Monday, January 29, 2018

Exit Interview with Janet Brown

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

Janet Brown Bio:
Janet Brown was an adjunct faculty member at Goucher College, Baltimore, MD teaching a graduate course in Arts and Public Policy. She is founder of the Prairie Arts Management Institute, a multi-state professional training program for arts administrators and served on the South Dakota Arts Council. Janet has a BFA in Theatre and a Masters in Public Administration.

Janet was Chair of the Performing and Visual Arts Department at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Executive Director of South Dakotans for the Arts. Prior to that position, she worked as Assistant to the General Manager of Joseph Papp's New York Shakespeare Festival in New York City, was a fund-raiser for the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco and assistant membership director of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts.

Janet received the national Selena Roberts Ottum Award from Americans for the Arts, and the Robert Gard Award from the University of Massachusetts Arts Extension Service (AES) for her work as an arts advocate.

She was appointed by Senator Tom Daschle to serve on the Library of Congress Folk Life Center Board of Trustees. A registered lobbyist for 15 years, Janet served on the Board of Directors of Americans for the Arts, and is a founding member of the National Community Arts Network (now the State Arts Advocacy Network.

She was appointed Executive Director of Grantmakers in the Arts in December of 2008 and retired from that post in December of last year.   Click here for the interview I did with her in 2009.

 Note:  For further insights into Janet's tenure at GIA, click here for an excellent conversation between Janet and Arts Journal's Doug McLennan done last fall.

Interview with Janet Brown:

Barry:  What’s different about arts philanthropy now compared to when you first started at GIA?

Janet:  I think with Grantmakers in the Arts members, at least, there is a greater sense of the need to think collectively rather than just about one organization’s impact.  Cities like LA and NYC and San Francisco have demonstrated the value of regular meetings of arts funders to develop relationships, learn together and be able to understand the eco-system of philanthropy in their region. National funders also have more communication with local funders in order to better determine how their funding impacts the local community. In addition, I think GIA’s capitalization work has changed many funders viewpoint on cash reserves, funding administrative overhead, permanently restricted endowments and general operating support. There is also a new dialogue about the need for more racial equity in arts philanthropy.  

Barry:  You made equity and racial relations a priority at GIA, and thus for the arts public and private philanthropic community.  Assess the progress the initiative has made, and the biggest challenges the sector still faces in light of the Helicon follow up report indicating that there is actually less money going to the smaller, communities of color, LGBTQ and people with disabilities?  How do we address those challenges and change that reality?

Janet:  Our racial equity work is an on-going educational initiative. The systemic issues of inequities in arts funding will not be changed in a few years, just like racism won’t be solved in American society in the near future. But there is hope because the dialogue is different. GIA has taken a large step in using direct language and serving as a role model for our members regarding the systemic practices facing arts funding. The GIA website lists our statement of purpose and recommendations for action. We also make a distinction between equity, diversity and inclusion and address why GIA is focused on racial equity and not other inequities.

What I discovered is that most of our members are very interested in making some change and addressing this issue, but that change will take time, courage and often times, people will put their jobs on the line. This is a complicated issue for the arts, as the Helicon studies reflect.  Arts philanthropy has traditionally, at least in major cities, provided sizeable funding over decades for major institutions, many founded by the individuals over a hundred years ago whose foundations continue that support today. Unlike other goal areas of philanthropy, like poverty, housing, social justice issues, arts philanthropy does not focus on those with the greatest need. There are political challenges that make changing this pattern very difficult.

Fifty years ago, arts patrons and advocates set out to develop major arts institutions in cities that could compete with the great institutions of Europe. I believe in our major cities that we have accomplished that. The western canon based on European art forms is well established. This initial “arts grants” began with the Ford Foundation’s work in the 50s and 60s, which required matching local dollars. The matching grant became the model for National Endowment for the Arts grantmaking practices begun in the late 60s and that trickled down to states and local arts agencies.  Consequently, over the past 50 years, arts organizations that did not have access to wealth, to match grants, build capacity, etc., have been neglected and relegated to small incremental funding. Art forms outside of the western canon and communities without access to wealth, primarily Asian, Latinx, African, Arab and Native American (ALAANA) have never been able to build the foundations needed to adequately compete for funding. These organizations and artists were relegated to the “other,” supported by under-funded programs like the NEA’s Local Arts Agency and Intermediate Arts.

Intentional programs to make up for past neglect need to be created. I’m not sure this is possible in the arts world, based on the white power systems today that govern both foundations and government agencies. But I know it’s the right thing to do and I know there are brave people making it happen. Institutional philanthropy and governments should be, as in other sectors, supporting the organizations and artists with the most need to help stabilize them so that one day, they can be successful enough to not need institutional dollars. This is where we are with major arts institutions today, but changing continual institutional funding based on legacy and political pressure is not simple and will take time.

There are disclaimers in this conversation, particularly in rural states and small and mid-sized communities that also don’t have access to a great deal of wealth or institutional funders.

Barry:  You also made capitalization (or should I say undercapitalization) of arts organizations an issue. How far along are we on that front?  Is the reality always going to be basically one of “haves” and “have-nots”?

Janet:  Good capitalization principles don’t have to do with “haves” and “have-nots” but rather on how nonprofit organizations are managing the money they have and how funders need to change their behaviors to encourage healthier financial practices. Practices like funding on a twelve month basis and forcing organizations to zero-base budget have kept the nonprofit sector undercapitalized with the exception of organizations that have worked around these issues. We are an industry that is cash poor. Even the largest organizations have little or no cash reserves even though many have large endowments. This became an emergency during the great recession.

For the past seven years, we preached better understanding of capitalization principles to funders and their grantees through our workshops around the country through webinars, articles, and our annual conference. Both funders and organizations need to encourage budgets that include surpluses, which build cash reserves, encourage board controlled endowments instead of permanently restricted endowments, (except for the larges of organizations, mostly museums), support administrative and overhead costs for projects and provide on-going financial training for grantees. Even the smallest of organizations can build a cash reserve, which takes courage and some tough decision-making. It also means grantees need to be realistic about their business model, based on the economy and resources of their own communities.

Barry:  Increasingly, arts organization Executive Directors spend more and more time in fundraising and less time leading their organizations in other ways?  What is the impact of that reality?

Janet:  Maybe I’m old school, but I believe it’s through the fundraising process that an executive director truly understands how programs are functioning and how the community perceives the relevancy of the organization. In fact, I believe that the successful executive director is able to integrate the business model (fundraising is a part of that), mission and programs. When executive directors don’t focus on the money, where it comes from and how it’s earned, organizations can potentially be in trouble.

Barry:  What does the average grantee not know about the average grantor that they should?

Janet:  Maybe people do know this, but I was continually struck, during my time at GIA, at the dedication and passion of folks working in the philanthropic and government grantmaking worlds. Most were artists and administrators working in the nonprofit art sector prior to entering the philanthropic or governmental sector. All are strong advocates for increased funding for arts groups and artists inside their organization and with the general public.

Barry:  What area are arts grantmakers not funding that you hope to see them fund?

Janet:  Obviously, funding ALAANA organizations and artists in ways that will help them develop sustainable management and artistic products. This means working with communities who have not been at the table, understanding them and giving them agency to be self-determining. It could also mean philanthropic affirmative action funding programs.  Again, tough stuff but that’s what we need.

Secondly, there is a need to fund more research in the arts. There is also a need to fund more infrastructure…something I’ve talked about for decades. Every state and major city should have a strong arts advocacy organization, which would also advocate for arts in schools and a nonprofit technical assistance provider focusing on best practices for financial and organizational stability. Most arts funders don’t or can’t look beyond individual organizations to support the collective needs of the sector.

Barry:  You and I have discussed Think Tanks before.  What role might arts grantmakers play in resurrecting the idea of an arts think tank that might influence national policy?

Janet:  Within the membership of Grantmakers in the Arts, we used forums to examine issues of racial equity, financial health, arts and healthcare, aging, education, environment, community service and social justice. These were small gatherings that informed GIA’s next steps and led to research, articles, conference sessions and collaborations between funders. The bigger ideas of where philanthropy is going, how can it change and what does the nonprofit art sector need for future decades is, unfortunately, not something that we focused on. Maybe that’s the next step for GIA. But think tanks alone don’t do much. They need to the seeds that feed practical implementation and change. Really, this is how our capitalization and racial equity work began…as think tanks of funders, moving to recommendations and then moving to action. To do this for the field, in terms of national policy, has potential but is pretty over whelming when one considers how it moves from talk to action. If this were to happen, I’d hope I could be a part of it.

Barry:  Assess the current status of the arts placemaking effort?  What do you see as the major milestones on that front in the next few years?

Janet:  This takes me back to my early days as a community arts developer. I’m not sure what arts placemaking means or is. I believe people make art where ever they live and arts advocates, community members and funders sustain that work if it is authentic and inspires the people who live in that place.  I know one can’t fabricate authenticity and if it doesn’t work for the community, without outside funding, it won’t be sustained.

Barry:  If you were back at the beginning of your arts career, what is the one skill you would absolutely want to have?

Janet:  I would have taken more classes in financial management, understanding balance sheets and audits. Took me way longer than it should have to truly understand financial information. Too many CEO’s leave this to their CFOs or accountants. That’s a mistake.

Barry:  A common complaint of grantees is that they have to jump through too many hoops and that the requirements of a grant are often so onerous as to make it not worth the effort.  Comment?

Janet:  This is one of my pet peeves that I didn’t address too much at GIA. As philanthropy and government grantmaking became more institutionalized so did the mechanisms developed for grant applications and reporting. Some of it is archaic and prohibitive, especially as we look to bring more under-funded organizations into the funding pipeline. We can’t expect organizations without development teams to be able to deliver the same kind of applications or reports as those who have been in the system for the past 40 years and have built up that institutional knowledge.  Small private funders are working on this in the best ways, I think. But all funders, especially large national funders and governmental funders, need to take a long look at how their processes are prohibitive.

Barry:  If you’ve learned one lesson in your entire arts career, what is it?

Janet:  I learned this as a lobbyist and arts advocate, running a statewide organization. No one wants to follow a leader who isn’t committed one hundred percent to principles and values. With membership organizations, there is always the temptation to sit on the fence, to be middle of the road, to not do something that might push some members away. That’s safe but it’s also not productive nor does it excite involvement by new people or make a difference in changing the world. By taking a strong stand on issues like supporting individual artists, improving philanthropic practice and making our world more equitable, you might lose a few folks along the way but more will join because of your clear conviction of purpose. Take a stand and others will stand with you.

Barry:  With your departure, the GIA transition to new leadership is a major change for the organization.  Transitions can be complex and tricky.  Can you comment on that transition?

Janet:  Transitions Take Planning, Foresight and Money
Someone asked me what the single most important issue was for a smooth transition and my immediate response was “a strong cash reserve.” GIA’s cash reserve enabled us to have a transition that has been extraordinary.

In the fall of 2015, I decided I would step down as CEO on December 31, 2017. I began by putting together three transition scenarios with budgets for each. In early 2016, I reached out to a “leadership circle” of my three past chairs and current chair and reviewed these scenarios with them as a group, in confidence. The scenarios ran from simple and inexpensive to less simple, moderately expensive, to complicated and most expensive. They suggested that I propose the first two only.  So I honed those two proposals.

In October, 2016 at the GIA conference in Saint Paul, current chair Bob Booker and I met with chair-designee, Angelique Power, to inform her of my decision and outlined the two scenarios and timelines. We also gave Angelique the opportunity to not continue as chair-designee since she didn’t sign up for a leadership transition when she accepted the position. Angelique is an amazing woman and although she was disappointed that we wouldn’t be working together for her full two-year term as chair, which would begin January 2017, she accepted the new responsibility to oversee GIA’s leadership transition and to be chair of the board.

She began by rejecting scenario one and moving to scenario two. Scenario two included a national search and hiring a professional search firm. In November, we announced my resignation date to the board of directors at their regular meeting. Angelique laid out a timeline for the process, which would begin in January 2017. In December 2016, I developed a request for proposals for search firms, improved on by Angelique, and we sent it to ten prominent search firms with experience in the arts. The one interesting emphasis in the proposal asked that firm tell us their experience in finding ALAANA (Asian, Latinx, African, Arab and Native American) candidates. Angelique and I asked eight current and past board member to serve as the GIA leadership selection committee, called the Alchemy Alliance (AA). The committee reviewed and interviewed search companies and selected a firm. At this point, I left the process, which was totally led by Angelique.

GIA made an announcement in January that I would be stepping down in December 2017 and the search firm began its work. There were monthly updates on the process given to the board and the staff by Angelique. The process of interview selection took longer than anticipated and were finalized in June. We were grateful we had started the process early without dallying by the chair, the committee or the board. Final candidates had two separate interviews with the Alchemy Alliance over a period of two-three months.  Our goal was to have a candidate selected by the committee for an announcement and discussion at the July board of directors meeting.

At the March board meeting, the executive committee led by chair Angelique Power presented a retirement package for me to the board of directors. It was approved at that meeting, which removed it from the decisions to be made about the new CEO. When that person was hired, the retirement agreement was in place. This avoided any awkward negotiations or discussions of financial commitments between the new CEO and me.

At the July board meeting, the Alchemy Alliance (search committee) announced that Eddie Torres was their top candidate. The GIA executive committee, which meets monthly, made a recommendation that the transition include moving the offices from Seattle to New York City. Prior to the meeting, the treasurer, with some support from me, had put together a budget for this transition and a comparison of salaries, rent and general administrative costs.  The board voted to move the office and to hire Eddie Torres as their new CEO. I agreed with this decision since there was no real strategic reason for the offices to be in Seattle except that GIA’s first CEO lived there.

Immediately after the board’s decisions, our priority became the current GIA staff and how best to assure the smooth implementation of the organization’s on-going programs through 2017 and, in particular, our annual conference to be held in October in Detroit. I put together relocation and extended retention offers for GIA’s seven staff members in early August. Because of GIA’s strong cash reserve, we were able to offer reasonable moving packages and retention packages. If the employee declined to move to New York, we asked them to sign the extended retention agreement which provided them with a bonus payment in January 2018 if they agreed to stay with the organization until December 31, 2017, write a scope of work for their successor and travel to New York City for a maximum of a week to train new staff in 2018. All employees chose to accept the retention agreement, which meant GIA would have continuity in services to members and a well-managed conference, our largest program, through the end of 2017. Ultimately, one employee will remain on staff working remotely from Seattle and one remains part-time as an advisor. Eddie also made arrangements with individual employees to work contractually or hourly in January as needed.

Eddie came to the Seattle office twice between August and October for a total of ten days. We worked together on the 2018 budget, current and future programs, organizational operations and the strategies and timeline for hiring new staff. We agreed that my job was to close out the year and the Seattle office and his was to open the NYC office and hire staff. He hired a deputy director in September who was able to attend the conference and the November board meeting. Eddie and I attended the annual conference in Detroit where he was introduced to the membership as the new CEO. We presented a united front for the membership and hopefully instilled in them confidence that the transition would be a smooth one and would enable the organization to continue to have impact for members with the minimum amount of downtime in programs and services.

We kept two staff members in Seattle working on important projects in January and February.  Our director of finance and operations is doing the 2017 audit with our Seattle auditors and the deputy director remained on contract to edit and publish the 2018 Winter Reader, a major publication for the arts philanthropy field. It was our intention to provide as much support for on-going communication programs with Seattle experienced staff while the New York office became fully staffed, and knowledge transfer among old and new staff began to flow. Great credit needs to be given to Seattle staff members who maintained their extraordinary commitment to the organization throughout a five-month period of knowing they would be losing their jobs. This also speaks to the culture of the office, where loyalty and teamwork were values held be the entire staff.

By January 1, 2018, six new staff members had been hired, an office was procured in the South Bronx, the office in Seattle was packed up and furniture, equipment and records shipped to NYC. At its November meeting, the board approved a 2018 budget which included use of cash reserves for transition costs including payment of retention and retirement agreements, the actual move, Seattle staff travel to train new staff and other costs.

When someone asked me the most important element to a smooth transition, my answer was “a strong cash reserve.”  Successful transitions are planned, thoughtful of all individual stakeholders and of the on-going mission of the organization. They can also be expensive, but having cash reserves designated for “leadership transition" make the difference between leaving an organization set up for success or leaving a board and new leadership wondering what the future will bring. In this transition, they have an idea about the future even though, in reality, it will be a new organization that will build on the past to shape a new, even more impactful association for the arts grantmaking community of practice.

Barry:  What’s next for you?

Janet:  I’ve moved back to South Dakota, my home state and where “everybody knows my name.”  It’s nice to be home. I’d like to consult with regional and national foundations, and state and local government agencies. I also want to write and teach - focusing on leadership, racial equity and organizational finances and management. I am anxious to work again with nonprofit arts groups.  I’m also looking forward to reading several books, going to lots of movies, watching lots of tennis, traveling to see kids and friends, and, of course, continuing to be a better boxer. Boxing life lessons: keep moving, hit hard and don’t forget to duck.

Thank you Janet.

Have a great week everybody.

Don't Quit

Monday, January 22, 2018

Quick Exit Interview with John McGuirk

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

Note on last week's post on the Boy Scouts Merit Badge program: I had fully intended to research the Girl Scouts comparative program, and to include a recommendation that any effort on the arts part to reach out to the Boy Scouts, be matched by a similar outreach to the Girl Scouts.  But I completely spaced it out and neglected to do either.  Oh dear. While the Girl Scouts badge program doesn't seem as comprehensive, rigorous and demanding as the Boy Scout program [and why is that?], there is included in their program opportunities to delve into the arts.  And, of course, they must be included in our efforts.  Thanks to Lisa Robb for reminding me of that oversight.  

John McGuirk Bio:
John E. McGuirk is the recently retired director of The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts Program, where he also assisted the foundation president with local grantmaking projects and served as Hewlett’s liaison to the Community Leadership Project. Prior to Hewlett, John was director of the Arts Program of the James Irvine Foundation and director of grant programs for Arts Council Silicon Valley. He sat on the GIA Board of Directors.  Before that, he worked at the Community School of Music and Arts in Mountain View, CA and held positions at both the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Pittsburgh Opera. John earned his M.A. in public management, with a concentration in arts management, from Carnegie Mellon University.


Barry:  You have been at the center of foundation arts philanthropy in Northern California for almost two decades as a performing arts program officer for the Hewlett Foundation, the arts program director of the Irvine Foundation, and then back as the director of the Hewlett Foundation’s Performing Arts program.  What has changed during that long tenure?  What’s different about arts philanthropy today from the past, and where is it headed?

John:  I believe the most significant change in arts philanthropy I’ve seen over the past two decades is the growing importance of cultural equity in grantmaking. This has its roots as far back as “multi-culturalism” in the 1980s when I first entered the field. Racial equity is a more recent priority at the national level as articulated by Grantmakers in the Arts.

As an example, we can look at cultural equity and the diversification of the Performing Arts Program’s grantee portfolio. Since its founding, Hewlett Foundation invested deeply in Western classical performing arts organizations (orchestras, theaters, operas, and dance companies) and these art forms merit continued support. But our region’s demographics have changed rapidly, and cultural tastes and consumer behaviors have also evolved. This meant that the art forms and aesthetics represented in the grantee portfolio needed to broaden and adapt to reflect the composition of our region. It has been my personal goal, no matter where you live in the greater Bay Area, that you have access to arts and cultural experiences that are both relevant and affordable. With an annual grants budget exceeding $20 million, the Performing Arts Program now directly funds more than 225 diverse organizations, and reaches another 600 organizations through our regranting partnerships with local arts councils, service organizations, and funding colleagues. Community-based organizations working in a wide variety of disciplines, aesthetics and cultural traditions are now an integral part of the grantee portfolio. One of my favorite projects during the past 18 months was working with author and consultant Laurie MacDougall to write A Fifty Year History of the Performing Arts Program . It documents the evolution of Hewlett’s philanthropic strategies in the arts over the past five decades, deeply rooted in multi-year general operating support and responsive to the ever-evolving cultural landscape.

Barry:  Given Helicon’s recent follow up report showing that in the past five years there has been an actual decrease in equity funding, what needs be done to change that reality?

John:  Helicon Collaborative’s report, Not Just Money: Equity Issues in Cultural Philanthropy.  found that since its initial study in 2011, “funding overall has gotten less equitable, not more.” However, San Francisco is singled out as an exception to this national trend, and the report notes that sustained and systemic efforts have “produced funding distribution patterns that more closely reflect the city’s demographic profile and the diversity of the local cultural sector.” The report specifically mentions the work of the Irvine, Haas, and Hewlett Foundations, as well as the Alliance for CA Traditional Arts, Theatre Bay Area CA$H, Dancers Group CA$H, and the Creative Work Fund. “As a result of this multi-faceted and sustained work,” the report states, “not only does San Francisco have more diverse nonprofit cultural groups per capita than other cities, those groups also receive a significantly larger share of arts foundation funding than their counterparts in the other urban areas studied.”

The Bay Area has long valued cultural equity. Diversification of grants portfolios takes sustained efforts to achieve, but it is producing results over time. Grantmakers need to be cognizant of historical funding patterns and structural racism that have led to current disparities in arts funding, and persistently address these as individuals, organizations, and communities. We need to continue to adapt our funding priorities, application processes and selection criteria to ensure a broad and diverse applicant pool and grantee portfolio.

Barry:  Foundations have territorial imperatives, legacy commitments, vastly different funding priorities and local concerns.  Yet there are national issues than impact arts organizations everywhere.  How do we promote more collaborations and working relationships between foundations across the country to address the big issues than affect everyone?

John:  This is a huge question without a simple answer. It requires grantmakers to incorporate their institutional and geographic priorities into larger movements to achieve greater collective impact. There are some instances of success in regional and national efforts around key issues, such as arts education advocacy and policy, data collection, leadership, and capitalization. Often these efforts are successful because many funders put a little discretionary money into a collective pot to achieve a stated goal that aligned with local priorities and concerns. Some funders have the capacity to do this based on their charters and missions; others do not. An interesting example of funders working together is the creation of DataArts -- trying to streamline processes through a standardized database that ultimately becomes a tool for arts managers, funders, researchers, advocates and policymakers.

Barry:  Data collection, research and evaluation have dramatically increased in the past decade.  How has that influenced arts philanthropy and what will be important in the future?  Is there any downside to relying (too much) on research and data in the decision-making process?

John:  Collection of arts data, research, and evaluation have dramatically increased and improved in the past decade. I sincerely hope these tools are benefiting artists, arts managers, and board members -- not just funders who use this information in their decision making. DataArts, Arts Education Data Project, Audience Research Collaborative, Sustain Arts, Bay Area Performing Arts Spaces, Guide Star and others now provide critical information and tools to enable arts organizations to be more effective and sustainable. It also provides funders with the ability to look at the arts system with a broad lens – understanding an individual organization’s role within the larger context, identifying gaps, informing priorities. The downside is that these databases are not comprehensive – they only can help to paint a fuzzy picture based on available information. Efforts to keep information accurate and timely are essential, even though time consuming and expensive.

Barry:  First, we had capacity building, and sustainability efforts.  Then we had operational support emphasis.  Now we have equity / diversity and capitalization focus.  What will the next major shift likely be?

John:  Hewlett has long been interested in the capacity and sustainability of arts organizations. It is part of the rationale for multi-year general operating support -- providing arts organizations the greatest flexibility to meet the needs of artists and audiences alike. This intersected with a body of work initiated by national service organization, Grantmakers in the Arts, during the time I served on the Board of Directors from 2010 to 2016. It resulted in more funders taking the strategic approach of multi-year general support, or in the case of project support, providing adequately for overhead expenses. Similarly, prudent grantees have taken advantage of the robust economy to build their balance sheets by developing assets and reducing debt. The resiliency and sustainability of the arts sector remains dependent on organizations’ strong financial health.

The next shift is difficult to predict. Recently I have seen more arts organizations collaborating across the non-profit sector on key issues, such as the environment and climate change, displacement and homelessness, education, and others. When the economy slows down and resources are more constricted, we usually see more collaboration and consolidation among arts organizations.

Barry:  Which programs or initiatives launched by Hewlett and / or Irvine during your tenures do you think have had the greatest impact on the field?  What is that impact in brief?

John:  Arts Education – recent policy gains at the federal, state, county, and local district levels are making arts programs integral to a well-rounded education. Now is the opportunity to close the disparity gap for those students who do not have access to arts and culture in their classrooms during the school day (and after school and out-of-school programs). I continue to believe arts education provides students with a “creative toolkit” that is essential for their success in the long term – engaging in self-expression; connecting to their cultural identity and to others; developing a creative and innovative workforce; nurturing the next generation of artists; and building audiences for the future.

Commissioning New Works – in celebration of the Foundation’s 50th anniversary, we launched an $8 million initiative, Hewlett 50 Arts Commissions. Over the next five years, it will commission fifty works of performing arts of exceptional quality and enduring value that will premiere in the Bay Area. I was thrilled with the exceptionally strong projects that were proposed. It was the most competitive set of proposals that I have reviewed in my two decades of grantmaking. The ideas were outstanding, and it was extremely difficult to choose from more than 125 submissions. This major commissioning initiative complements our ongoing financial support and commissioning partnerships with Creative Work Fund and Gerbode Special Awards in the Arts to create new works in the Bay Area.

Effective Leadership —Hewlett and Irvine invested significantly in leadership development. The recently completed $20 million initiative, Community Leadership Project  produced significant results for low income communities and people of color in three regions of California. Similarly, we invested in a suite of research and supports for networks of emerging arts leaders across the state. This work gives me great hope for the next generation of arts managers’ smooth transition to full organizational leadership, the potential for shared responsibility, and transfer of immense knowledge by the generation of leaders preparing to retire.

Barry:  What’s next for you?

John:  I got married last fall-- my husband, Richard, and I have a small beautiful farm near the Russian River in Sonoma County. We are so lucky that the wildfires did not harm our home and property last year. I am looking forward to a long sabbatical to relax on the farm this winter and spring and to recharge my creative practices – a self-administered “rehab for workaholics!” I’ll dust off my old piano music, dig out my parched watercolors, find that pottery wheel buried somewhere in the garage, fire up the glass kiln, and get my hands dirty in the gardens.

In addition, I am volunteering to raise funds for artists and arts organizations impacted by the North Bay wildfires -- to help our neighbors recover and our community rebuild. Please join me in supporting the Creative Sonoma Recovery Fund!

Finally, it is my intention to continue to cultivate creativity and propagate generosity – likely consulting on projects where I can add value, and returning to teaching arts administration and strategic planning at Claremont Graduate University next fall.

I will remain forever grateful to the team at Hewlett, to my funding colleagues across the nation, and to the amazing artists, creators and leaders in our vibrant cultural sector. I offer my sincerest thanks and deepest appreciation to you all for your ongoing work!

Thank you John.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Taking A Page from the Boy Scout Merit Badge Program

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

The Merit Badge program is an integral part of the Boy Scout experience, and a requirement for the higher ranks of Scouting from Star and Life Ranks to the Eagle Scout designation - all three of which require earning a number of Merit Badges - some required and others a matter of choice.

The program has expanded to include over 130 different badges since its inception in 2011, with periodic updates as to the requirements for earning any given badge.  The subjects of the badges range from American Business to Woodwork - and include several in the broad Arts category - including original badges for Art, Architecture, Music, Painting, Photography, Sculpture, and later additions, including Animation, Game Design, Graphic Arts, Moviemaking, and Theater.

A Scout must complete the published requirements for each Merit Badge and work with an assigned counselor, who ostensibly has expertise and familiarity with the chosen field.

With a population of over 2.2 million Boy Scouts, nearly 2 million Merit Badges were earned in 2016, of which about 100,000 were in arts categories.  The most popular badge was First Aid - one required for the higher ranks.  The Art Badge came in 24th, with nearly 23,000 Scouts earning the badge.  Music and Moviemaking each garnered over 10,000.  And the Sculpture and Pottery badges were will represented as well.  There is no badge for Dance, nor one for Poetry.

While Scouts can pursue fulfilling the requirements for any badge on their own, the literature suggests increasingly that fulfillment is done in groups at meetings, outings etc.   And while the requirements are not as comprehensive, demanding and arduous as perhaps a curriculum based, sequential arts in school program taught by trained professionals - they are well  designed to advance the stated purpose of the program, which is to allow Scouts to examine subjects to determine if they would like to further pursue them as a career or vocation.

That said, the requirements are not a cakewalk.  Consider, as an example, the Theater Merit Badge requirements:

"Theater merit badge requirements:
See or read three full-length plays or scripts. These can be from the stage, movies, television, or video. Write a review of each. Comment on the story, acting, and staging.
Write a one-act play that will take at least eight minutes to perform. The play must have a main character, conflict, and a climax.
Do THREE of the following:
a. Act a major part in a full-length play; or act a part in three one-act plays.
b. Direct a play. Cast, rehearse, and stage it. The play must be at least 10 minutes long.
c. Design the set for a play or a production of a circus. Make a model of it.
d. Design the costumes for five characters in one play set in a time before 1900.
e. Show skill in stage makeup. Make up yourself or a friend as an old man, a clown, an extraterrestrial, or a monster as directed.
f. Help with the building of scenery for one full-length play or two one-act plays.
g. Design the lighting for a play; or, under guidance, handle the lighting for a play.
Mime or pantomime any ONE of the following chosen by your counselor.
a. You have come into a large room. It is full of pictures, furniture, other things of interest.
b. As you are getting on as bus, your books fall into a puddle. By the time you pick them up, the bus has driven off.
c. You have failed a school test. You are talking with your teacher who does not buy your story.
d. You are at a camp with a new Scout. You try to help him pass a cooking test. He learns very slowly.
e. You are at a banquet. The meat is good. You don't like the vegetable. The dessert is ice cream.
f. You are a circus performer such as a juggler, high-wire artist, or lion tamer doing a routine.
Explain the following: proscenium arch, central or arena staging, spotlight, floodlight, flies, center stage, stage right, stage left, stage brace, stage crew, cyclorama, portal, sound board.
Do two short entertainment features that you could present either alone or with others for a troop meeting or campfire.

Click here for the Art Badge requirements, and here for the Music Badge requirements.

In looking at the program, it occurred to me that perhaps we ought to seek out a partnership with the Scouts to help them with the Arts related Merit Badge offerings, including expansion to include Dance, Poetry and perhaps other disciplines.  Our arts organizations and artists could help expand the Arts offerings and bring additional expertise and experiences to Scouts interested in the badges.

And beyond that, it might be worth considering adopting the "idea" of the Merit Badge program and developing an after school program on similar lines, but expanded and tweaked to complement in school arts programs and other after school arts activities, with, instead of a Merit Badge, some other kind of Award or Recognition.

Such a cooperative venture and community involvement with the Scouts, and / or a riff off the idea, might help to expand arts education offerings and get more students and parents involved in the effort -- not as a replacement nor full alternative to curriculum based, sequential, K-12 arts education taught by trained and qualified artists and teachers - but as an adjunct thereto.  It is also a way for us to expand our outreach for public awareness and support.

By singling out recognition for pursuing the arts, even if at a modest level, we might have another way to increase the arts profile, excite kids about the Arts and get them involved.  And that can help us expand real arts education, and build the support base for the arts for the future.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Interview with Sofia Klatzker - Arts for L.A.

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

Arts for L.A. - the greater Los Angeles area arts advocacy organization - is one of the most successful regional advocacy arms in the county, with broad based local arts support, and an enviable record of success. It is currently expertly led by Sofia Klatzker, who graciously joined me in the following brief interview.

Sofia Klatzker Bio:
Sofia Klatzker is the Executive Director of Arts for LA, a regional advocacy organization dedicated to promoting arts and culture across government, education, business, and community life. Under her leadership, the ACTIVATE advocacy leadership training program more than doubled in size now representing 226 leaders; created a new mobile website connecting Arts for LA’s 60,000 members with local officials; surveyed over 350 candidates across 60 local elections in November 2016; and launched a campaign to register arts and cultural organizations to become polling stations. She has over 16 years experience advocating for and implementing arts policies, arts education, and grant making. Sofia currently serves on the boards of California Arts Advocates and Californians for the Arts, and serves on both the California Alliance for Arts Education’s Policy Council, and the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network Advisory Council. Sofia received her B.M. in Electronic Music Composition from Oberlin Conservatory and her M.A. in Arts Administration from Goucher College.

Here is the interview:

BARRY:  Arts for LA is one of the most successful urban arts advocacy organizations in the county.  What are the key elements that have made the organization so successful?

SOFIA:  There are six concepts that contribute to our success:
- At our core we are deeply collaborative. We work closely with other nonprofit arts organizations, social service organizations, public partners, funders, individual artists, and our network of action and contributing members. There are also a number of fabulous arts advocacy organizations across the country from whom we continuously learn how to improve our strategies and campaigns.

- We see the region as a unified ecosystem and don't put value on one aspect more than any other. We need big nonprofits, small nonprofits, individual artists, commercial production, private arts, amateur arts, and embrace moments of personal and private creativity that happen in the home.

- Our work operates at the community grassroots level as well as the leadership and policymaking grass tops level. We convene people and connect arts leaders with their policy makers.

- Founded by arts leaders, in our bones we represent the needs of a strong nonprofit cultural arts sector.

- Through programs such as Arts Vote, we make the arts part of larger conversations to ensure that arts questions are asked at candidate forums. Every person running for election is asked their view of the arts.

- We don’t assume sole leadership, we strengthen the leadership of local voices.

BARRY:  While AFTA provides an exemplary framework for federal arts advocacy efforts through its State Arts Action Network and its PAC, the Arts Action Fund, a third of the states lack any real functioning general arts advocacy organization, and there are few solid urban city or regional arts advocacy organizations. Why is that, and what ought to be done to change that reality?

SOFIA:  I wouldn’t presume to tell local communities how to address their advocacy needs. It must be a local response to the representative needs of the whole community. Not every community needs a formal nonprofit advocacy organization that empowers people on the ground to advocate for their interests. You do need a way to connect people on the ground with their policy makers so that they know how much power they have and then ideally there is some central body that is helping either create or track the priorities of that community. But that can happen at the largest performing arts organization, or in partnership with another grassroots community organization, or a cross-sector partnership. I would stress the outcomes over the infrastructure. Ultimately, we’re not looking for more nonprofits, we’re looking for more Arts.

In many states, local advocacy efforts for the most part can be managed and coordinated by a state advocacy agency. However, Los Angeles is enormous and our state  advocacy organization (of which I am a board member) can't possibly serve the variety of needs that we represent: 10 million people spread over 4700 square miles in 88 cities and 81 school districts. That’s the size of Connecticut and the population of Michigan. Yet, we still maintain a focus on building relationships with local policy makers by tracking elections, surveying all candidates running in every race (school boards, city councils, and the County Board of Supervisors).

Our origin may be replicable elsewhere - we started with an ad hoc group of arts leaders, public agencies, and nonprofits. We have found that opportunities emerge when there is a specific plan, group, or vision to coalesce around.

The Arts sector can learn a lot from the 2008 election cycle when a lot of small donors supported a candidate without reliance on one big special interest. A lot of voices came together on a national scale. Sometimes in Arts advocacy we look for that one foundation or donor who will support this work, but our greatest power is within all the small organizations, audience members, and individual artists who collectively have a lot more power than we regularly acknowledge. Giving these individuals a modest level of structured leadership training can result in a strong unified advocacy voice on the ground at a variety of scale.

BARRY:  Generally, even for the most successful arts advocacy organizations, irrespective of the level (federal, state, local), only a small fraction of the total number of arts organizations within the territory are actually involved in advocacy, beyond responding to some annual request to support government budget requests - and even then not so many.  Why don’t more arts organizations actively contribute and participate in arts advocacy efforts?

SOFIA:  We should ask what support organizations need to successfully advocate when there is something on the line for which to take action. When Arts for LA launched ACTIVATE, our leadership fellows program, we found that most people didn't know where to begin, starting with how to define the change they sought. They didn’t know who was in their inner circle that had influence and power to help realize their goals.

As a field we need to move away from reactive advocacy toward aspirational advocacy. Aspirational advocacy means having a joint vision. In broad terms, this could bee broadly “more arts everywhere for everyone”. This vision encompasses arts in every classroom, in hospitals and in-patient treatment plans, using arts in the military for rehabilitation, and in our justice system for reducing recidivism. It is about safe and affordable housing for artists and valuing the sector as it exists, while expanding it to be more representative of the working artists who may not feel included in these discussions. It is about supporting and strengthening the career options for professional artists and the jobs that support creative enterprises. It is a big vision that works across the entire sector.

We must be united in saying that we need more art everywhere for everyone and that there are different ways to achieve that goal. Each nonprofit organization needs to define for themselves what it is that they are doing and that they believe in to move that ideal forward.

A few years ago we launched a simple, yet transformative project asking our nonprofit arts organizations to become polling places. This opened up their relationship with their local community and provides a way to have a non-transactional relationship with their neighbors. It also shows that we are community members who care about the local legislation and policies that affect our lives as individuals and as organizations that serve our neighbors. In many cases it also is an opportunity to expand the audience of who these organizations are reaching. The primary goal is to expand the definition of who the organization is and how do they fit into "more art everywhere".

BARRY:  Despite decades of good information detailing why and how arts organizations can, and should, be active in lobbying (as opposed to just advocating) for the arts, still a large number don’t understand that it is permitted, and more just don’t seem interested.  How can we change that?

SOFIA:  In many cases this is a case of fearing alienating their board, funders, or audiences. In some cases, nonprofits don't know what they can do in terms of lobbying, but often it's more a fear of causing offense, fear of losing tax exempt status, or fear of losing funding that causes organizations lobbying paralysis.

Our nonprofit tax exempt status means we must represent the entire community with our work. Part of that mandate means representing the interests that we as specialists have in representing the arts and culture in the legislative process. We have a right and a duty to be that voice. If nonprofits don’t do it, who will?

BARRY:  Foundations and private philanthropy efforts still tend to shy away from funding advocacy, let alone lobbying, even though both are permitted.  Why, and how do we move those funders towards funding?

SOFIA:  As with all aspects of advocacy, this is a personal relationship building opportunity. If we want to have more foundations and funders provide support for advocacy, then we need to have informed conversations with those foundation executives and board members  - especially those who have recently been changing their giving priorities by removing the arts as a specific giving area. We must remind them that the work is non-partisan, that we do not endorse candidates. Most funders of nonprofits are trying to improve the quality of life for local people in some way. That is impossible to do if there is not some lobbying arm as part of the work. Those of us in the arts sector have our work cut out for us to show that it is possible to be part of lobbying while not being part of partisan or candidate related politics.

BARRY:  Many state and local arts advocacy efforts continue to be volunteer efforts with no paid staffing.  How important is it to have paid leadership for advocacy organizations?

SOFIA:  We fund our values and priorities. That is true in school systems, in neighborhood councils, and in city government. It is also true in our own local advocacy efforts. I serve as a volunteer board member for the California Art Advocates and Californians for the Arts. While hard-working volunteers keep the arts visible, without full-time paid staff, the work ends of being year-by-year, mostly focused on keeping or increase public funding for the arts, and distribution of funding to underserved areas. We need full time staff to implement our long-term vision with a multi-layered strategy. By not having paid staff we perpetuate our triage mentality. We also inadvertently show that as a sector this is not a valued priority – it is very hard to ask for money when we are not willing as a sector to support a formal body who represents the interests of the local arts.

BARRY:  Public valuation of the arts is high on surveys, but not in actions.  Many people still cling to the notion that the arts, while of value, are a frill or luxury, despite decades of talk within the field about moving the public in this belief.  What can we do to make substantive progress that we are not now doing?

SOFIA:  I believe in some ways we have been our own worst enemy when it comes to making too many claims of our power and value. To be certain, I believe we are the heart of humanity, the reflection of who we are as people. But when we claim we are the answer to every problem and social ill, and the people we claim to represent do not identify with these claims, we undermine our message.

It is not enough to identify isolated incidents of arts as solution partners or arts contributing to thriving communities. Instead, we must show that we are embedded and begin to build an identity of arts and creativity for the people who live in our communities. Thankfully this work has started happening over the last few years.

This includes embedding arts voices across all levels of government. We need to remove the false equivalencies of arts versus X (i.e. homelessness, immigration, housing, etc.). Once we have arts representatives embedded within these departments and impacting policies, we will begin to see modest change. We are starting to see this across many different communities, and it is causing advocates like myself to track non-arts budgets in order to calculate current support for arts across larger public systems. That is a terrific change and I think we will see more of this moving forward.

However, until people outside of the art sector identify the arts in their daily lives, the power of creative community or part of the creative economy, then we will not change minds. This is about individual identity and what we value, neighborhood by neighborhood, state-by-state.

BARRY:  If even 25% of arts organizations would each do a benefit for arts advocacy efforts once every two years, we could likely raise millions of dollars annually to help our efforts.  I’ve asked countless artists over the years if they would be willing to do that, and not one has ever said “no”.  Yet arts organizations are reluctant to even consider the idea.  Your comment?

SOFIA:  Similar to the question about nonprofit participation, if they don't know what they're asking for, it is hard to enlist others to help raise money. What are they raising money for? To what end? Are we going to have to fight this again next year?

For instance, I support a modest approach to increase federal funding for the arts. However, advocating for the NEA budget to be increased to represent one dollar per person is shortsighted. We definitely want to increase the NEA budget, but as advocates we are not sharing the total number we *should* be spending on the arts per capita, because we don't know that number. Instead, we set ourselves up to continually need, year after year, to ask for more in the next budget cycle. We are always behind, we are trying to recover or restore past budget cuts, we focus on filling in gaps instead of building a larger vision. These are sweeping generalizations, and there are many examples of tremendous work that is strategic, thoughtful, and pushes the envelope. Ultimately, most arts advocacy comes down to advocating for more public money, more resources, more staffing, more equity. None of this advocacy inspires a vision for future that is well-resourced and stable.

We need to be inspirational! Happily, this is what we as artists do best!

The work I'm most excited about, besides local cultural equity initiatives, is how the arts are now being embedded in other areas of our legislative process and all levels of governing systems such as justice, probation, health and education budgets. Once we are embedded in these ways, then we can showcase the best of who we are no matter the art form. That is the intrinsic value of arts.

BARRY:  Arts advocacy has longed championed making the case for the arts via storytelling and explaining how the arts benefit communities, when the political reality is that it is votes, or the threat of withholding votes, that is most persuasive to elected officials.  Why don’t the arts embrace that reality?

SOFIA:  As a parent and audience member, I’m aware that many of my peers aren’t concerned with the overall economic impact of the arts sector. However, we do care about the options available to us as we raise future participants. Numbers don't sway these patrons. They know what they believe in, they know what they value. Parents and audience members are who we must focus our storytelling and benefits language towards.

But elected officials need to feel justified investing in a sector that shows a positive ROI. They need a different message with a different set of consequences. It is good to remind your representatives that we as a sector vote on higher percentages than the general population. Incidentally, I encourage nonprofit to ask their members and constituents if they are registered to vote and if they voted in the last election. These are number that should be shared with elected officials.

We must speak to many different audiences and interests, and we need to know when to use which message. For our neighbors, this is about embedding the arts into their local identity. Los Angeles is, by numbers, the creative capital of the world. But my neighbors do not all take pride in living in an arts-rich city. They do not talk about the job opportunities of the creative economy, even though 1:6 jobs locally are in the creative arts and related economy. The movement we must cultivate is one where people outside the arts sector take pride in an abundance of arts and culture. The arts are part of what makes this a place they want to call home.


Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

New Year's Resolutions for the Arts Sector

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

I suppose there was actually a time when people seriously resolved to make things happen, and used the New Year as a genesis point.  Now the ubiquitous most popular resolutions of losing weight, exercising more, and eating healthy are more often than not breached within days of making the commitment.  In a sense, that pattern has become the paradigm for action on most fronts that seek to address some long standing negative - be it personal or public.  We resolve to make it happen, knowing full well we will not see it through.

So, I am under no illusions that any suggestions of New Year's Resolutions that the arts, as a sector, ought to make will yield any result other than a yawn at best, and scorn at worst - but I'll make a couple anyway:

I.  RESOLVED, the Arts will finally do what is necessary to build real political power - and that includes effective advocacy / lobbying organizations with paid staff at the Congressional, State, City and County levels - supported by the entire field across disciplines and special interests.

Doable?  Yes, IF the field has the "will power" and can somehow get beyond the notion that exercising political power is a bad thing.  To pay for it, we would have to dig into our own pockets, get artists and creative people to do benefits, and finally convince funders to pour money into the arena.  And we haven't yet done any of the three.  But we could.......

Odds it will happen?  Given our history of willingness to be political animals, the odds are about zero the field will see its own self interest as a legitimate cause.

II.  RESOLVED, the arts will deal with the equity in funding issue, by spreading the wealth.  We're not talking about taking away all the funding from where it presently goes.  We're just talking about equity - meaning spreading the money around more fairly, for there is no equality if some get it all, and the rest get nothing.

Doable?  Absolutely, if the powers that be simply decide to change the allocation formulas.  Will they?  Not without substantial pressure put on them -- but the field, as a whole, has the ability and the wherewithal to apply that pressure to both public and private funders if they would act in concert and make their wishes known.  Are we capable of seeing the greater good and our long term best interests?  Yes, we're capable, but will we?...............

Odds it will happen?  Given years of lame excuses, and little to no action, despite seemingly committing to change, the odds here are, in the short run anyway, near zero too.  We will continue to talk a good game, with the reality something very different.

III. RESOLVED, the current arts leadership will work to more fully integrate and involve the future generational leadership in the decision making processes and the full active life of each of our organizations.  That means more delegation of authority.  It means more focus on the full range of our managers' needs as both employees and stakeholders.  It means a rearrangement of how we structure our businesses and our commitments to personnel; it means people become the primary focus.

Doable?  Certainly, if we get to the point where we understand that all the people that work in the arts constitute our biggest asset and move policy in support of that understanding.  It will take some sacrifice and some real leadership, but this one is actually the easiest of all these resolutions.  In a real family, sacrifices are made for the next generations.  Are we a real family?  We could be.............

Odds it will happen?  Not favorable, because power is relinquished very begrudgingly, if al all.  And even the best of us, don't necessarily remember how it was way back when we were the neophytes and the newbies.   But were such a titanic shift to be made, it would change everything in a positive way.  IMHO.

Ok, I could go on, but no sense making us feel bad in the aftermath of our likely failure to see our resolutions through to reality.  And without personal responsibility, we can easily blame the other guy for that failure.

But that said, I think we are better than that.  These three resolutions are long, long overdue.  And each one can become reality if we simply decide to make it so.  We can make them a reality just as sure as we can lose five pounds if we really, truly want to.  


Maybe we might at least resolve to try.  

Welcome to 2018.  It's going to be a year not unlike the one just past.  There are those for whom last year was a good year, and those for whom it was horrible.  The chaos, confusion, rancor, and bitter fighting is likely to continue within and without, here at home and across the globe.  But there are also sure to be surprises.  We can hope those surprises are good ones.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit