to support the sector and the importance of public investment in the arts. They were an integral part of the founding coalition and have had a sense of ownership from the start. The Barr Foundation came in a year later with additional support for the organization. Barr’s recent strategic plan has advocacy as one of the priorities of its arts and creativity program. Those two foundations and the Klarman Foundation have each funded MASSCreative for multiyear grants and make up 54 percent of the organization’s budget. Having the major foundations in Boston as supporters provides the organization with financial as well as political legitimacy. Other foundations contribute 14 percent of MASSCreative’s budget.

Organizational Members: Over the past five years, MASSCreative has steadily grown its organizational membership to more than 400 groups that contribute on a sliding scale starting from $25 for working artists and institutions with budgets under $100K up to $2,500 for institutions with budgets over $10,000,000. We raise $90,000 a year from our organizational members, which is an average of $225 a group. Organizational membership contributes 15 percent of the budget.

Individual Givers: In its first four years, MASSCreative occasionally asked individuals for money and built up a small list (200+) of donors who gave between $25-$100. The organization made on average of $3-7,000 a year from individuals. Just like organizational members, income from individuals helped build the financial and political capacity of the organization.

This year MASSCreative initiated and developed a major donor program (contributions > than $500). Its first donor drive reached out to $50+ donors and partners of MASSCreative to sit down for personal visits and a fundraising pitch. The organization conducted 40 in person hour-long visits over a 10-day period and raised $36,000, an average of $900 a person. Individual givers make up 17 percent of our budget.

The initial success of the donor drive shows that individual will make contributions to arts advocacy organizations. MASSCreative went into the drive unsure as to whether donors would look beyond their institutional giving to support arts advocacy. There were concerns that other hot button issues such as the environment, health care, civil rights, etc., might overshadow our work. That was not the case.

The support from foundations, organizations, and individuals not only helps MASSCreative financially, but helps the organization build the political capacity to run effective campaigns. That MASSCreative has the support from three major foundations in Boston provides legitimacy. MASSCreative’s 400 members and more than 500 contributors show to decision makers the wide spread support for the organization’s platform and programs.

Barry: In some senses, the arts advocacy wing is only as formidable as the sum of its various constituent parts. If some states or regions have little financial resources, isn’t that a problem for the sector as a whole? How do we address that challenge? A third of the states have virtually no arts advocacy arm. What should / can be done, and where ought the leadership for addressing that challenge come from?

Matt:  The arts sector needs to invest in arts advocacy infrastructure. Just like other advocacy sectors such as the environment, housing, or LGBTQ sectors, the arts and creative sector needs full-time professional staff advocating for the resources and services it needs to thrive. According to recent reports, more than half of the states do not have a staffed arts advocacy organization. The sector cannot build a strong movement for arts advocacy without resources and staffing dedicated to building the political capacity needed to create change.

The arts sector needs to look state by state on how to build powerful advocacy organizations. The formation of MASSCreative emerged out of a strong partnership of three vital stakeholders—funders, the state arts agency, and leadership from the arts and creative community. To have a successful arts advocacy organization, one needs to start with this triad of support.

The Sector. While the whole creative community doesn’t need to be on board from the start, the organization needs to start with a core of leaders on board as a base to work towards a broad-based membership. The formation of the organization needs to be based on the principle that the sector wants to unite and invest in a political organization that will help the community speak as a united and powerful voice

Money. There needs to be initial investment to provide the organization the resources it needs to hire staff and run its programs. MASSCreative received seed money from two foundations to allow it time and resources to develop and an implement a program and build a broader funding base through organizational memberships and individual financial support.

The Arts Agency. It is imperative that the organization works hand-in-hand with the arts agency. While the organization does not have to be totally in sync with the agency in terms of strategies, it needs strong alignment on mission and goals. The advocacy group and arts agency will be the major two games in town and they need to work collaboratively towards the same goal

Nationally the sectors need to develop best practices and models to guide the operations of the organizations. Over the past decades, states like Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey and Illinois among others, have created effective initiatives, programs and organizational development strategies that need to be captured, packaged and shared with the rest of the nation. Leaders must create model frameworks and offer them as options for advocacy groups to organize themselves and evaluate their success.

With models in place, technical assistance must also be provided to help nascent efforts and organizations get on their feet and do their work.

End of Part I.

Part II tomorrow.

Don't Quit

Sunday, April 1, 2018

As We Attempt to Diversify our Boards, Let's Not Forget Age and Socio-Economic Status

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

A frequent criticism of the arts, is that it is elitist.  It is run by and caters to the privileged class.

There is ample evidence that the charge is incorrect.  Art is made by people of every stripe - rich, poor, men, women, young, old, of every color and political affiliation.  The arts organizational infrastructure is varied and organizations earnestly seek to make their offerings accessible and available to everyone.  The field has made it a priority to be inclusive, to strive towards diversity and equity, to champion transparency and to improve the intersections and interactions with local communities and the issues that challenge us all.

But the fact remains that in many ways our organizations are elitist and governed by those with privilege.  When we seek to diversify our governance, our emphasis is on gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation: including more women, more people of color and LBGTQ.  Two areas seems to get short shift in those efforts: younger people and those of lesser socio-economic status.

Indeed, our staffs increasingly reflect the communities in which we operate.  But our Boards do not.  Larger, euro-centric mainstay arts organization boards are largely composed of an elite group.  Even in those cases where Boards have succeeded in recruiting people of color, more women and LGBTQ people, those individuals tend to be more highly educated, wealthier, and successful - from the privileged class.  And that's not surprising.  Many organizations depend on their Boards to both contribute and to fund raise, and those with wealth and networks of people of wealth, are far more likely to be able to both contribute and successfully fundraise.  And while smaller arts organizations are far more likely to have people of varying socio-economic status on their Boards, these organizations also seek the most successful and privileged from the available pool of recruits.

And what about younger people; people who may not yet have achieved a certain level of success and experience?  Our Boards, at best, have only token representation of the Millennial cohort.

Far too often, we do not consciously try to attract people who are not privileged, who may not have the highest level of community connections, who have not achieved higher levels of education, who are young.  Is that smart?  If we truly want to diversify and have our Boards represent our communities, don't we need people of lower economic status, more working-class people, and those who are young?  People without wealth, without the trappings of privilege, and younger people without that status, or even experience, may not bring with them all of the advantages and benefits of those that are older and in the upper socio-economic, highly educated classes, but they do bring with them certain kind of knowledge and perspective.  And don't we need that perspective if we are to truly diversify, if we are to really collaborate with our communities?

Nor do we consciously try to recruit people across the spectrum of political beliefs.  Successful, older, privileged people tend to harbor more conservative economic policy and political beliefs.  People who are younger, less economically well off and people of color, tend to be more liberal.  And the arts, at least at the level beyond the largest euro arts organizations, has its disproportionate share of people on the left.  But is that right?  Would we benefit from having people on our Boards, whose politics may be anathema to our own?

And so the question looms:  Do we really want representative Boards on our arts and foundation organizations?  Because the composition of our Boards - at every level - mirror what they have looked like for a long time.

The predominantly good-old-boy, white, male, wealthy, privileged Boards of the old line arts organizations, and many foundations, don't seem to want to include people of lower socio-economic classes, nor do they want younger people.  They invite people of color and women, but only those of the same upper class and age as are they.  And then only a few.

And the smaller, ethnic-centric, multi-cultural, newer arts organizations either can't recruit from the privileged class or they don't really want to share power with them anyway.

And neither the conservative old guard, nor the liberals, really want any balance of political outlook.  Like society itself, we silo in our camps, and our tribes eschew opposing viewpoints.

Now maybe this is just how it is.  And maybe even, it works.  But is it right?  And, if true, does it not make a lie of any claim we have to truly want to diversify?  Or are we changing and its just not yet readily apparent?

We would be better off if some of our conservative and older white Boards, were balanced more with liberal, younger people and those of color, and our organizations that are peopled with a more representative ethnic, age, and wealth cohort were more balanced with conservatives and those with privilege.

Otherwise, are we not just part of the problem that pits various tribes within society against each other?  Are we not guilty of perpetuating the divide that today seems to grow ever wider and ever more entrenched?  And isn't more expected of the arts?

How do we do that?  How do we get beyond the barriers of resistance to that inclusion?  Can such change be mandated, or is the only answer to slowly and patiently try to educate ourselves so as to welcome such a change?

Diversity has to be more than just about ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.  It has to include age and socio-economic status too.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Monday, March 26, 2018

What Is Servant Leadership?

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

For most of organizational history, the leadership model has been top down, with senior leaders making all the policy and strategic, and many of the operational, decisions, and the rank and file existing pretty much just to implement those decisions.  Those at the bottom of the organization's pyramid exist to serve the top leadership.  The auto assembly line model embodies that autocratic approach, where labor was seen largely as cogs of the machine.  The thoughts, ideas and thinking of the base of the pyramid was rarely sought, nor considered.

To be sure, forward thinking companies and other organizations slowly began to wake up to the idea that on-the-ground employees, closer to the operational aspects of the work, might, from time to time have valuable suggestions on how to improve productivity.  And their input was encouraged, and some decision making was shared.  But even those advances still didn't accord the employees room to come up with ideas, to be creative, to contribute to the organization in fundamental ways beyond their stated jobs.  There was little emphasis on their development and growth.  It was still top down decision making, and the "cogs" in the machine were there to serve the top echelon.

Servant Leadership takes the opposite approach.  It reverses the pyramid, and calls for the leaders to serve the base of the organization.  The leader's job is to consider the needs of those who work at the organization first, and to help them to develop their skills and abilities.  By doing so, the organization increases its creativity, productivity and the morale and attitude of the workforce, making the organization perform better on every level.  The concept has gained traction in the high tech field and spread from there.

This approach requires leaders to change their mindset from the idea that all major decisions ought to be made by the senior team - the bosses - to one of sharing power and serving the idea that enabling the people of an organization to grow, and to maximize their potential.  And that involves doing everything possible to help them be their best.   Changing that mindset unlocks the potential of the organization.  The leader's job is to serve the needs of the people of the organization.

According to Wikipedia's summary of Servant Leadership:

"While servant leadership is a timeless concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in "The Servant as Leader", an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said:
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”
“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?“

Following Greenleaf's conceptualization of Servant Leadership, dozens of authors have expanded on the idea, frequently listing the qualities that are essential to institutionalizing the change.  Those qualities include, among others, in virtually all of the literature:

  • Putting people first.  Empowerment.  
  • Building a team.  Community. "Coaching, not controlling."
  • "Unleashing the intelligence and energy of others."
  • And, listening.  In fact, listening is included on most of the lists of other authors as key to the Servant Leadership model.
A new work encapsulates the developments in the Servant Leadership concept, with varying perspectives by its supporters and practitioners.  Check out some quotes from the newly-released Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results in an article in inc.

In 20 years of working in the nonprofit arts, I think we are largely still stuck in the old model of the pyramid, where decisions are made from the top down.  To be sure, enlightened leaders in our field seek the advice and counsel of those that work for them, but the emphasis isn't on serving those in the organization.  We, of course, pay lip service to professional development, to employee career trajectory counseling, and to involving everyone in the process of continually refining the organization and its operation.  But too often the change stops at the lip service.  For example, few organizations even have a line item in the budget for professional development of the staff's experience and ability.  Few leaders below the senior rank are ever sent to national conferences or conventions.  Career trajectory counseling is a luxury available at very few arts organizations.  Decision making is rarely shared, and leadership doesn't really prioritize serving the people who work at the organization. 

If we want to be on the cutting edge of organizational dynamics, if we want to attract and retain great future leaders, if we want to tap into the intelligence, energy and the ideas of those in our sphere, we need to more fully embrace serving the people who make up our organizations, rather than clinging to the antiquated notion that they exist to serve the small cadre at the top.  

We need to not just delegate more authority, but involve everyone in the workings of that authority as it connects to mission.  We need to empower everyone to grow so their contributions to the organization can flower.  We need to deconstruct power within our organizations so as to realign it in ways that maximize the potential of the people who make up our field.  And we can't do that if we perpetuate the relationship where the executive leaders are the Masters who are served.  Those leaders must be the ones who serve.  We need to consider letting go of autocratic trappings and switching to servant leadership precepts.  

And in last week's relevant post on the value of listening as one of, if not the, critical skill for leaders, I heard from two independent consultants:

Jeffrey Golde wrote:

"Listening is one of the areas I was asked to do some deep research on in order to teach to Fortune 1000 executives at some of our Leadership programs.  Turns out its the #1 skill they say they need and that the research backs up as the core skill of leadership.  There were also measurable outcomes to being an excellent listener for leader's subordinates including:

1. People who work for you perceive you as a strong leader
2. Pscychological safety goes up
3. Trust goes up
4. Productivity goes up
5. Commitment to the organization goes up
6. Burnout goes down (major major benefit in the non-profit arts field)
Not to mention the unmeasured benefit to developing community ties, finding out what to program for your orgs constituents etc."

And Lydia Hooper wrote:

"Today is the halfway mark for a 40 day listening challenge I've been hosting on my Patreon page (it started on March 1). Over the past several months I've heard so much (no pun intended) about how we Americans need to improve our listening skills, but very very little about how exactly we can do so. (So thank you for providing a tool and not just a reflection yourself.) This is what inspired me to launch this challenge. Every day for 40 days I am posting an illustrated exercise anyone can do to work on developing their listening skills."

If you click on her link, she breaks down each of the 40 days of her listening tutorial.  Very interesting, comprehensive look at the skill of listening.

Thanks to both Jeffrey and Lydia.

Keep listening.  And think about Servant Leadership as opposed to Master Leadership.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Three Minute Rule

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

"People hearing, without listening...."
                                       Paul Simon, The Sounds of Silence

Listening skills are among the most valuable attributes anyone - and not just leaders - can have, and, unfortunately, among the least developed and applied.  Many, if not most of us, far too often don't really pay attention to truly and fully understanding what is being said around us.  We just don't really  listen well.

"A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest."
                                       Paul Simon, The Boxer

Does this sound at all familiar?  You are at a conference, in some session with a topic of interest to you, and about which you have some extent of knowledge and experience.  The session is arranged as one of those interactions, where the chairs in the meeting room are arranged in a circle, and everybody is encouraged to participate in an ongoing discussion.  Sometimes with structure, sometimes more like a free-for-all.  And as someone is talking, and hopefully actually making a point rather than just monopolizing the floor to hear themselves talk, and that person isn't twenty seconds into their point, and you find yourself already, in your mind, posing doubts, questions and opinions about what the person is saying, and they haven't even finished yet.  And soon you are no longer really listening to them, you are really just waiting for them to finish so you can have your turn.

We have opinions - strong opinions.  And ideas and thinking about nearly everything.  And often times those pre-conceived thoughts and biases get in the way of our expanding our knowledge, learning something new, and entertaining possible great ideas and solutions for which we've been looking -- knowledge, ideas and solutions that might be out there, but we can't hear them because we aren't really listening.

"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand.  They listen with the intent to reply."
                                       Steven Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly 
                                                               Effective People

The Three Minute Rule says simply that when listening to someone else express their ideas and opinions, you need to try to really listen to what they are saying without forming any mental reaction, and without interrupting them with questions or your analysis of the faults of their argument - for three minutes.

Give them a chance to put out there what they are trying to get across.  LISTEN.

This is, in part, an issue of fairness: fairness to the other person, and fairness to yourself.  It isn't always easy to do, because sometimes you can't avoid the feeling that you are suffering fools needlessly.  But be careful, others may have the same opinion of you.  Trying to apply the Three Minute Rule is a way to help you improve and refine your listening skills.  And that is important if you are to reach your own potential as a leader, not just because it helps you to understand things better, but also because it helps you in your relationships with your co-workers and colleagues.

If you can train your mind not to instantly go into the reactive mode to what someone is saying; not to form questions or doubts designed to undermine what is being offered, you can improve your listening ability and very likely end up hearing a lot of things that you will find valuable and important.  Not everything, because a lot of times people are who are talking to us aren't seriously trying to make a point -- and so after three minutes you can move on.

And yes, sometimes three minutes might be too much, but try it anyway, or some variation thereof, as a way, if nothing else, to force you to focus on your listening ability.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Three Questions You Should Continuously Be Asking Yourself

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

Here are three questions you should be asking yourself every month - or even more often.  You probably already have them on your radar, but if not, perhaps you should.

1.  What else can we be doing to maximize our cash flow over the next six months.  Doubtless your annual budget includes projections as to cash flow on a monthly basis.  But, particularly for smaller and mid-sized organizations, we all know that these projections are often overly optimistic - and sometimes unrealistic.  There is a tendency to estimate income from performances and exhibitions, donors and other kinds of earned income on the high side. And too often, we include grants not yet awarded.  That's a problem.  And cash flow is a different animal than overall income, as many organizations find themselves in trouble at different points during the year when the cash flow isn't what was anticipated.   It's not unusual for organizations to fail to meet the estimates, and end up pushing deficits into the next year. So cash flow management ought to be an ongoing issue.

What, if anything, can you do to maximize cash flow - everything from increasing earned income, fundraising events, merchandising, ticket sales to increasing donor support.  Not easy I know, but simply avoiding continuous consideration of the challenge won't yield any results.  And it ought to be a concern of everyone in your organization.

2.  What else can we be doing to increase our positioning within our community.  How can you foster and facilitate collaborations, partnerships, garner media coverage, increase visibility and publicity and do all the other things to enhance public awareness of your organization, and take advantage of the intersections and relationships within your community.  In many respects, this impacts your fundraising activity.  The higher your community profile the more doors that may open to you.

3.  What else can we be doing to better equip and prepare our staff and people to be the very best they can be.  What are you doing in terms of professional development, training, education, as well as motivation and maximizing the way your staff communicates and works together.  We live in a fast paced business environment and the challenges are constantly changing. So should our levels of expertise and skills.

These three areas - money, and specifically cash flow; your positioning within your community; and the preparedness and capability of your staff - are the critical components of your success, and they need to be on your mind all the time - and not just when your make up an annual budget, revamp your strategic plan or hold some retreat. Too often, we are aware of the needs in these areas, but we put consideration of what might be done on the back burner for, at best, periodic consideration.  They ought to be a constant in your mind.

Brainstorm regularly and deal with them as ongoing necessities. And you ought to involve everyone on your staff in the process of generating ideas that might help you in these areas.  You never know where a great idea will come from, and inclusion of everyone is yet another way to build staff self-esteem and morale.  You will find it to your advantage to do so.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Monday, March 5, 2018

Interview with Pam Breaux, President and CEO, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies

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

Pam Breaux Bio:
Pam joined the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) in 2015 as president and CEO.  A native of Lafayette, Louisiana, Pam has held leadership positions at the local, state and national levels. While in Louisiana state government, she was secretary of the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism (CRT), assistant secretary of CRT (overseeing its cultural development portfolio), and executive director of its state arts agency (the Louisiana Division of the Arts). During her time at CRT, Pam developed and led Louisiana’s cultural economy initiative and spearheaded the successful UNESCO inscription of Poverty Point State Historic Site (an ancient Indian site) as a World Heritage site.

Before working in state government, Pam was executive director of the Arts and Humanities Council of Southwest Louisiana and managed southwest Louisiana’s Decentralized Arts Funding Program. She has served on the boards of the U.S. Travel Association, NASAA, South Arts and the Louisiana Board of International Commerce. Pam is currently a member of the U.S. National Commission on UNESCO. She graduated from McNeese State University with a B.A. in English and earned an M.A. in English and folklore from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Here is the interview:

Barry:  You’ve now been at the helm of NASAA over a year.  What is different about the job from what you expected?

Pam:  When I walked through the doors of NASAA’s offices in July 2015, I expected we’d chart a new course toward NASAA’s future and the future of state arts agencies.  I’m incredibly pleased that we’ve charted that course, and it’s now manifested in NASAA’s strategic plan; it was ratified by members in the fall.  What I didn’t expect was for the political tide to shift so abruptly (after the 2016 elections) that we’d soon be fighting a serious attempt to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.  We now know that last year’s work by many strong advocates, NASAA and members of Congress prevented the NEA’s elimination.  Congress demonstrated that it values the NEA and other federal cultural agencies, and their commitment to these important agencies will be the reason we survive the newest elimination attempt by the administration.  On a productive note, developing NASAA’s new strategic plan while facing an elimination attempt positioned us and our new plan to more effectively respond to new political realities.  Our plan and our advocacy work are stronger, and the climate demands it.

Barry:  Assess the current status of funding for state arts agencies, how the challenges of preventing cuts and increasing support are effectively being addressed and what can be done to make it a more reliable, steady and meaningful cash stream into the future across all states?

Pam:  Overall, state governments invest $357.5 million in state arts agencies; that represents about $1.08 per capita.  During fiscal year 2018, legislative appropriations to state arts agencies decreased by 2.4%; yet, there are distinctions among the states.  Twenty-two state arts agencies reported increases in 2018; fifteen reported flat funding, and nineteen reported decreases (50 states and 6 jurisdictions total).  The most significant revenue challenge faced by state arts agencies is that they’re inextricably linked to fluctuations in state tax coffers.  The Great Recession of 2007-09 hit state government budgets especially hard; it forced significant reductions in state spending and services.  Even as the broader economy is expanding and getting back on track, state government recovery has lagged.  As state governments struggle with revenue challenges, state arts agencies (and all state agencies) endure that same struggle.

Historically, state general fund dollars have provided the largest funding source for state arts agencies.  Legislatures also use a mix of strategies to provide public support for the arts and state arts agencies.  Those strategies include, but are not limited to, dedicated revenues, special taxes and fees, specialty arts license plates, income tax check-offs, and more.  Adding to those legislatively enabled strategies, state arts agencies have also developed partnerships with public and private collaborators that allow them to extend their reach, resources and services.  Arizona Commission on the Arts, for example, developed AZ Creative Aging with funding from Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, to enhance quality of life for older Arizonans.  With an eye toward addressing the needs of veterans, Oklahoma Arts Council developed a partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs to engage veterans through creative expression.  A longer-term strategy was developed in Minnesota, where a 25-year amendment to the state constitution provided resources to develop the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, dedicated to preserving the state’s historic and cultural heritage.

Individual state challenges and opportunities are unique to the assets and policy environments within each state.  Paving the road to steady and meaningful cash streams for state arts agencies can’t be undertaken in globo because no single strategy fits all.  State by state, mining the opportunities that fit can best pave the way to develop short-term and long-term revenue streams for state arts agencies.

Barry:  Apart from funding, what are the principal issues facing today’s state arts agencies?

Pam:  As demographic, political and economic changes reshape our country, they also reshape the landscape for state arts agencies.  Further, as artists and the arts move into the future, traditional assumptions about how administrators define, support and fund the arts must change to meet a new day.  Key issues facing today’s state arts agencies also include:

Supporting a meaningful role for the arts in the innovation economy
Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in providing resources and services
Diversifying revenue streams for state arts agencies
Creating new systems of support for the arts
Developing multi-sector partnerships
Navigating a changing national and state policy environment

Barry:  Not every state has a working, viable arts advocacy infrastructure.  What is being done to remedy that situation and what is the role of NASAA in that process?

Pam:  The State Arts Action Network, a part of Americans for the Arts, is currently made up of 42 states/jurisdictions.  As a support network for arts advocacy, they work toward effective advocacy infrastructure in every state.  Americans for the Arts is the best place to get information about their support of state arts advocacy.  NASAA also plays a role in in the state arts advocacy realm.  In service to state arts agencies, we create and distribute reliable research and data, case-making tools, state policy publications and advocacy guidance documents.  Further, we provide counsel and presentations to state arts agencies and advocates as requested.  During last year’s threats to the National Endowment for the Arts, our work expanded greatly, as we, in real time, provided guidance to help state arts agencies and advocates defend the value of public investments in the arts as well as debunk erroneous assertions about those investments.

Barry:  You recently raised the issue of SAA leaders being prepared in the area of crisis response, noting that state agencies are no strangers to having to confront controversy and criticism.  What are the fundamentals of being prepared to respond to crises?

Pam:  Not every controversy becomes a crisis, but being ready for both are important.  With respect to controversies, making smart readiness choices today can help an agency navigate a future controversy and even mitigate it.  Last year SAA leaders experienced crises and controversy, and that was NASAA’s cue to prepare them to manage both.  To prepare for controversies, an agency should:

Build its reputation as a trusted source—establishing media relationships and a track record of providing facts and expertise will pay dividends when controversy strikes.
Establish monitoring systems—keeping track of public conversations about the arts will reduce chances of being caught off guard.  Agencies should monitor mainstream media and social media through automated news alerts to stay on the pulse of arts discourse.
Establish a fact-based narrative about the impact of the arts—regularly shining a light on how people benefit from the arts helps agencies be transparent and accountable, as well as ready to provide the broader context and benefits of public arts funding when controversy happens.
Draft a crisis communications plan—having a playbook ready when controversy strikes ensures that actions are thorough and effective.

A controversy becomes a crisis when communications about the issue become chaotic or people become politically polarized.  Artists, organizations and funders can be at risk and subject to harassment.  To prepare for communications crises, agencies should:

Establish a crisis advisors team—know who to call to help work through the problem.
Identify possible crisis scenarios—we can predict some potential crises; identifying them and gaming them out in advance is smart.
Rehearse the scenarios—since dealing with a crisis is never comfortable, developing model responses in advance (not under duress) will make life easier.  Assume that model responses would need to be adjusted to meet unique situations.
Train spokespeople—authorize spokespeople in advance and make sure they’re trained to be effective.
Compile key contacts—have critical information at the ready because crises are often rapid and chaotic with little time to spare.

Deeper guidance on this subject is available through NASAA’s Communicating about Arts Controversies, published on our website.

Barry:  There has been a slow, but steady turnover of state arts leaders over the past decade, with boomers retiring.  The field doesn’t look anything like it did a decade ago.  What, if anything, might NASAA do to help preserve the institutional memory of all those SAA leaders who have been, and currently are, retiring from the field?

Pam:  You’re right, Barry.  State arts agency executive directors have turned over significantly during the past decade and a great deal during the past five years.  Fortunately, NASAA’s reservoir of information and institutional knowledge is deep.  For example, every time a state arts agency staff or board members requests information or counsel from NASAA, the request and response are catalogued.  This information is used in many ways, including providing training and counsel to new members.  In addition, NASAA’s boot camp for new executive directors positions them to build a framework for leading state arts agencies.  Our most recent boot camp was held just last week, and there’s smart, new energy moving into SAA leadership posts.  NASAA will also soon release an online portal to share years of state arts agency best practices from across the country.  In everything we do we work to bring the experiences, lessons and successes of individual state arts agencies to benefit all 56 states and jurisdictions.  That blend of services is how NASAA approaches maintaining institutional memory for individual SAAs and the collective.

Barry:  How can the field better prepare state arts agency leaders to face the challenges they face today and be more effective leaders?   What are the most important skills that new state arts agency leaders need not just to survive, but to thrive?

Pam:  In addition to the strategies already mentioned, NASAA is focused on smartly designing Leadership Institutes for top state arts agency leaders, including executive directors, deputy directors, commissioners, chairs and council members. These conference agendas address high level policy and public arts management issues and trends.  For example, the Institute convened this past fall included sessions on building public will, government agency transformation, crisis leadership and effective case making in an era of political polarization.  As NASAA continues to improve professional development opportunities for leaders, we work to strike a balance between equipping them with skills to face today’s challenges as well as preparing them for a new tomorrow.

As you’ve suggested, there are important skills that new state arts agency leaders need to thrive.  Some of those skills include:

Political acumen—understanding and navigating the authorizing environment is key to being an effective champion for the arts and the state arts agency.
Focus on public benefits—recognizing that the primary stakeholders for state arts agencies are the people of the state is fundamental to leading any public agency.  Aligning the arts and agency resources to serve the needs of the entire state is critical.
Change management skills—initiating and responding to change is central to leadership.  As the demographic, political and economic environments around us change, state arts agency leaders must manage change strategically and with an eye toward expanding opportunities.
Innovation IQ—incorporating innovation and creativity in the design and delivery of programs and services is essential when navigating challenging times as well as times of great opportunity.

In addition to these skills, it’s helpful to possess government, communications and arts expertise, as well as financial and operational acumen.  Having been a state arts agency executive director (2001-2004), I can attest that these are tough jobs, and they’re deeply rewarding too.

Barry:  The RAO (Regional Arts Organizations - e.g., WESTAF) seem to all operate independently - not only of each other, but with only minimal intersections (either individually or as a group) with the NEA, NASAA or other national organizations.  Should NASAA take a more proactive role in building those intersections and in facilitating more communication and collaboration?  What might that kind of effort look like?

Pam:  I’m pleased to share that NASAA and the Regional Arts Organizations are meeting regularly to share information and explore opportunities to collaborate.  For example, we have committed to joining forces (NASAA and the appropriate RAO) when a state arts agency is facing a significant challenge.  Together we can bring all our resources to bear in being of service to a state arts agency in need.  Together we’re a stronger support system when states need us most.  Looking forward, NASAA is committed to ongoing communication and collaboration with the RAOs.

Barry:  A long time ago, the idea was floated that one way to make the NEA more appealing to Congress would be to increase the (then 15% - currently 40%) share allocated from the NEA budget to the states and the RAOs on a per capita basis under the theory that then more of the funds would be available to be distributed according to each state’s self-determined needs.  Is that theory worth pushing today, whether in response to new attempts to eliminate the Endowment entirely, or wholly apart from that challenge simply on its own merits?

Pam:  NASAA is committed to advocating on behalf of the NEA, keeping the agency whole and maintaining the federal-state partnership in its current form.  A strong NEA and strong state arts agencies are critical for the arts ecosystem.  Together, the NEA and states support 23,000 grants in 5,000 communities across the United States.  We support rural, urban and suburban communities that span every state and congressional district.

It’s also important to remember that a strong NEA should maintain a robust grantmaking portfolio and a strategic leadership role.  With respect to grantmaking, arts organizations and communities across the country benefit from receiving an NEA grant in two ways: (1) the money is needed and it fuels activity, and (2) the national/federal award leverages additional investments.  That currency shouldn’t be diminished.  With respect to its leadership role, the NEA can accomplish vital initiatives that no one state or local organization can accomplish independently.  For example, the NEA partnered with the US Department of Education over 20 years ago to develop the Arts Education Partnership.  Still serving the field, AEP continues to be pivotal for the arts education profession and policies surrounding it.  Creative Forces is a more recent example.  As a federal agency, the NEA shaped a partnership with the US Department of Defense.  That partnership piloted important models of arts healing for military personnel, and now that model is expanding to states.  There are many examples of initiatives created by the NEA that have shaped our field and advanced it (creative placemaking, Bureau of Economic Analysis partnership, et al).  For these reasons, diminishing the agency’s capacity just doesn’t make sense.

On a final note, many people don’t realize one of the most important aspects of the NEA’s federal-state partnership.  Many within our network already know that 40% of the NEA’s grants go to states and regions; that’s an important part of ensuring arts support all across the country.  What’s largely unknown about the partnership is that the dollars are designated for state needs, not federal mandates.  This is basically unprecedented within federal systems, where federal dollars usually go to meet federal goals.  The NEA’s enlightened approach to serving states ensures that federal dollars meet needs determined within states.  This is a strong model, and by extension, a strong partnership.

Barry:  NASAA has always had a solid relationship with both the NEA and AFTA.  Both of those organizations are now 50 years old and have changed over the years.  As each of those organizations may be getting near to their own re-invention and nearing their own 2.0 versions, what might be the relationship between each of them and a re-imagined NASAA 2.0?

Pam:  What a great question!  I won’t get out too far ahead of having those conversations directly with the NEA and AFTA.  In the spirit of offering a little inspiration for those discussions, I’ll make a couple of comments.   With respect to the NEA, it would be worthwhile to collaborate on several issues germane to advancing the arts field.  For example, as a community of public grant makers in the arts (federal and state), it would be interesting to explore how grantmaking structures can be modified or transformed to address the changing nature and needs of artmaking.  On a separate note, we could also explore how to improve or reinvent those structures to advance equity within our grantmaking portfolios.  Both issues are critical for the future.  NASAA also has a long history of collaborations with AFTA.  In fact, during ongoing discussions, our organizations have committed to exploring what collaborative efforts might come next.  Whether we deepen our joint work in advocacy or embark upon something else programmatic…you’ll have to stay tuned.

Barry:  Some people think research, data collection, the power of convening, making the case for public value, professional development and other functions are more important to the field than grant making and that the NEA ought to move in that direction away from grants to arts organizations.  What is NASAA’s position on that approach?  And if neutral or opposed, where might the field look for funding for more convenings, more public case making, more professional development, more advocacy training?

Pam:  I don’t think we have a zero-sum game here.  The NEA’s grantmaking portfolio is important and leveraging project funding across the country.  At the same time, the NEA and numerous national arts service organizations, including NASAA, are engaged in many of the worthwhile activities you’ve cited.  Let’s take research, for example.  The NEA’s research portfolio has blossomed during the last ten years, and it’s fueling dynamic partnerships and programs.  Biased I may be, I can also confirm that NASAA’s research portfolio has expanded and is stronger than ever, fueling smarter practices at state arts agencies.  At the same time, there’s more work to be done in these areas: research, convening, professional development and case-making.  I think it would be productive to conduct a gap analysis of the development and distribution of these services across the national and federal arts service community.  NASAA and the NEA aren’t the only entities working on these issues; many national arts service organizations do this work too.  If we get to the heart of which services are adequately provided and where the gaps in service may exist, we can also have a national arts service conversation about how to be efficient and effective in providing services and filling gaps.

Barry:  GIA has succeeded in recruiting and making a part of their framework the public arts agencies, including, principally the SAA’s.  How has NASAA moved to facilitate that expansion and what new crossroads and intersections has that expansion opened the door to for NASAA members?

Pam:  NASAA, too, is a member of GIA, and I’m delighted that so many state arts agencies have joined.  Our country needs public and private investors in the arts, and it’s important for this full field of arts funders to connect to each other.  Private and public arts funders are largely distinct in the benefits they provide.  Private-sector investments provide capital for major endeavors; they also nurture experimental work, and arts professionals are stronger because of their efforts.  Public investments serve the public interest, are driven by citizens and reach all states and districts; people all across the country benefit from public sector investments, and that enriches communities large and small.

At GIA, public and private grant makers have the opportunity to communicate and learn from each other.  Public and private grantmaking practices are strengthened as a result.  Public and private funders are also collaborating on shared goals.  Earlier I referenced the Arizona Creative Aging program, serving the needs of older Arizonans through a public-private partnership.  It’s a productive collaboration for both funders.  Based on my own post-Katrina experiences in Louisiana, I can personally attest to the power of public-private grant maker collaborations after a disaster.  Our team facilitated and assisted a number of private arts grant makers make a critical difference for artists who needed assistance after the storm.  Public and private grant maker goals were achieved, but most important, many artists and organizations were provided resources that helped them get back to business.  

NASAA is supportive of state arts agency involvement in the broader arts grantmaking community.  We’re also proud of our past and current work with GIA, which includes contributing expertise and information to arts research initiatives.  As GIA moves forward with new leadership and energy, we at NASAA look forward to remaining connected and exploring new ideas to advance arts grantmaking.

Barry:  One of the most visible of NASAA’s research reports is the annual survey of state arts agency funding.  The results invariably show a wide divergence between the top tier states and those nearer the bottom.  Moreover, there is constant fluctuation and movement within the 50 states.  Should there be a campaign for a baseline minimal funding level for every state as the goal - say a minimum of one dollar per capita - and how might that kind of campaign be launched and pursued?

Pam:  NASAA’s new report on state arts agency appropriations was just published, and your readers are encouraged to check it out.   It’s important to remember that states are not monolithic entities.  Their policy and budget challenges and opportunities are unique to each state.  As I referenced earlier, state government revenues were hit hard by the recession and their recoveries are lagging.  In fact, the recession is the reason states experienced their worst fiscal conditions since World War II.

Since state revenue health is a large factor in determining state arts agency appropriations, and state budgets are enduring unique challenges, there’s not a single strategy or campaign that would work for all states.  A campaign that’s successful in one state might completely backfire in another.  Challenges aside, and state by state, I certainly believe that national service providers can equip state advocates with the tools they need to champion an arts funding goal that’s customized for their state.  Smart timing and a customized approach for each state would be essential.

Barry:  Where do you see the SAA’s and NASAA in ten years?   What will be different?

Pam:  In ten years I believe that state arts agencies will have transformed their programs and services to respond to a greatly changed arts field.  As the arts and communities move forward, so must the structures that support them.  I also believe that in ten years SAA work with arts organizations and citizens will have significantly heightened community engagement in the arts.  I’m also confident that state arts agencies will have meaningfully advanced diversity, equity and inclusion within their grantmaking portfolios and across all services and programs.  Having helped SAAs achieve these successes within ten years, NASAA will be charting the course for SAA success for the following ten years.

Barry:  What has been (and is) the role of SAA’s (and NASAA’s support) in the area of equity and addressing systemic racism in our field?  Assess progress so far.

Pam:  NASAA has made addressing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) central to its work.  As you’ll see in our policy statement, we have committed to advancing DEI in policies, programs and practices at NASAA and at SAAs; this includes advancing equity in SAA grantmaking portfolios.  Our commitment calls for our ongoing reflection and action, and we track our related activities publicly for SAAs to access easily.  

Our DEI policy charges us to “empower SAAs to uphold diversity, equity and inclusion in their policies, practices and programs, including, but not limited to, equitable funding practices.” Here are three of the ways NASAA is meeting this goal in 2018:
» The “Visualizing Grant Diversity: The Demographics of SAA Grants” project is off to a great start, with more than twenty SAAs that have already participated a customized demographics-in-grant-making consultation.  These consultations and tools help SAAs see their grants activities and populations served in alignment with state demographics by county that include household income, poverty rates, populations of color and populations with disabilities.  SAAs can also observe populations benefitted by race/ethnicity, age, individuals with disabilities, individuals in institutions, individuals below the poverty line, individuals with limited English proficiency, military veterans and active duty personnel and youth at risk.  Understanding grants distribution in alignment with populations served is a fundamental step in addressing equity, and we look forward to continuing these consultations with SAAs.
» Later this fiscal year, we’ll develop and distribute a new self-assessment tool to help SAAs diagnose equity and bias in grant-making practices.
» NASAA Treasurer and South Carolina Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May and I are participating in a national steering committee dedicated to exploring and disseminating best practices in advancing equity in the work of arts grants panels.  We look forward to sharing what we learn with SAAs.
Admittedly, there is much work to be done to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in our field.  NASAA is committed to empowering state arts agencies to significantly move the needle.  Inspiring, informing and equipping SAAs to advance their practices in DEI can and will have a tremendous impact across the country, and that’s why we’re dedicated to this work.

Barry:  NASAA’s funding sources have been historically limited to its share of NEA funds and what it can raise from its member organizations or individual supporters (and that last part is a relatively new and successful component of the whole approach).  Are there any plans afoot for NASAA to seek (and get) foundation support - if not for general overhead and operations, then for specific projects or programs? Or do you have any other ideas to diversify income?  Can you share information on that front?

Pam:  NASAA is experiencing success in seeking and receiving foundation support, and we will continue to expand that part of our revenue portfolio.  In addition, this fiscal year we’re developing a plan to generate new earned income.  It’s too soon to know what our earned income venture will be.  Placing one foot in front of the other, this fiscal year is about exploring our potential and determining our most strategic opportunities.  Then we’ll select a course and move it forward.  Stay tuned!

Barry:  Along the same lines, what kinds of partnerships is NASAA developing with either other governmental agencies, or with the private sector?

Pam:  NASAA is focused on sustaining current partnerships in the arts field, while reinvigorating and developing new cross-sector partnerships.  Both public and private, as well as national and state in scale, we’re advancing conversations and partnerships within the following sectors: policy, rural development, education, innovation and community development.

Barry:  What do you consider to be NASAA’s greatest assets and strengths, and what are its greatest limitations?

Pam:  NASAA’s cup runneth over with strengths!  Citing top assets, I’d include:
A highly engaged and energized board of directors is in leadership.  We’ll also soon be joined by new, at-large board members who are not affiliated with SAAs.   A recent change in our bylaws now positions NASAA to benefit from board experience and expertise from outside the SAA field, and I couldn’t be more pleased.
 A top-notch staff surrounds me.  Excellence is standard at NASAA, and our team continues to produce an expanding portfolio of services that’s second to none.
A visionary new strategic plan that pushes our association forward.
Dedicated supporters of NASAA’s mission (both in cash and in kind).

With respect to limitations, our ambition and drive exceed our comfortable reach!  Our 2018 action plan alone contains 118 distinct activities to be undertaken by a small team.  We’ll add to that by responding to hundreds of information requests (large and small) this year.  Info requests may sound dreary, but we’re actually jazzed when our members call!  Their calls aren’t a distraction; in fact, helping SAAs navigate opportunities and challenges is who we are, so they’re the reason we’re jazzed with the phone rings.  Practically speaking, continually expanding our portfolio of services isn’t possible without budget growth.  This is the reason I commented earlier about developing a new earned income strategy.  Diversifying and expanding our revenue streams will empower NASAA to more deeply strengthen SAAs.

Barry:  Where do you go for advice and counsel, and where do you look for inspiration?

Pam:  I have no one-stop shop for advice and counsel.  I have the great fortune of being able to seek counsel from several sources, depending upon the issue.  For example, the NASAA staff is a wonderful source of information and experience.  I maintain that Kelly Barsdate has one of the best arts policy IQ’s around, and I’m grateful she’s just down the hall from me.  In addition, the state arts agency field is populated with some of the smartest people I know, and I call on colleagues individually to brainstorm challenges and opportunities.  Sometimes I need wisdom from well outside the arts administration field, and the District of Columbia comes through!  This is a place thoughtful and idealistic people often move to, determined to improve the country in some way.  I’ve found some of my most brilliant friends in the neighborhoods of D.C., and I call on them as I navigate the professional and social environment here.

Washington D.C. is also a great place to find art-ventures, one neighborhood at a time, and regularly experiencing arts and creativity is my kind of inspiration.  On the Louisiana home front, familial inspiration is always important.  I celebrate Mardi Gras, even in DC, and I’ll continue to do so, bringing along new fans each year.  I’m also lucky to have amazing young nieces who keep the inspiration flowing!  It’s not uncommon to hear brilliance from them: “It’s okay if you mess up; you can just do something else.”  Or, “I’m an artist today, and I will be an artist when I grow up.”  They always inspire! (Here are the young artists preparing for career day at school.)

Thank you Pam.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit