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