Sunday, July 29, 2018

Are We Taking Ourselves Too Seriously

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

We live in serious times.  Global movements threaten our sanity and security:  authoritarianism and attacks on safety, free speech, democracy and economic stability;  climate change and environmental degradation; the demise of the belief in science and the death of secularism.  And that's just the big stuff. Add to that all of the personal trials, tribulations and challenges each of us faces: financial insecurity for some; family issues for others; health concerns for still more, and the daily crap that life tends to deal us all, including the pressures of our jobs.

Oh my.

So it's very hard not to be real serious about all of this.  Living has become increasingly legitimately serious business.  But is it all?

"There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things, difficult."
                                                                           --Warren Buffett

Do we take at least some of it too seriously?  And that question applies to each of us as individuals, and, perhaps, to the nonprofit arts as a sector.  Has our worshipping at the serious altar eased the ability of the overall phenomenon of seriousness to insidiously worm its way into our lives, our work, our relationships, our moral compasses, and our beliefs.  Serious is now the default setting?  For everything? Well, that's not right.  We're gonna need to do something if that's where we're heading.'  

Maybe we're not there yet, but look around, that sure looks like where we're headed.

I think that's actually anti-the-arts.  The challenge is not to see everything as equally serious, but to figure out which things truly are and then deal with them.  There are plenty of things that are very serious, and there are a lot of things that really aren't serious, despite somebody saying they are.  And, of course, it's likely a matter of perception, and attitude.  And sometimes, even the serious stuff can't be taken seriously.

Are we now guilty of categorizing everything as serious?  Are we conflating cross categories simply because its easier, or because its expected, or because we're just lazy?  Dump it all in the 'serious' basket, we'll sort through it later.   That's a hell of an approach.

A failure to recognize seriousness as not always in our best interest needs to be considered, both for mental and systems health.  Indeed, it may be the only thing that might save the country in the long run.  Somehow we, as individuals, and we as part of the nonprofit arts sector, have to try to figure out where the line should be drawn so we can approach life in a saner way.

The arts help us in that quest, and for that alone should be cherished.

The upcoming Hundred Days War - in the fight to claim the US House of Representatives in November starts today, and that is serious.  Very serious.

But Not everything is serious.  Not everything.

Try not to be serious today.  Not tooooo serious anyway.  As a conscious effort.  See how that works.

Seriously!.............................{Sorry about that, but come on, how  could I not?? }

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Merchandising - the Untapped Arts Cash Cow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, July 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the interview with Ellen and Teresa:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barry:  Where do you see Aroha in five years?

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

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

Thank you Ellen and Teresa.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Feminization of the Field - Gender Imbalance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real and full diversity isn't easy.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit