Sunday, September 15, 2019

Interview with Marian Godfrey

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

Marian Godfrey Bio

Marian A. Godfrey currently serves as Cultural Advisor to the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation in Sheffield, MA. She retired from the Pew Charitable Trusts in 2011. Prior to arriving at Pew in 1989, Ms. Godfrey had an extensive background in nonprofit arts management, handling production, administration, fund raising, and strategic planning for organizations including Mabou Mines, Dance Theater Workshop, and La Jolla Playhouse. She produced film and video projects, including a feature-length film for Mabou Mines that aired on public television nationwide. Additionally, she has worked as a consultant both for performing arts organizations and for foundation and corporate programs including AT&T: OnStage. She has contributed numerous articles to Grantmakers in the Arts' Reader and other publications. Ms. Godfrey has served on advisory panels for the National Endowment for the Arts, on the Presidential Transition Committee in 1992, and the boards of Theatre Communications Group, Grantmakers in the Arts, the Maine College of Art and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation. She is the founding chair of the National Arts Policy Roundtable convened by Americans for the Arts and the Sundance Institute; is a member of the board of directors of the League of American Orchestras, the Poetry Foundation, TDC, and the Editorial Board for the Yale School of Drama’s on-line Knowledge Base. Ms. Godfrey is a graduate of Radcliffe College and Yale University School of Drama. In 2003, she received the John Cotton Dana Award for Leadership for contributions to museum education from the American Association of Museums. She is married to Thomas J. Gardner and divides her time between Richmond, Massachusetts and Vinalhaven, Maine.


The Interview:

Barry:  You shepherded the Cultural Data Project while you were at Pew.  Can you walk us through the thinking in its launch and early iteration?

Marian:  The original idea for the Cultural Data Project arose from conversations in the very early 2000s between the Pew Charitable Trusts’ local culture program staff (Greg Rowe, Bobbie Lippman and me) and fellow grants officers in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania: our original co-conspirator was Olive Mosier at the William Penn Foundation, followed immediately by Philip Horn at the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and Janet Sarbaugh at the Heinz Endowments. So from the very beginning the CDP was a collaborative idea that was collectively designed and grew into a collaborative program. All of us as arts program officers were hungry for better information about our applicants and grantees—in part because the accountability-and-results movement had arrived at the doorstep of arts philanthropy, and we needed better information to make our case within our institutions for supporting both individual organizations and the arts ecosystem as a whole. And all of us were concerned that we were “surveying to death” our respective applicant, since most of them routinely applied to two or more of us, and we were all asking for a lot of information in different formats and different levels of detail. We were too heterogeneous to be able to implement a unified grant proposal template, but we believed that it would be possible and beneficial to use one unified tool to collect the historical information of all our applicants. This would provide both funders and the arts organizations themselves comparable data—both across organizations and through time—that we believed would lead to better decision-making by us and better organizational planning and development by the arts and culture organizations that participated in the program.

We were also responding to the zeitgeist: by the turn of the millennium the old arguments for the importance of the arts to our society, and for support of the nonprofit arts sector, were losing their resonance. Our conversations in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania were part of a growing national discussion among arts leaders about the need for better data and better research on the arts and culture sector in order to build a case that would resonate in the 21st century.  At the same time other sectors had already figured out how to take advantage of the exploding capacity of digital tools for information gathering, and the arts needed to catch up.

Barry:  How did it subsequently grow, and what were the early obstacles?

Marian:  We envisioned and designed the CDP as a Pennsylvania program, one that was aimed at providing a statewide dataset along with tools for grantmakers and arts organizations throughout Pennsylvania. For Pew, CDP was a part of the local arts program in Philadelphia.  We initially had no more expansive aspirations for it. By the time the CDP was launched in 2004, Pew’s national arts policy and research initiative, which had provided some of the intellectual and conceptual grounding for its design, had been closed down. So it is ironic that once word got out about the program nationally, primarily through presentations we made at Grantmakers in the Arts, our colleagues in other states started putting their hands up and saying, can we have this too? From Pew’s perspective, the potential for taking a local program into a larger national arena was first raised by our board. I made a presentation to them with a progress report on CDP in Pennsylvania, and one of our board members said, you aren’t thinking big enough—you don’t know what you have here. That allowed us to begin exploring the pros and cons of working with other states, and what it would take to create a sustainable business model for a larger initiative.

Along the way to its Pennsylvania launch and then to its expansion, we encountered many of the problems of any start-up.  For example, we lost more than a year of design work when our original technology partner proved not to be able to deliver the product we needed, and we had to make the tough decision to jettison them and start over from the beginning. Later on we struggled, with mixed success, to find ways of working with national service organizations, whose data needs were more specific than our approach could easily accommodate. And we learned two hard lessons. The CDP operating model depended on the underwriting of participating public and private funders who would both pay for the program in their states and require their grant applicants to use the CDP form, a necessity if the database were to be well enough populated to make it fully useful to both funders and arts organizations. Because of this our vision of operating in every state proved elusive, as many states do not have sufficiently robust philanthropic institutions whose leaders are both believers in the value of data and able to invest resources in the project. So we were faced, right from the get-go, with barriers to the kind of access to both information and support we were trying to advance. And, we were greedy for good, reliable and comprehensive information and did not want to compromise on either quality or depth, so the form applicants were required to fill out was larger and more labor-intensive than was optimal.

Barry:  What was your original vision for how the data could be of use to arts administrators, and for what purposes?

Marian:  Our intent was always for organizations to be able to track their own financial and operational trends over time, and to be able to compare specific aspects their operations to those of other organizations, for example by discipline, by geography, or by organizational size, or some combination. The dataset was structured so that organizations could run a report on, for example, what their fundraising expenditures and staffing look like compared to other organizations of the same type or size.  That particular report was one of several that got a lot of traction early on.

Barry:  Has that vision been born out?  Or did the project go in unanticipated directions?

Marian:  I can’t speak for the present, but many organizations did use these reports as part of their organizational planning, as we had hoped. In the initial years, however, we were disappointed that some organizations looked at the data reports as strictly a compliance requirement for fundraising, and did not fully explore how they could own and use their own data.

In a sense, the CDP jump started a much larger entry of the field into data collection and research.  And now after a decade or more, we are making inroads into all kinds of data collection projects.  Which directions of that trend do you see as especially important to the nonprofit arts?  And where do you think we need more research that we currently aren’t doing?

One of our fondest hope was always that other initiatives would be launched to gather data on audiences, and data on artists, so that over time more comprehensive information about the whole nonprofit arts field would be built up collectively.  This has in fact happened. Consistent and comprehensive data on community-based arts organizations and activities, especially those embedded in social service organizations, has been harder to come by, at least until recently.  CDP (and now DataArts) has worked long and hard to bring more of the thousands of small but important community based organizations into its dataset, and has developed a “short-form” questionnaire for low-budget organizations that is easier to fill out.

Barry:  PEW does extensive state of the art research on society, demographics and trends.  Much of that research is of direct use and value to the arts.  Was there ever any attempt to embed within the PEW research apparatus, an attempt to ramp up arts research specifically?

Marian:  Early on we had some discussions with the Pew Research Center about whether it would be feasible to set up a sub-unit devoted specifically to arts research, but the need for the PRC to maintain its editorial independence, as well as its decision-making process about what research to undertake at any given moment, precluded such an initiative.  Nevertheless, PRC has undertaken specifically arts-related research projects from time to time, and more importantly, much of its research into new technologies and new media and their uses and users are directly relevant to the arts community.

Barry:  Talk to me about arts philanthropy.  From your vantage point and experience, what are we currently doing right and what are we doing wrong?  Where are the dead ends and where are the promising opportunities?

Marian:  We all have gotten some things right and some things wrong. I suspect our greatest sins have been those of omission, not commission. And in the foundation world, as we like to say, the behavior of any one foundation does not predict the behavior of any other foundation, so generalizations are pretty useless. It’s my personal opinion that at this particular moment, the greatest challenge arts philanthropy faces is to decide what our responsibility is to the institutional nonprofit arts infrastructure that our investments have helped to build over the last 70 to 80 years. Many of these organizations are struggling to reinvent themselves in response to changing social expectations, and some are not even trying. How can we support their efforts at transformation at the same time as recognizing that much of the current cultural activity that is most exciting and relevant now—that is swimming in the waters of digital technology and rapid demographic change, for example—is being produced by artists, new and small arts organizations/projects, and arts entrepreneurs--who are not yet being sufficiently appreciated or supported by institutional philanthropy? Sometimes I look at this dilemma as a binary choice: do we try to evolve the old system or do we blow it up, and just go with the excitement of new and different artists and work?  Of course, any time you consider a binary choice like that it is imperative to find, instead, a larger conceptual frame within which both parts can fit. Or you rethink the problem altogether.

Barry:  Holly Sidford’s report on allocation of funds took the field by storm a decade ago when she reported that a disproportionately large percentage of funding went to the largest cultural institutions.  Her follow up study of a few years ago showed that not only hadn’t that changed, it had actually gotten worse.  Why is that?  Can anything be done?

Marian:  I think the only way to change this state of affairs is for the donor base for the arts to expand and diversify.  As long as most of our “major” donors are white and are interested in Eurocentric artistic traditions, the largest grants will continue going to institutions and facilities that have been built to provide art and cultural experiences in those traditions.

Barry:  The issue of systemic racism has given rise to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion taking center stage for the entire field.  Janet Brown moved GIA to address that issue.  Many others have joined the effort. And we have arguably made progress in diversifying our staffs.  But not yet our Boards.  Can we ever get to where we say we want to go unless and until we diversify the Boards beyond a sparse representation?

Marian:  The decision of an organization’s board to embrace the values and practices of equity and inclusion, and to commit to substantively diversifying itself as the means of enacting those values and practices, is the fundamental requirement for any organization if it is to make any headway. Executive leadership also has to be committed to this journey, so that board and staff leadership collectively drive the work forward.  It’s important to keep working on all the other components of becoming a diverse, equitable and inclusive organization: recognizing and serving diverse audiences, artists and artworks/repertory, and recruiting diverse staff and volunteers; but an institution cannot transform itself absent the leadership of the board. I think we just have to get real about this. It’s the values (equity and inclusion) that have to change, and boards can only fully enact those values by changing their own composition.

Barry:  And in consideration of Boards, I’ve heard from quite a few foundation program officers that they see challenges they would like to address, and they’ve even identified some solutions to problems, but that often their Boards hamstring any initiative to take action.  What can we do in this regard?  How do we diversify those Boards?  How do we increase arts program officer’s authority in decision making?

Marian:  The answer is the same as my previous answer. Much as my foundation colleagues and I have dreamed about the power of leadership from below, I think we have to recognize that the best we can do is try to influence board decision-making through some combination of moral suasion and good marketing of our ideas. IF there is no interest or readiness on the part of a foundation’s board to change its ideas or its approach, arts program staffers may eventually need to find a more conducive place to pursue their more progressive goals. I know what a bummer it is to say that, because philanthropy is too small a field to move around in easily.

Barry:  While we have seen increasing cooperation and collaboration by and between foundations, and by and between foundations and public agencies, to address issues that concern the whole field, in large part those joint efforts are few and far between.  Is that because foundations are still largely territorial and governed by the policies and politics of the wishes of the foundation founders that insist funds are allocated in certain ways and even to certain recipients, or is there some other reason for slow walking dealing with the big issues that challenge the whole field.  Is there a way to change that dynamic?

Marian:  Collaborations are always hard, and take a lot of time; they are worth it when a collective body can pool enough resources to have real impact on the problem to be solved or the opportunity to be grasped. And yes, some organizations place more of a value on working collaboratively than others. I think the greatest difficulty is in problem (or opportunity) definition, and matching the scale of the problem/opportunity with the scale of available pooled resources. We can get seduced by the romance of solving some of the really grand, global problems—in any field, not just the arts—but you have to be an incrementalist to make collaborations work.

Barry:  You’ve had the opportunity over your career to work with scores of arts organization leaders.  You’ve seen ones that get things done, make a difference and change the paradigm.  You’ve also doubtless seen those who can’t seem to rise above and reap success.  What are the qualities you think the best leaders exhibit, and are those innate or can they be learned?

Marian:  A passion for the work; persistence; curiosity and willingness to learn; a sense of humor; respect for other people and ideas; willed optimism in the face of all obstacles. I am not sure how much of that can be learned, and how much must be innate, for leadership to emerge. Some of those qualities are innate but undeveloped, and can be coaxed or coached to emerge in their full potential.

Barry:  If lower level staffers continue to struggle with, often times, less than living wages, will that begin to negatively impact our recruitment and retention of those people we want to lure to the field?  How do we deal with that?

Marian:  This is a problem that has been around for a long time, though not always articulated or recognized. It’s a cultural problem (grounded in the idea that people should be grateful for the non-financial rewards of the job); a financial problem (there’s not enough money in the system to fix it); and a psychological problem (if people operated from a sense of abundance, rather than of poverty, would that allow creative leaders to fix the problem?). I don’t have a clue how and in what order those situations could be remedied.

Barry:  You’ve long been involved with the League of Orchestras - one of the better run national service providers.  What do they do well, that others don’t?

Marian:  All the national arts services organizations are grappling with the same challenges we have been talking about in this interview, each in their own way, driven by the specific needs of their constituencies. I am currently on the board of the League of American Orchestras and one thing I am proud we are doing is taking on the challenge to become a more equitable, diverse and inclusive organization ourselves, starting with diversifying our board, and engaging in board and staff training and education. The League wants to provide leadership to its member orchestras around the DEI challenge, and we have started, as we must, by attending to our own house.  We have been inspired by the example of Theater Communications Group, which is about five years ahead of us in this work, and also of Grantmakers in the Arts, which has made racial justice a priority for itself and its membership.

Barry:  Despite the fact that the Department of Education includes the arts as a core subject, and many states have provision for sequential curriculum based, professionally taught, standards based arts, in every discipline, for every child, the hard, cold reality of arts education is that there isn’t the money to put even one arts teacher in every school in the country, let alone one teacher for each of the major disciplines - visual arts, music, theater and dance.  Rich districts can provide access to the arts that poor districts simply cannot or will not.  And that’s been the reality for at least two generations.  It’s a have and have not world.  There is a consensus that our future audiences depend on kids being exposed to and involved in the arts when they are growing up.  Is there anything we can do about that, or are we stuck in this position forever?

Marian:  When the arts can persuade all those skeptical policy makers, and all those people sitting around their kitchen tables with so much else to worry about, that our children as individuals, and our democracy as a whole, will suffer without the arts—until that argument is believed—we will continue to struggle with this. That said, Americans for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts have both had some recent successes raising the profile of arts education (and getting money for it appropriated), especially within the Department of Education and in Congress.

Barry:  What do you wish you knew when you first started out in the field that you know now?  How would that knowledge have changed your work or, at least, your approach to your work?

Marian:  I don’t know. If I had not taken for granted that everyone knows what I know: that arts (specifically theater in my case) made it possible for me to live, at a moment of personal crisis; and that arts experiences can be exalting, can grant precious moments of grace—I might not have gone into arts administration in the first place.

Barry:  And the other side of that coin - what single piece of advice would you give those starting a career in the nonprofit arts management field?

Marian:  Do not assume—particularly at this moment of maximum turbulence—that the past can teach you what the future will bring.  Everything is changing.  Pay attention to that. Your passion for the arts is the thing that will endure and see you through, if you are both capable and lucky.

Barry:  What do you think will be the biggest challenge the nonprofit arts will face in the next decade that may not be on many people’s radar screens yet?

Marian:  I am concerned that we lack the literacy we need about how social media works: how profoundly our understanding of and beliefs about the world can be manipulated, are being manipulated, by both ostensibly benign and overtly bad actors. The arts will have to make their way in this occult digital world. I would like to believe that the arts could participate in helping our populace to develop social media literacy, so that people can nurture and enjoy their own aesthetic, as well as social and political autonomy as they conduct their lives in a digitally shaped world.

Barry:  We’re in the middle of a generational change in leadership.  What, if anything, should we try to do to inventory and preserve the institutional knowledge of all those who are leaving the field?

Barry, I don’t know much more about this than when we dug into it a couple of years ago. I do think young people are more interested in learning from veterans like ourselves than we give them credit for. I wonder of the national arts service organizations could provide forums or focus groups of senior leaders both retired and still in service that could capture some of their wisdom.

Barry:  Is it time to reinvent the NEA, or not?  Why?

Marian:  I expect the NEA needs to be reinvented just as much as everything else about the arts ecosystem right now.  Probably the main thing is that we hold onto it until we have a better idea of what we will need in the future.


Thank you Marian.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry







Sunday, September 8, 2019

Open Plea to GIA Delegates

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

Over a decade ago, it was standard practice in arts funding, not to provide funding for the increased overhead and operating expenses associated with additional programming / projects.  Slowly (as every important change seems to always be slow), that changed as it became clear that failing to provide additional overhead support for new programming was placing arts organizations in precarious positions - straining their scarce resources (principally staff time) to a breaking point, which in turn was compromising not only their core work, but also the very projects and programs funders were interested in.  It became clearly untenable to ask organizations to design, launch and manage potentially impactful new programs, without any provision of funding for the additional costs entailed in such an effort.

From that change, eventually there grew a movement and support for the idea of providing more unrestricted operating funds to arts organizations apart from any specific project or program support.  And now part of GIA's and the sector's approach to capitalization and organization sustainability is the idea of a more liberal and far reaching general organizational support for our organizations, including mid sized organizations.  Today, there is even increasing support for the idea that arts funding ought to focus more on the people who make an organization successful, as opposed to just the programs of that organization.  This wasn't always an easy funder decision, because available funds (for both private philanthropic organizations and public agencies) is alway finite.

Now we face another issue within the same thread.  And that is that in many of our organizations, of all sizes and within every discipline or operational area, middle level and junior staffs are often seriously underpaid - both in competition with the private sector and in terms of a living wage.  Many of these people are finding it difficult - particularly in specific urban areas where the cost of living for housing and everything else is increasingly expensive - to make ends meet.  Though I cannot cite any specific study, I believe that has already likely had an impact on both recruiting and retaining the best people to our sector.  An arts administration graduate, possibly carrying heavy student debt, and paid a salary under the minimum to live in certain areas, may not be a candidate for making long term commitments to our field.

This reality is true even where project / program funding now includes extra money for the increased overhead / operations costs of the organization.  While that model helps, it doesn't address the fundamental problem of many organizations:  that their core budgets simply do not start with enough income and cash flow to provide for a reasonable living wage for some of their employees.  

The problem with addressing this threat to our future, continues as before, in that any provision of additional funding for our best, but struggling organizations, has to come from somewhere, and the likely only place is for us to make ever harder decisions to fund this organization and not that one.  Rock and hard place for sure, as funders are disposed to insuring that the available funding is spread equitably across a diverse landscape of applicants and needy organizations.  It is difficult to justify increased funding that will help support underpaid staff at one organization, at the expense of other, very good organizations, doing great work, which are equally needy or deserving.  However, that's not new. The conundrum has always been that the money pie is only so big, and can only go so far.  And that it almost never goes far enough.

We have to seriously ask ourselves if continuing to apply that money in a way that may be spreading it too thin is in the best interest of our overall missions for a sustainable, healthy arts ecosystem serving both artists, communities and the general public in a fair way.  Underfunding a majority of organizations may be more costly to the sector than not funding as many organizations as we would like.  That is, I think, a fair question to debate.

I would hope the arts funding sector would begin the process of considering whether or not a new model might be necessary to address the problem of underserved, underpaid organization staffing financial needs, so as to act to protect what I believe is our single most important asset and the basis of all of our future success - our people.

I would like to suggest consideration of a model that automatically adds ten percent to a grant, said additional funding to be used exclusively for additional pay to lower and middle level staff compensation, above and beyond any additional overhead operation expenses now included in project / program grants.  It's an investment in the organization, and its people,  as well as the success of specific projects and programs.

This will, of course, likely require a corresponding ten percent or so reduction in available funds to the whole of the annual grant making budget, and that will mean fewer project / programs and perhaps even fewer organizations will get funding.  And that is a very hard choice to make.  But I would argue that it is essential to create a strong foundation of small and mid sized organizational growth, sustainability and stability on which to build our future.

I know such a proposal will seem radical to some, impossible folly to others, unfair and simply unrealistic.  But I also know change starts with just considering a challenge and possible responses.  That's how the arts funding community moved from no project overhead support, to more unrestricted general overhead support beyond project support.  I would hope the funding community might begin a response to the challenge of inadequate staff compensation (below the senior level, which level has seen their compensation rise substantially over the past two decades).  The first step in that process isn't yet a discussion / debate of the issue, it's rather individual funders just beginning to think about it themselves, then bringing the fruits of that process to the fore within their individual organizations.  Eventually, that process will invariably lead to a sharing of thinking, and then discussion and debate can take place.  And that can then lead to a wider consideration at the sector level.

I would hope that eventually the issue of how do we address inadequate compensation at middle and junior staff levels would end up on the GIA radar and agenda five years or so from now, with some kind of solution (if not the one proposed above) within a decade.  Our failure to figure out how to pay entry and midlevel people a real wage will ultimately seriously negatively impact our very ability to survive.  It's not a sustainable situation, and it's not going away.

Please ask yourself if organizations in your funding territory face this problem and to what extent?  What do the organizations you intersect with, say about it, and its consequences? Run it by your internal staffs and see what the thinking is.  To what extent is this an equity issue?  A sustainability issue?  A capitalization issue?  Then maybe reach out to another funder in your area and share that information and ask for their thinking.  If it's a real challenge, with serious consequences if left unaddressed, it will become obvious.  Then we can move from there.

The GIA Conference was always among my favorites precisely because there was always serious discussion of all the challenges we face.   I know you have a lot on your plate.  I hope all the delegates to this year's conference in Denver have a great meeting.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Interview with Julie Fry - President & CEO California Humanities

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


Julie Fry Bio:   PRESIDENT & CEO, California Humanities

Julie joined California Humanities as its President and CEO in 2015. Previously, Julie served as a Program Officer for the Performing Arts Program at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.  She has extensive experience working and volunteering with arts and culture organizations and philanthropic institutions in the US and the UK, and has been deeply involved in arts education advocacy at the national, state, and local levels. Julie earned her BBA in Economics and French from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, an MBA in International Finance from the University of St. Thomas (Houston), and is one thesis away from an MA in Historic Preservation from Goucher College (Baltimore). She serves on the boards of the Federation of State Humanities Councils and the California Alliance for Arts Education.

The Interview:

Barry:  You came to your position as President and CEO of California Humanities from the Hewlett Foundation, where your philanthropic portfolio included arts education and arts organizations.   What are your major takeaways after being in the gig as to how working in the humanities differs from working in the arts?

Julie   For the 20 years before I joined California Humanities in 2015, my work focused on the visual and performing arts, but for my entire life both the humanities and the arts have been at the core of who I am - as an avid reader, an amateur musician, a lifelong French language student, a traveler in search of historical context, and a regular participant in arts experiences.

That is why it’s so gratifying to be in my current role in building on the amazing work of this organization over the past 44 years: my work is in both the humanities and the arts.  The two are so closely intertwined, in my view; they need each other to maximize their effects.  One of the first stories that first caught my attention when I joined California Humanities (it was Cal Humanities at the time, and the California Council for the Humanities before that) was a film that we supported through our California Documentary Project called Romeo is Bleeding. This film focuses on a spoken word artist as he rewrites “Romeo and Juliet” with students, set on the streets of Richmond, California with students. In the film we get to see the development of the text, the layering of local experiences within the narrative, and the public performance, providing us with not only an inspiring picture of the role of teaching artists in student lives, but a reminder of Shakespeare’s influence across the ages.  The humanities influencing art influencing the human experience.

Your question was about the differences, though, and they exist, of course.  For one thing, there don’t seem to be as many philanthropic dollars available!  We also spend a lot of time explaining what we mean by “the humanities.”  They encompass academic disciplines like history, literature, philosophy, languages, yes, but they also include the stories people tell around the dinner table at night about their cultures and backgrounds, and everything in between.  We focus specifically on the public humanities, which can take on a variety of modalities, from documentary films and media, to museum exhibits, oral histories, community conversations, cultural festivals, library programming, and so on.  We call our work the public humanities because of its focus on the larger society benefits of the humanities as well as the impulse to broaden public participation and access to them, essentially building bridges of understanding that we believe leads to great empathy, and a strong civil society.

There is no question that the humanities encompass a lot of different things, but I always point to the word “human” at the root.  The humanities are all about the art of being human, about the human experience, and how we discover all of the things that we have in common but also all of the things we get to learn and appreciate about each other’ histories, cultures, and experiences in California.  Through our work we seek to make connections, deepen understanding, and encourage critical thinking across a variety of perspectives. Lofty goals, yes – but thrilling.

Barry:  Do the Humanities have a “Brand Identity” problem?  When one says ‘the arts” to someone, they have some idea about what that means - music, dance, theater performances, museums, visual art and so on.  But when you say to someone “the humanities” many people aren’t sure what you are talking about.  How do you answer the questions:  “What are the humanities” and “Why are they important”?  And how can you move to the point where people don’t have to ask those questions anymore?

Julie   I don’t believe we’ll get to a point where people won’t ask what we mean by the humanities, and I think that’s a good thing, because it gives us an opportunity to provide many explanations. There isn’t just one.  I encourage our board and staff members to have a few favorite grantee projects or program experiences in their back pocket to pull out when this question arises, something that really resonates with them personally.  Because that’s the point of this work, to better understand ourselves because someone’s story has pulled us in, compelled us to think more deeply about our world, and then be able to share it with others.

We did address this in an engaging way a couple of years ago, through our We Are the Humanities – California Humanities video series. We interviewed 24 prominent California leaders across a variety of fields to answer the questions “What are the humanities, how have they been a part of your life, and why are they important?”  From author Isabel Allende to actors John Cho and George Takei to astrophysicist Dr. Jill Tarter, to then-Governor Brown, we heard a myriad of ideas, and felt the undeniable energy that each brought to these questions.  They all felt that access to humanities experiences helped to shape who they are and the ways they have expressed themselves throughout their lives.

So the big questions are:  How do you make the Humanities understood and appreciated?  How do you make them relevant to today’s world and particularly to the next generations?  How do you establish the brand?

It’s simple: we just keep helping to amplify stories about the people, histories, and cultures of California in a variety of ways, to enable people to find whichever open door or window leads them to the humanities.

It’s also not so simple.  We are continually thinking of how we can connect people to the humanities, whether it’s through our own programming or that of our partners or others in the field.  It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning, to be honest!  I wake up thinking about this exact question – “How do you help people understand that everyone is connected with and through the humanities” – more days than I care to share.  For me this question is also deeply embedded in questions about equity, education, and civic engagement.

In 2015, we undertook a strategic refresh, holding listening tours around the state and gathering a lot of input into what we could and should be doing to increase peoples’ awareness of the humanities.  As a result, we developed a framework for strategic thinking, which helps to guide our decisions on where to focus our resources.  Our goal (and you’ll see that it fits in exactly with your big questions) is encapsulated thus: Because the humanities are essential to a vibrant democracy, our 5-year strategic focus on education, public engagement, and field-building will amplify our impact and make the humanities even more valued, more visible, and more deeply embedded in the lives of individuals and in our communities.

From a marketing and branding point of view for California Humanities specifically, we went through a formal rebranding process when we moved our main office from San Francisco to Oakland in August 2015, when we started using California Humanities (rather than Cal). We’ve refreshed our logo, redesigned our website, and focused on messaging and public events that provide us with an opportunity to talk about our work.  We’ve ramped up our social media efforts. We have been a quiet yet powerful force in the cultural life of California for almost 45 years, and while we want to put our grantees and partners first and foremost, we’re also working hard to build our visibility, to let people know about all of the things we do in every corner of this huge and glorious state.

EDUCATION

Barry:  The California Arts Council is an agency of the state.  California Humanities is a nonprofit.  Do you think the fact that the Arts are seemingly state sanctioned and the humanities are not makes your job of promoting the humanities to greater understanding in the populace more difficult?  While both the arts and the humanities in California are supported to a degree by the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities, the Endowment of the Arts gets far more publicity and is better known - not necessarily always an advantage perhaps.  Why is that? And what is the impact of that reality - negative or positive?  Would we be better off with just one Endowment - of the arts and humanities?

Julie   There is an interesting story as to why the state humanities councils are nonprofits, and state arts agencies are state agencies. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) was created in 1965 to feature the best of humanities scholarship, and from that agency came the idea of “State Committees” in 1971, as a pilot attempt to take humanities to the people in more diverse, participatory and non-academic way.   I should note that the original intention was to have a single “National Foundation of the Arts and Humanities” that would include both the arts and humanities agencies, and that is the bill that LBJ signed in the Rose Garden in 1965. The National Endowment for the Arts quickly developed the idea of state programming structures, and state governments were equally quick to put money into these “State Arts Agencies.”  The NEH, however, did not agree with this approach, saying that the humanities and scholarly endeavors could not be confined within state boundaries, and resisted the idea of state agencies or being part of state politics.  There is more to this story, and you can read more here: https://tph.ucpress.edu/content/35/1/28    One additional note: even as a nonprofit, we have gubernatorial appointees on our board: a maximum of 25% (or six members) are allowed.

We have certainly benefited from being an independent nonprofit and all the flexibility that it provides in terms of organizational management. Having said that, most people are under the perception that we are a state agency, and are surprised when I tell them that we have never received state funding.  However, that has just changed: in the 2019-20 California State Budget, California Humanities is receiving first-ever funding from the state.  This was the result of three years of relationship- and visibility-building in Sacramento, having Senator Ben Allen and Assemblymember Rob Bonta in our corner, conducting a humanities hearing for the Joint Committee on the Arts in 2018, holding our first Humanities Advocacy Day in 2019, and having many board, staff, partner and grantee advocates helping share our story and our request for funding.

When I joined California Humanities, I also became a member of the Cultural Cabinet, an informal quarterly gathering of culturally-focused state agencies, such as the State Library, the State Archives, the California Museum, the California Arts Council, and the California Native American Heritage Commission, among others.  When we get together, we discuss strategies to most effectively coordinate our efforts across our varied areas of focus.

Barry:  While the arts continue to struggle to achieve financial stability and funding adequate to their needs, there is a substantial and steady funding stream from both the public and private sectors - even if that stream is arguably inadequate and inequitably distributed.  How are the humanities funded?   What is your strategy to try to increase the pool of funding available to the humanities. And how are you going about attracting both public and private funds?

Julie   There is no question that the federal support through the National Endowment for the Humanities is critical to keeping our doors open, and every year we meet with 40-plus of our Congressional representatives and/or their staff at Humanities on the Hill in Washington, DC, together with the other state humanities councils, advocating for the importance of this federal support to our national cultural life, and asking for increased funds for both endowments.

We are in the interesting position of being both a grantmaker and a grantseeker. We have been increasing our funding pool steadily over the past several years and it is a priority to continue to do so.  While we haven’t yet made any decisions or public announcements on how we will deploy the new one-time state appropriation, it will certainly enable us to invest more deeply in our existing grant lines and programs.

It’s also important for us, as with any nonprofit, to diversify and grow our revenue streams, and we have been doing so, increasing the number of individual donors and foundation and corporate funders.  In such a large state with few statewide funders, our focus on finding local investment has been critical to expanding our programs, while bringing attention to others who are doing humanities-focused work in communities.

Barry:  The arts in California are comprised of literally hundreds of organizations making and performing art, and those organizations are complemented by a network of different kinds of service organizations to provide both a link to local communities and as a resource to the artistic organizations and individual artists. What are the humanities’ counterpart to the arts ecosystem?  How is the humanities ecosystem organized?

Julie   It has been fascinating, as I straddle the arts and humanities worlds, to find that a parallel universe of humanities networks exists across the country.  First and foremost, the Federation of State Humanities Councils is a nonprofit organization that serves as a hub for the 55 state humanities councils; they provide federal advocacy, an annual National Humanities Conference, and at times, funding partnerships for national humanities initiatives.  I serve on the board of the Federation, and have found it to be an important partner in galvanizing the work of the state humanities councils, providing a common thread when all of us are doing very different work in our states.

There are other humanities-focused organizations, including humanities institutes at universities and community colleges.  The National Humanities Alliance brings together the academic and public humanities, and provides data in the form of humanities indicators on a wide variety of issues, including humanities education.  Imagining America https://tph.ucpress.edu/content/35/1/28 currently based at UC-Davis, is a national organization providing collaborative thinking at the intersection of the arts and the academic humanities.

One thing we realized when we were gathering data as part of our strategic refresh is that there isn’t a humanities hub in California, and so one of our strategic components in our framework is fieldbuilding, to see how we might work together more collaboratively as a field in California.  Our first step has been to research what organizations across the state do humanities work, and our intention is to map those organizations, and then talk with them to see what we might all do together to benefit our state: perhaps it’s a California humanities conference, or some sort of visibility-building campaign. This research work continues.

Barry:  While the Humanities don’t have the exact equivalent of the Local Arts Agency, which local organizations act as a kind of de facto  “hub” and branch office system for the arts, you do have the libraries throughout the state, and that network is arguably the equal, or superior to the arts LAA network.  How, and to what extent, are you drafting the libraries to be part of a system around which the humanities can organize, advocate, and grow within each community.  What are you doing so far as a collaboration / partnership between your organizations and those libraries and where do you see that relationship heading in the future?

Julie   Libraries have always been a wonderful partner and network for California Humanities, and over the decades we have done many programs with them, including statewide reads.  For example, in 2014-15, our War Comes Home statewide initiative focusing on the human experience of war supported over 800 library events across the state, reaching 1.8 million participants.

As part of our strategic refresh, we surveyed and did focus groups with librarians, and developed the Library Innovation Lab, which provides a cohort of 10-12 programming librarians from around the state with training in design thinking and community research, as well as year-long support and some “venture capital” to design and implement small scale public humanities projects that will reach and engage underserved immigrant populations in their communities. Our hope is that they will experiment with something new to their library, while also providing professional development and skills that can be used beyond the grant period.  We’re now working with our third cohort, and we love seeing the ideas they have been bringing to life in their libraries.

Barry:  One of the underpinnings of the humanities, in California and nationally, has been, and continues to be, storytelling as a way to preserve, document and amplify the various voice and stories of the citizenry - and the multiple cultures that comprise American, and particularly California, society.  in a sense, those stories are at the core of the humanities.  California is a unique place.  Again the fifth biggest economy in the world.  40 million people.  As diverse a place as exists anywhere on the planet.  They use to say that whatever people in California are doing now, the rest of the world will be doing in ten years.  Things start here:  the Beat Generation, the Hippies, LGBT culture, television, the computer revolution, the San Francisco music scene.  There are so many stories to tell, and so many different ways to tell them. Now we live in an age where people’s attention spans seem so short, so how are you approaching the storytelling of Californians to be both truly representative of our vast diversity - on every marker, and how are you packaging the stories - however told - so that you capture the largest market and the attention of those in positions who can help further the overall story of the humanities itself?

Julie   We recorded a compelling audio interview with former National Poet Laureate (and one of our former board members) Juan Felipe Herrera, in which he says “Perhaps one of the most powerful ways to generate peace, is by listening to someone’s story, a poem or a saying.  And all of a sudden our heart is moved.  It’s hard to move the heart, you know.  We’re so busy.  We have so many things we feel we have to do.  So whenever we stop and listen to someone’s tiny story– or big story – it doesn't matter – our hearts will be moved.”

(You can hear the interview here: Juan Felipe Herrera, Former U.S. Poet Laureate – California Humanities)

This gets to me every time I listen to it.  Even tiny stories have power!  That’s comforting to me in the face of so much noise, so many stimuli, and myriad ways we can spend our time.  Stories will always win out, whether it’s part of a corporate strategy, as major San Francisco tech firm brand manager told me recently, or a Moth Radio Hour-like event, as one of our Library Innovation Lab participants created in Fresno, or a youth media report about the fires in Northern California, as developed by one of our CA2020 community college fellows.

We’re happy that some of the humanities stories we support appear on Netflix and PBS and at major film festivals.  We’ve even had California Humanities-funded films available to view on airlines (thank goodness for the advent of individual televisions at each seat). Our goal is to do whatever we can to fund great, moving, important - and even tiny stories, from all across the state - and help get the word out in California and beyond.

Barry:  Continuing with storytelling for a moment, a lot of stories are told using a visual approach - including film, photos, artifacts and the like - perfect museum exhibitions.  Are you doing anything specific to work with museums to help tell the humanities stories?

Julie   We do fund museum exhibits and programming through our Humanities for All grant lines, and have done so for many years through former grant programs.  They are a natural venue for public programming that connects so many community voices through the arts, history, culture, place.

One example of a project that touched on history and culture was Something from Nothing: Art and Handcrafted Objects from American’s Concentration Camps. The Thacher Gallery at the University of San Francisco, in collaboration with the National Japanese American Historical Society, displayed over 100 handmade artifacts created by Japanese Americans sent to the American internment camps during WWII.  The exhibition was augmented by tours, educational materials, and other public programs related to Executive Order 9066.  I was struck by the beauty and the poignancy of the exhibit, which included a quilt crafted by children in the camp school, as they studied the pioneers, and jewelry made by women of common household materials found in the camps.

Barry:  How much relevant data on things that fit the “humanities” moniker have you been able to collect so far?  What kinds of data?  And what do you intend to use the data for?  What are you missing that would make your work easier in this arena?

Julie:  We have been collecting data from our grantees for years for reporting purposes, and have done formal evaluations of some initiatives in the past.  Last year we contracted with Harder + Co to help us develop a new evaluation framework across all of our programs to better understand the impact that we have put into practice this year.  This framework informs how we track outcomes, and measure progress and success. As part of this, we work with our grantees and partners in the collection of evaluation data from multiple sources including self-evaluation and audience surveys. California Humanities staff and board members attend events or programs when possible and review any products (such as written materials, publications, films, clips or interactive websites) as appropriate. We continue to use the data we collect for reporting purposes, but we are also analyzing the data we receive and using it to improve our programming and how we tell humanities stories.

The Humanities Indicators Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences provides more data across five main topic areas:  K-12 Education, Higher Education, Workforce, Funding and Research, and Public Life. This is where I go when we are looking for national trends and data.

Barry:  Follow up:  The Smithsonian is arguably one giant Humanities Museum, with the artifacts and treasures on display key to all the stories behind them.  Is there any equivalent in California?  Should we have a California version of the Smithsonian?  Should every state?

Julie:  I want to mention two museums that fit the bill:  The California Museum - Official home of the California dream in Sacramento, and the Oakland Museum of California: a Bay Area Art, History & Science Museum.  These are amazing treasure troves of California history, art and artifacts, and I would encourage everyone who lives here and everyone who visits California to spend some time in each.

However, I would posit that museums, cultural centers, and historical societies in other communities across California are equally important.  They tell local stories, and are accessible for students and those who aren’t able to travel to larger cities.

Barry:  Another aspect of the humanities includes consideration of serious, pressing issues confronting people - not only of the day - but historically.  Your organization sponsors panels, discussions, conversations, talks and the like.  Can you elaborate on this area of your work?  And where you plan to take it?

Julie   One thing we love to do is to help get the word out about grantee events in order to help bring in new audiences and raise visibility for the projects we fund around the state.

We also like to put together our own events, from public conversations to film screenings to grantseeker workshops with other funders or elected officials.  For example, when Swan’s Market (where our main office is located in Oakland) celebrated its 100th anniversary, we had a panel discussion that included Oakland’s Mayor, Libby Schaff, talking about what makes a neighborhood.  We’ve put together speaker panels at book festivals, and last year we participated in California Fresh film series at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.  Each month they screened a documentary that we funded, and we facilitated discussions afterwards with the filmmakers.  We are always looking for opportunities to have public conversations about California stories.

Our Oakland office is also the site of our Art of Storytelling exhibit series, now in its third year.  Our goal is to provide humanities-focused visual arts experiences that highlight some aspect or experience of California life; we have public events that provide an opportunity to meet the artist and other experts in a particular topic that people can see on the walls.  Exhibits have included textile stories from the African-American Quilt Guild of Oakland, activist posters from Favianna Rodriguez, photographs from the farmworker fields of 1975 taken by Mimi Plumb, and photographs, artwork, and written word from incarcerated men in Lancaster Prison.  Our current exhibit is called We Are More: Stories by Queer Comic Artists launched publicly on July 16. New Exhibit We Are More: Stories by Queer Comic Artists Opens in July – California Humanities

Barry:  As you acknowledge on your website:  “often we think about the humanities as academic subjects or fields of inquiry that produce knowledge…” about the human experience.  In a sense then, literature, history, sociology, law, theology and even the arts are facets under the Humanities umbrella.  As you well know, there continues a major push to get the arts included in the K-12 curriculum and as an addition moving STEM to STEAM.  Should there be a similar effort to include the Humanities as well, or subsuming what is already being offered under the Humanities banner?

Julie   Our strategic framework has a component focused on K-12 humanities education, and in the past couple of years we have been exploring the gaps in humanities education in the state, the potential policy levers for systems change, and the programmatic inputs that can move the needle on whole-student education.   We believe that there is an opportunity to ensure that every student has an education that includes the arts and humanities alongside (not instead of) STEM subjects.  We need young people who are both data-focused and humanists, and parents and educators who understand that our democracy needs them to provide a robust civic education.

We commissioned data analysis and research from SRI Education, which confirmed what we know anecdotally about the access and equity gap to humanities education across socioeconomic and age divides.  We have had regular meetings of an informal kitchen cabinet made up of educators, funders, and learning experts to hone in on a possible approach for California Humanities to take.  As a group, we have focused in on middle school as a flashpoint, as there seems to be little consistent connection to the humanities at those ages.  The report can be found here:  https://calhum.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/SRI-CA-Humanities-Report_FINAL_May2017.pdf

We are currently working with an education consultant to develop strategic theories of change to guide the development of a programmatic focus that provides middle grade students with an education that includes the humanities.  We plan on testing our ideas at a convening in the coming months, and then will make a decision on which idea to pilot in 2020.

Barry:  We live in a world where the very concept of truth itself has become a personal choice, where a free press is facing constant attacks, where authoritarianism is on the march all across the globe.  What then is the role of the humanities in protecting democracy, a free press and the values that have long underpinned America?

Julie   Last year, we launched a new youth-focused initiative: CA2020: Youth Perspective and the Future of California.  If California is at times seen as an indicator of where we are headed as a country, then the state’s 9 million young people under the age of 18 will play an increasingly significant role in shaping who we are and the issues that we care about both regionally and nationally in coming years. With an eye toward the next national election and the goal of amplifying youth voices, we want to hear the insights and perspectives of young soon-to-be-voting age Californians on the subjects and issues that both divide and unite us. The CA 2020 initiative has been designed to examine how young people in California will come to understand and make reasoned and informed decisions about issues that directly affect their futures – and that includes learning what they care about, how they get their news, how they will continue the values of a free press, and how to manage information that is coming to them in a 24-hours news cycle.

Central to our work with young people is the concept of media literacy, a critical 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy. We are thinking about not just young people’s ability to analyze media messages, but also to be active contributors to public dialogue and civically engaged. We seek to empower young people to share their perspectives, encourage them to participate, and provide platforms to amplify their voices. This is where we consider the most important work of civic engagement resides.

Our programming has four main approaches:

DEMOCRACY AND THE INFORMED CITIZEN
Democracy and the Informed Citizen partners California Humanities with California community colleges and youth service organizations.  In 2018-19, we worked with the San Diego Community College District, Bakersfield College, Foothill-De Anza Community College District and Shasta College. Activities included: a series of public conversations with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Sonia Nazario (Enrique’s Journey) and journalist Joaquin Alvarado, participatory and hands-on activities for youth and students focused on media literacy, and a campaign to bring youth voices to the greater public, through op-eds, podcasting, blogging or other media. We held a Youth Media Summit in December 2018 in the Bay Area to bring together journalism students and faculty from our four community college partners to learn together and interact with media professionals. We’ll continue to add community college partners in the coming year. This was funded in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Democracy and the informed Citizen Initiative, in partnership with the Pulitzer Prizes and administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils.
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YOUTH DOCUMENTARY SERIES
This original series of short video documentary portraits will highlight the role and power of California’s youth in shaping our state’s future by sharing a diverse range of young Californians’ stories. It will showcase the voices and perspectives of soon-to-be-voting age youth, shedding light not only on the problems we face, but also on the solutions youth are providing. The series will be a centerpiece for a broader statewide conversation about California’s youth and the future of California.

HFA YOUTH VOICES
The Humanities for All grant program supports locally-initiated public humanities projects. The Youth Voices strand of the grant program aims to reach and engage with California’s youth. Projects that involve youth as primary program participants or audiences, and address topics or subjects of interest to them will be given special consideration.

CDP NEXT GEN
We also recently launched CDP NEXT GEN, which provides grants up to $15,000 to youth media organizations who provide training and support to emerging mediamakers under the age of 18 to create short nonfiction films and podcase that tell original stories about life in California today.

Barry:    Where do you see more opportunities to collaborate with other sectors - from the arts, to architecture, to the universities and academic inquiry, to history and civics?  How do we fast track those efforts?

Julie   We see these cross-sector connections every day, whether it’s talking to an architecture firm about historic and cultural context on a community-based project, or partnering with a local urban institute about how stories play a role in local policy development, or bringing together philanthropy leaders to talk about how foundations and the academic humanities sector can intersect more thoughtfully.

I don’t believe partnerships can ever be fast-tracked: it’s more important to be open to opportunities as they arise, knowing that as an organization, we can’t say yes to everything, but  we’re happy to be at the table to help make connections that might move cross-sector work forward.

(I feel that this is one of those questions that could be a whole separate blog – so I’m not sure if a short answer like this is even worth including.)

Barry:  There is increasing evidence that the humanities - like the arts - are of verifiable value in treating patients for multiple kinds of health problems.  For example, Doctors are now encouraged - in some places anyway - to study the humanities as part of their training because it gives them perspective, empathy and a greater ability to help their patients heal.  What have you done, or what do you want to do, in advancing the humanities as part of the aging and health fields?

Julie   The medical humanities as a field is growing nationally, and includes a program that we have been delivering since 2010. Literature & Medicine ®: Humanities at the Heart of Health Care is a professional development program developed by the Maine Humanities Council, which provides site-based reading and discussion experiences for practicing health care professionals across the country. The program aims to improve the quality of health care services delivered to patients, and thus patient outcomes, by improving providers’ interpersonal and communication skills, increasing their ability to empathize with patients and co-workers, and increasing their levels of job satisfaction, cultural awareness, and self-knowledge.   California Humanities currently implements Lit & Med in four VA (Veterans Affairs) hospitals across the state – San Francisco, Fresno, San Diego, and Palo Alto - with plans to expand to four additional medical facilities in the coming year.  It looks a bit like a book group; once a month for six months, a group of VA facility caregivers and administrators meet over dinner to discuss humanities-based texts on relevant topics, facilitated by a humanities scholar.  What we hear from participants is that it changes their perception and experience of their work, their patients, and each other.

Barry:  Literature reading may be on the decline with younger people.  How can we combat that trend?

Julie   We must continue to invest in our library and education systems, listen to what is relevant to young people, and give them a voice.  There are great youth-focused literary organizations out there doing amazing work in this regard.

Barry:  It seems that your grants program has grown significantly since you assumed your post.  How have you been able to energize humanities grant making?

Julie   Grantmaking has always been a central strategy of California Humanities as the most effective way to reach the far corners of a state as large as ours, and we take it very seriously.  Program staff take a great deal of care in developing clear guidelines, providing grantseeker workshops and webinars, and being available to answer questions and feedback throughout the grantmaking process.   We are well-known for our robust support of documentary, radio, and new media projects. Some funded projects have garnered national attention with screenings on PBS programs like POV and Independent Lens, as well as recognition of excellence through Emmy, Peabody, and Academy Awards.  We are also sometimes the only source of funds for small, community-based projects or interpretive programming for small and mid-size cultural organizations. As early funders, our grantees tell us that our seed funding leverages additional support and provides the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval,” thanks to our rigorous grant selection processes.  We are also known for providing support to applicants and grantees that goes above and beyond the often transactional nature of grantmaking:  we provide advice, feedback, letters of support, a sounding board, and strategic thought partnerships on projects.

In 2018, we received 699 applications across all grant lines, and were able to make 98 grants, so it is a high priority for us to continue to increase our grantmaking dollars, which have increase from $669,000 to 2014 to over $1 million in 2018; we’ll be able to augment this in the coming year with our new state funds..  We’re happy to say that applications from all regions in California are on the rise, a result of our ongoing outreach strategy.

Our strategic refresh in 2015 gave us an opportunity to hear from people about how we can be more responsive to funding needs, and as a result, we sunsetted the Community Stories grant line, which offered grants up to $10,000, and launched the Humanities for All (HFA) grants.  HFA Quick Grants up to $5,000 are for shorter-term projects, and don’t require any humanities advisors or culture bearers or a cash match, as do our other grant lines.  The grantmaking process is also streamlined.  The HFA Project Grants are for projects up to two years in duration, and can be up to $20,000.  We have found that this approach has done what we had hoped, and expanded the humanities ecosystem that we are able to support, from small grassroots nonprofits to larger cultural institutions.  We have also added some specific areas of focus within Humanities for All, including projects that are for and with Youth, Arts + Humanities-centered projects, and most recently, Second Responders: The Humanities in the Aftermath of Natural Disasters, to raise awareness on the part of all Californians about the challenges affected individuals and communities face through public humanities programming.  Our goal, per our strategic framework, is to listen to community needs across the state and respond with appropriate opportunities.

Our California Documentary Project continues to make Research and Development grants (up to $10,000) and Production grants (up to $50,000).

Barry:  If you could invite any six living people to a dinner party, who would they be?

Julie   The first thing that popped into my head was a Book Party, a table full of the authors that I am currently reading:  Susan Straight, Alex Espinoza, GaĆ«l Faye, Isabella Hammad, Tommy Orange, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan.  We would have to eat finger food because we’d all have a book in one hand. If I could have a second dinner party, I’d go in a different direction with a Rock Party, and invite Kate Bush, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Billy Ocean, Elvis Costello, and Paul McCartney, because I can imagine that a dinner of iconic British rockers of a certain era would absolutely end with a storytelling and jam session.  This is a good game.  Can I keep going?

Barry:  While a liberal arts education is increasingly under attack as non-utilitarian, there is increasing recognition across many areas, including Silicon Valley, and even the Pentagon, that humanities majors’ training to think critically about the human context is precisely the skill needed to effectively tackle today’s biggest social and technological challenges.  It is becoming less what  you know, and more important that you know how to think.  There is less and less certainty over what jobs will even exist in the future, and so preparing for specific jobs that might not even exist, is not the smart approach.  Indeed, exclusively emphasizing the vocational aspects of a university education places education’s value in terms of business utility, and excludes value to society as a whole, or to the well being of the individual beyond having a job.  That position is increasingly questioned.  How do we get the message that the humanities and a liberal arts education are of critical value to our society, out to more people, especially young people and to more employers too?  Or is that too hard a sell?

Julie   I come across articles almost weekly about this, and the good news is that liberal arts degrees seem to be more accepted – or at least the articles are trending in this direction, if the university statistics haven’t yet caught up with it.

People often talk about outcomes:  employment, citizenship, fulfilment. Economic instability fuels the need for high school and college kids (and their parents) to focus on whatever will get them a steady paycheck, large enough to let them move out of mom and dad’s house. Interestingly, data supports the idea that humanities students can get ahead professionally.

We’ve also been in conversations with tech firms in Silicon Valley and beyond about this subject; in particularly, we’ve been interested in providing some of our humanities assets – documentary films, discussion events – as a way to connect tech employees with those skills that the humanities engender that are important in our professional, personal, and civic lives, such as:

  • Critical thinking and problem-solving 
  • Empathy, ethics, expression 
  • Social justice and equality
  • Context –understanding others in their world through history, language, culture
  • Civic dialogue
  • Ethics
  • Communications and interpersonal skills
  • Curiosity and creative thinking

A few years ago, a board member and I gave a talk at the University of San Diego that we entitled “What Good are the Humanities?  Making the Case for Empathy in a STEM World”. Our goal was to make the case that students can benefit from the “both/and” approach in K-12 and higher education.  Wouldn’t it be a gamechanger if STEM students were required to take a healthy serving of humanities coursework, and vice versa?  A chemistry professor mentioned to me afterwards that he always brings in a writing instructor to teach his students how to better articulate their experiment outcomes.

Barry:  Where would you like to see your organization in five years?   What do you see as the biggest obstacles to the humanities growing and thriving?

Julie:  When I joined California Humanities in 2015, I told the board that I wanted to double the operating budget in five years.  Now that we’re coming up on that self-imposed deadline, I will say that we’re getting close, although we’re not there yet!  The impulse is, of course, is to grow prudently to make sure that we are able to do as much as possible across the state, without becoming unwieldy.

We have an extraordinarily talented and dedicated staff and board, and as we continue to grow, I want to make sure that everyone has a satisfying and meaningful experience, both internally in our daily work, and as participants in the larger humanities field.

We are committed to equitable practices, and have been undertaking an “equity alignment” this past year to ensure that we are making intentional efforts to live our equity value across all organizational functions.  We will always be looking for ways to more equitable and accessible as the world continues to evolve around us.

And those obstacles to the growth of the humanities? I’m going to put on my rose-colored glasses, like my mother, and repeat something she says to me when I feel as though I’m facing something insurmountable: “You’ll figure something out.”  I think this sort of optimism and pragmatism has carried the human species forward for a long time, and so, as long as people exist, the humanities will be right there with them, shining a light on the human condition.

Thank you Julie

Have a great week everybody

Don"t Quit
Barry

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Learning How To Better Do Our Jobs is Widely Available for Free Online, Yet We Fail to Take Advantage.

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

Most of us have little aspirational lists of long term things we mean to do to improve our lives.  Sometime we even write them down, but that's usually not necessary because these things are generally big ticket items, generic in nature, and there aren't that many on the list.  Occasionally one of these items might appear on an annual New Year's Resolution list, but for the most part, they exist by themselves.  While we mean to get to these items, we rarely do, so items on this list can remain for long periods of time.  We are familiar with things on this list precisely because the list has been around so long.  This is the list of the things that will truly improve our lives and which we know for certain we ought to do.  Yet we don't.

The reasons we don't deal with these seemingly high priority, important things we ought to do to improve aspects of our lives - our health, our jobs, our relationships and more - are all too familiar:  we're too busy, we're procrastinators, we've not ready yet, they can wait, blah, blah blah.

The most familiar of these "To Do" things include improving our health in some way - exercise more, lose weight, eat healthier, stop smoking, cut out the bad stuff and the like.  Even when we check off things on this list, they still remain in some form.  So we can join a gym and commit to a work out routine, and actually incorporate that into our daily lives, but the bigger goal of doing things to stay healthy remains on the list.

Another area that has its own sub-heading on the list includes improving our skills level, learning new things that make us better at what we do, acquiring information and knowledge that better equips us to "perform" on the job.  This area includes our nascent and only somewhat formed idea that learning is suppose to be lifelong.  Most of us are already "educated".  We went to college, we have degrees, we know stuff, or at least, we 'learned' things.  But in the back of our heads, we have it ingrained that there is a lot we don't know that we should, that knowledge is power and that it is constantly changing, and so we should, really, at the least, refresh every so often.  Undeniable truths every one.  We theoretically subscribe to the notion that truly smart people continue to learn so as to stay at the top of their 'professions'.  We intuitively understand that honing our skills level not only insures we will be prepared for an ever changing future, but that it is probably essential for our ambitious career trajectories.

And so we mean to act on that.  It's definitely on our long term improvement list.  Right near the top of the category anyway, is our intent to take some courses that will augment and supplement the body of knowledge we got from our formal education, and that which we've gained from practical experience.  Only we don't.  We mean to. But we postpone it.  Put it off.  We''ll get to it, but right now is not the opportune time; there is too much going on, too many things happening.  There simply isn't the time.  Life, including work, tends to get in the way.  It's too complicated to do.

Not for everyone, of course.  There are those individuals who seem able to juggle all the demands of life, and still fit in that professional development, continuing learning thing too.  And they are the ones that seem to often succeed at work, who advance, who move up.  Damn them.  How do they do that?  They obviously belong to the superhuman class that prowl the halls and make us feel guilty.

The thing is, of all the items on the unspoken list of things we mean to do to improve our lives, and especially our work lives, the continuing education one is very likely the easiest to move from notion to reality.  Online learning is everywhere, its easy and it's largely free.  Virtually anything you want to get better at, anything you want to learn how to do, how to master, is available online at the click of your mouse. What you want, when you want it.  Improvement on your terms.  You don't need to wait until its offered to you by your organization.  You don't need to wait for any invitation.

Want to be a better fundraiser?  Want to improve your marketing skills?  Want to learn to be an effective team leader?  Want to be an effective public speaker?  Want to understand the ABC's of programing?  Want to be an effective advocate or lobbyist?  Want to learn how to move up the management ladder?  Want to understand how to go from an idea to a reality?  It's all here. And a lot more.

So maybe this is the time to take some action on that "This Will Definitely Make My Life Better" list item - learning stuff that will help you in your job and your career advancement.

There are literally dozens, if not scores, of online sites that offer and aggregate all manner of courses to teach you virtually anything you might want to know, and the vast majority of them are unconditionally and absolutely free.  And the available courses include hundreds of courses directly related to  your work as a nonprofit arts administrator in fields ranging from finance to marketing, advocacy to fundraising, leadership to programming.  Whatever it is you do, if your want to learn more to do it better, that knowledge is available to you right now.

Here are just three sites that offer online courses that you might like - many free, other low cost (and if you google free online courses you will find a lot more):

1.  Coursera:     35 million learners, 150 university partners, 2,700 courses, 250 specializations and four degrees. In addition to free courses, Coursera offers courses generally ranging from $29 - $99.

2.  edX:   more than 20 million learners and 2,400 courses from a majority of the top-ranked universities in the world. Open edX is the open source platform behind edX, and it's open to educators and technologists who want to develop new educational tools. In addition to free courses, edX also offers courses for a fee.

3.  Udemy:  30 million students, 100,000 courses in 50 languages, 42,000 instructors and 22 million minutes of video instruction. Unlike other online education platforms driven by content from colleges and universities, Udemy allows content creators to curate their own courses and teach them online.  Many free, others priced low.

So perhaps this might be a good week to finally, at least begin to, address that item on your secret list.  Up your game, increase your skills level, improve your career trajectory options, be more productive, gain confidence.

Good luck.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry








Sunday, August 11, 2019

Christian Gaines - WESTAF's New Executive Director - Interview

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

Christian Gaines Bio:
Christian Gaines has served as the executive director of WESTAF since January of 2019. Gaines oversees the development of WESTAF’s arts-based technology projects, which currently serve approximately 3,000 arts organizations and more than 220,000 artists nationwide. He also works to support the development of the 13 state arts agencies in the WESTAF region. Gaines most recently served for five years as executive director of the international art competition ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. A longtime board member of the nonprofit DisArt, he worked tirelessly to ensure that ArtPrize involved and embraced disability culture through exhibits, events, programs and support services. Gaines’ background also includes extensive work in the film industry. For five years he worked at IMDb.com, where he served as a specialist in festival strategy and business development, overseeing the global expansion of Withoutabox.com, a film submission and adjudication platform connecting filmmakers to film festivals worldwide. He also served for eight years as director of festivals for the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, California, and for four years as festival director and director of programming at the Hawaii International Film Festival in Honolulu, Hawaii.


The Interview:

Barry:  What made you apply for the WESTAF job?

Christian:  Hello Barry and thanks for the opportunity to answer these questions and introduce myself!

I consider the WESTAF position more than a job – it’s a calling, really. Does that sound too grandiose? Perhaps. But, it’s a huge responsibility to lead an organization that’s been doing good work since 1974 and to represent such a geographically vast region, its communities of artists and its arts organizations. I had recently concluded a five-year stint as Executive Director of ArtPrize in Michigan, where I also served as a council member on the Michigan Council for Art and Cultural Affairs. My background prior to then was mostly in film festivals and technology – and through all of this work I had developed a real interest in how technology can connect art, artists and audiences in new and meaningful ways. Whether filmmakers, visual or performing artists, the complex nature of these connections is what fascinates and motivates me. In addition to the core field work at WESTAF in the areas of state and federal arts advocacy, social good, professional development and thought leadership, we also have over time built and implemented a portfolio of web-based utilities for artists and arts organizations (CaFE, ZAPP, GO Smart, Creative Vitality Suite, Public Art Archive and IMTour) – some which are thriving and well-established and others still nascent and emerging. It’s a really exciting time for WESTAF!

With the exception of a wonderful five-year stint in the Midwest, I have also spent almost all of my adult life in the West – mostly Los Angeles and Honolulu, and now Denver. So, when I read the brief for the WESTAF Executive Director position, I felt that we were a fit for each other – growing technology businesses that benefit the arts while creating new opportunities for artists, cultural workers and communities in the western field. Eventually, I met the staff and the trustees, learned more about the newly-minted strategic plan and fell in love with the people, the organization and its priorities.

Barry:   What do you see as the biggest challenges facing State Arts Agencies?

Christian:  Gosh, there are many. Some are perennial to the ongoing exigencies of support for the arts. For example, state arts agencies largely do an excellent job of demonstrating their intrinsic value to economic health and social wellness, yet often deal with an uncertain funding future due to changing political or economic climates, making planning across multiple years a challenge and sometimes impossible. This impacts the potential and quality of its programs. The west, in particular, is a study in spectacular extremes. Following recent legislative sessions, the California Arts Council is looking at its largest appropriation in 20 years ($26 million), while the Alaska State Council on the Arts is struggling to avert a complete shutdown with a much more modest $700K in state revenues at stake as of this writing. (Note:  The Alaska State Council was shut down after this interview - Barry).  How can we smooth out these disparities, and hardwire support for the arts into legislative priorities? Another challenge facing agencies is the struggle to stay relevant in programs and services as artists, educators and students move beyond traditional media, embracing new digital formats and experimenting with new technologies. State arts agencies also strive to make sure that they are providing funding, services and programs to their rural communities as well as urban ones. This can be a challenge not just in accessing and serving remote areas, but also because the needs of artists and arts organizations in rural communities are often so different than their urban counterparts. Attendant to this, a challenge for state arts agencies is staying relevant and nimble by communicating their value in a way that is meaningful to legislative and business decision-makers -- not just to arts advocates.

Barry: What role do you think Regional Arts Agencies like WESTAF ought to play in the overall matrix of the nonprofit arts?

Christian:  I see WESTAF and our five fellow Regional Arts Organizations (RAOs) as connectors. With access to a wide-ranging network of artists, collaboratives, communities, organizations and funders at local, state and regional levels, RAOs can truly facilitate, encourage, and prompt connection and growth within the arts, by connecting people to people, people to places, people to money, money to places and so on. We do this in a variety of ways, but one of the most effective ways is by convening culture workers and thought-leaders to impart and implement knowledge and best practices in the field. RAOs also serve as the operational sinew that binds state arts agencies to federal partners, including funders like the National Endowment for the Arts and advocates like Americans for the Arts and the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. Uniquely, WESTAF is also able to fund legislative advocacy and lobbying efforts for the arts in each of its participating states through earned revenue derived from its technology businesses.

Barry:   You’ve had previous experience in hiring people. What qualities do you look for in a potential hire, and why?

Christian:  Having held leadership positions in both nonprofit and for profit organizations, I believe in joyful and thriving work environments. It sounds obvious, but a good foundational quality for a team member is simply to be excited about the work. I also look for people who are good representatives of the many communities that we serve, so making sure that diverse identities are well-represented within the team is critical. We have so many stakeholders at WESTAF -- many of whom desire different outcomes and have very different ideas of what WESTAF success looks like to them -- so it’s important to me that WESTAF team members are advocating passionately for their constituents, whether they’re an artist, an agency, an advocate, a community or a technology customer. I value humor, compassion, thoughtfulness, thoroughness, reliability, a genuine desire to learn, an ability to listen with an openness to have your mind changed and a willingness to lean into discomfort as needed.

Barry:   You have extensive experience in film festivals, and with public art, as well as with the issues of people with disabilities. While it is still, of course, early in your tenure, do you as yet have a vision for where you want to see WESTAF? Can you share your early thinking on that and how that might relate to your prior experience?

Christian:  WESTAF has been doing truly transformative work since 1974. That’s a long time! Over this period, the people and communities that it serves has expanded, programs have come and gone, and the organization itself has grown and responded to the needs of the field, adapting and evolving with the changing times. With this transition and with a newly-launched ten year strategic plan, we saw a good opportunity to re-imagine how WESTAF is structured, and we’ve been working on this since the beginning of the year. The structure is based on a simple matrix of three divisions and three departments:

Vertically, we can see three core, purpose-driven, outward-facing divisions: Business (which includes strategy and operations for our revenue-generating, artist-supporting technology platforms like CaFE, ZAPP and GO Smart); Alliances (which includes our critical work with artists and arts organizations, state arts agencies, state and federal advocacy partners and the National Endowment for the Arts); and Responsibility (which includes DEIA work like our acclaimed Emerging Leaders of Color program, funding programs like TourWest, thought-leadership convenings, as well as plans to double down on social good work focused on the arts in rural communities, disability culture and other important areas.

Horizontally, we can see three core support-driven, inward-facing departments: Communications (this is an emerging area for WESTAF with lots of potential to better tell the story of the organization, the region and its artists through publicity, marketing, social media, guiding principles and branding); Administration (a backbone of finance, personnel and board stewardship); and Technology (which includes web development, cloud maintenance and emerging business intelligence capabilities).
These departments and divisions are not siloed; just the opposite, actually. There are dotted, porous lines that separate them, and a great deal of collaborative interdependence between their purpose- and service-driven functions. Because the arts administration world loves a good acronym, we call this structure BARCAT. When we present it we usually feature a kitten, sitting at a bar.
While we’ve had to work through a lot to socialize and implement the BARCAT structure within the organization and the transition is certainly still intense and ongoing, we have found that team members are better able to visualize the purpose and priorities of WESTAF and the ways that they intersect. With this vision, team members are all on the same starting line. When you’re launching an organization-wide, ten-year strategic plan, that is a good place for them to be together.

Barry:   It’s not easy coming into a position long held by a predecessor. What is your governing style that helps you navigate this kind of a situation and what is your advice to others who might find themselves in a similar position? What are the keys to leading a team?

Christian:  It’s true that coming into a position long held by a predecessor can often come with challenges, but actually not in this case! WESTAF’s previous Executive Director Anthony Radich went to great lengths to document the organization’s history and trajectory as well as its opportunities and challenges. For the first month in my new position I went through a kind of “WESTAF U” curriculum, which was an intensive series of informational meetings from team leaders backed up by really authoritative documentation. It was a gift. Anthony continues to mentor me and is completely open and accessible, offering advice whenever called upon. I have never been through a more thorough onboarding process. Anthony’s significant accomplishments, shrewd strategy and smart decisions are the major reasons why the organization is poised as it is for the future.  So I think that I have come into the organization during a particular and unique transitional phase, one where we can be most effective by moving from a top-down style of management to a more tiered leadership system of directors, managers and coordinators. To this end, each of the divisions in the BARCAT structure has a director which is part of a Leadership Resource Team, who in turn manage their own teams. Specifically: Director of Business Strategy, Director of Business Operations, Director of Public Policy, Director of Responsibility and Inclusion, Director of Communications and Marketing, Director of Finance and Administration and Director of Technology and Innovation. We believe this will set us up efficiently to tackle the future.

Another very important part of the WESTAF culture, as well as the cornerstone of its successful leadership is the board of trustees, and I’ve been lucky to work with our chair Erin Graham and the executive committee on establishing a set of strategic priorities for my first year. It’s exciting to work with a board that is utterly engaged and energized by the work and the potential of the organization. There is such purpose to the work of its committees — including the board development committee and the newly re-imagined equity and inclusion committee (formerly the multi-cultural advisory committee). Erin will be stepping away from leadership in October and current vice chair Tamara Alvarado will be stepping into this role, so lots of exciting transition is happening!

My advice for new leaders? Be open. Listen a lot. Don’t be afraid to be the student, and don’t feel that you have to lead decisively from day one. Observing the dynamics of the organization and then responding to what you see and understand, rather than from your sense of “what’s worked for you before” is critical. Each situation is different. Make it a priority to understand and harness your single greatest asset -- the people, the knowledge and the experience that makes up your organization.

Barry:   To an extent, everything is always about “the money”. Where do you see your funding priorities for WESTAF? Under Anthony Radich, WESTAF pioneered the development and marketing of some technical services and products such as the Creative Vitality Suite. You have experience in tech as well. Do you plan to continue that approach and/or do you have ideas for other revenue generating streams?

Christian:  After some trial and error, the technology platforms that WESTAF have developed over time have been successful. They have provided a reliable and consistent source of earned revenue for this nonprofit in a world where nonprofit fundraising is often anything but reliable and consistent. This is because we were able to see a need (measuring creative economy in a useful and dynamic way, for example, or creating web-based communities of opportunities for artists) and then develop some smart tools and integrate good customer service. While sometimes resource limited, we responded to the needs of the field, introduced new features and functionality and in some areas maintained an edge, even as a nonprofit in a mostly for-profit competitive landscape. For the near term, we are focusing on quality, stability and reliability in our products, and listening to what our customers want and need in opportunity engines like CaFE or ZAPP. We want to grow our network and reach more artists and arts administrators, and we’re developing a plan to do just that.

We are also looking at ways to diversify our revenue streams through fundraising and partnerships. These partnerships could be private sector investors in addition to other like-minded arts/academic organization that would partner with an expansion of our products. Two examples of content and applications partnerships that are exciting for WESTAF are Lyrasis, a partner in the development of our nascent Public Art Archive application -- and Emsi, a partner that provides efficient and accurate data for Creative Vitality Suite.

Additionally, we believe that our programs -- particularly in the areas where the arts intersect with responsibility and social justice -- are eminently fundable through public and private, regional and national grants and foundations. We are a mature arts nonprofit with a strong vision, sound financial audits, a good track record of financial sustainability and producing quality artist support programs at a high level. Looking ahead, we want to build capacity for our programs by partnering with foundations or corporations who share some of our values and guiding principles.

Barry:   Diversity and Equity are major, major priorities for the field. While we seem to be making some progress in increasing diversity, at least at the staff levels, equity - if one defines equity, at least in part, in terms of the allocation of funds - remains stagnant. The money still goes where it has always gone - and that is disproportionate to the larger, white cultural organizations. How do we change the structures that perpetuate that reality so we might achieve a more equitable and balanced funding playing field? What is the role of SAAs in that effort?

Christian:  Identifying, training and networking emerging leaders of color is a major initiative of WESTAF and has been for many years now. The WESTAF ELC program now sees its alumni working within legacy institutions and playing a major role in transforming these cultural organizations, art museums and arts agencies for the better. It’s important to realize that progress in this work doesn’t just come from diversifying white cultural organizations (although that’s important), it also comes from leading institutions of color, as well. When there are only a few new leaders of color diversifying traditionally white institutions, this creates an opportunity cost that is widely felt by organizations of color. The wealthy foundations that fund arts and culture are most often headquartered in the bigger cities where these legacy white cultural organizations are most commonly located and where their contribution will be most visible. Remote, rural areas sparsely populated by underserved communities, often of color, do not get the attention that cities do. Funders could be well served by first addressing this problem.

Recognizing the important role public funding plays in sustaining cultural orgs in light of the imbalance that exists in private philanthropy is something that we try to speak to continually as an organization. It can help close the gap -- but only if those public funders acknowledge the gap exists and are willing to prioritize orgs that are not in the top 2% - a tall order.

Our DEIA consulting work with a variety of arts institutions led by Chrissy Deal, Director of Responsibility and Inclusion, is an effort to do this. For example our work with Salt Lake County’s Zoo Arts & Parks (ZAP), we lead and educate the staff and leadership on the funding statistics, orient them to the concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion, provide ways for them to think about their processes through an equity lens, show them where their money has gone over 3 years --- essentially challenge them to stretch their thinking about how to level the playing field for organizations rooted in or run by underrepresented groups.

Barry:   Research has been a growth area in the nonprofit arts over a decade. What kinds of research do you think is most valuable to us as decision-makers, and how can we better help arts administrators access and act on that research?

Christian:  In addition to valuable research and awareness around DEI (as described above) to make sure that arts organizations are keeping this work front and center, we are also excited with research that revolves around the creative economy. For too long, understanding the creative industry in a specific region has revolved around a method for justifying funding to legislators, business leaders or foundation program managers. Usually this is in the form of static reports with some multiplier formulas, and the requisite “good news” has been extracted for this purpose. While this is somewhat important, we’re missing the point. Creative economy research can (and should) be dynamic, surprising, revealing and frustrating. It should be a useful way to determine how to build and shape our regional creative industry. There is so much that has yet to be learned about the ebb and flow of creative industry workers in a given region or municipality. WESTAF’s Creative Vitality Suite product is in the right space to address this. Additionally, we’re excited about other projects in this space, including the development of various “Top 25” Lists revealing interesting and accessible data points around regional creative economy achievements or variances, and also the development of a multi-module curriculum that will educate and certify all kinds of community investors to better understand and explore the creative economy space. These projects are just now emerging and you’ll be hearing about them over the next year or two.

As laid out in our strategic plan, one of the metrics we’re primed to use in our research and measurement of impact is the Net Promoter Score in both thought leadership (participants of convenings) and in our software-as-a-service (SaaS) products. We will always continue to expand our offerings within our existing SaaS products because we understand that data is a key factor for our clients, and that developing Business Intelligence tools for them to use with their users and applicants is a key way forward.

Barry:   The arts have, for years, touted and encouraged risk-taking - at least conceptually. And for many smaller arts organizations, mere continued existence might qualify as risk. What is your perception of how the field might take more, and/or smarter, risks? And to what effect?

Christian:  Initially trite as it may sound, I think the field needs to keep asking “What is Art?” The definition of how an agency can be effective in its work has been narrowly defined for a long time. Art in schools, public art management, community grants -- these are all essential activities of agencies, but artists and the art world in general are constantly morphing and changing definitions of art, so it makes sense that the services we provide should adapt and change, as well. For example, agencies spend a lot of time focusing on “hard art” -- durable, often sculptural, public-facing pieces that can withstand the elements etc. It would be exciting if arts organizations could get involved in more site-specific and ephemeral work that might endure later only in communal memory. This work might temporarily surprise and amaze -- or confound and infuriate -- but might engage a community around the meaning of the work itself and lead to conversations around what art is, and why it matters. That kind of work is pretty risky but the rewards can be pretty great.

Barry:   WESTAF’s constituency, by definition, is the western states. A more diverse set of political realities would be hard to find. The west is a conflicting amalgam of the politically left and right, urban and rural, large and small, wealthy and poor, old and young, including ethnicity and religion. Where do you see WESTAF being able to brook cooperation and collaboration between the states on policies that may not play as well in one jurisdiction as another?

Christian:  I think that WESTAF has a great opportunity to implant and communicate new perspectives on leadership around historically underrepresented communities. For example, the Building Movement Project’s “Race To Lead: Confronting the Racial Leadership Gap” report shows the disparities between white leaders and leaders of color in the nonprofit sector. A conversation with leaders of color in the field could help illuminate the possibilities for narrowing this gap.
In this and other areas, I see WESTAF as an essential convener around the issues that confront each state. This is important work that we’ll keep doing as long as their is the need and the appetite, and both remain very strong among our participating states.

Barry:  What kind of advice have you gotten so far?

Christian:  Three major pieces of really good advice: listen, listen and listen.

Barry:   There isn’t enough money to put an arts teacher in every school in America (let alone to put different arts disciplines teachers - plural - in every school). And what money is available is inequitably distributed between wealthy school districts and poor ones. Students in the poor ones simply do not have the same access to quality arts education, and they haven’t,  for two or more generations now. What can state arts agencies - whose budgets themselves vary widely - do to make standards and curriculum based, sequential arts education, taught by qualified and trained teachers, available to more students? If it’s true that the best marker for future audience growth is prior arts education participation, is the fact that arts education is a have v. have-not reality damning arts organizations in poorer areas to failure?

Christian:  I feel like there are some answers already embedded in this question! I think that in order for states to pull up the quality of arts education so that all students have access to quality arts education is three fold: 1) a national understanding of the importance of arts as part of education -- the “STEAM” argument has gathered lots of momentum in national conversation recently which is encouraging. Making sure that budget decision-makers understand that the arts actually help to mint the next generation of problem-solvers in science, math, technology and engineering is essential. We’re making progress. 2) making sure that all available private partnerships in a given state have been leveraged. Legislators listen to companies and businesses that employ people and pay taxes in their regions. If these companies are also expressing their opinions about the importance of the arts in schools and doing what they can to make sure that programs get stronger, this will help. 3) make sure that your state or region’s federal relationships in the arts and the humanities are as strong as they can be.

Barry:   One thing RAOs like WESTAF do very well is convene various groups within the arts to meet, consider, discuss and debate specific issues, and report on those gatherings. Do you yet have any ideas of the kinds of convenings you would like WESTAF to do in the future?

Christian:  Yes -- convening thought-leaders is a really valuable function of WESTAF in my opinion. In this regard, we will continue to host a performing arts consortia through the annual SAPAAD gathering that includes state arts agency performing arts directors to discuss the latest and most pertinent issues in performing arts touring and presentation. Similarly, we always have an annual professional development session for state arts agency culture workers to discuss best practices and tackle commonly-held issues and concerns. Twice yearly, we do something similar for agency executive directors as well.

We’re currently looking at a variety of topics that need to be addressed now and into the future, including prosperity and rural arts; socially responsible investment; diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility; engagement within the green industry, and how the arts can work with them while avoiding federal funding hazards.

Barry:   We are at the beginning of the generational shift in leadership within our field. Despite the fact that many baby boomers, some out of necessity, are not retiring as quickly as they might, the shift is on. You are part of that shift. What do you think will be the most significant impacts of that shift over the next five years? How will things change because of the arrival of new leadership that had meaningfully different life experiences from the Boomers?

Christian:  First off, if we achieve our strategic planning goals ten years from now, WESTAF will have contributed to the elevation of leadership roles held by people of color.

I also think the arts field as a whole will shift to be more time-based, virtual and gig-economy based. It will feel less permanent and more ephemeral. The younger generation wants to spend money on experiences and actually interact with art and communities, not necessarily purchase and collect. We are already seeing how this generation self-curates everything from music to movies to the content that is consumed. The traditional curatorial gatekeepers are having their relevance questioned and institutions like galleries and museums are asking important questions about their roles moving into the future. In this regard, the expectations around philanthropy will change. The next monied generation is looking at how to address huge issues -- housing and clean water, for example. The idea of making a major gift to a regional arts institution is going to seem quaint and old-fashioned pretty soon.

Arts organizations must become nimble, flexible and be able to measure the quality of experience rather than just the quantity of its attendees. Success metrics will change. We now have to define what those metrics might be. WESTAF would play a role at that policy level to really be able to measure what a valid creative experience looks like, and how we build on that experience. Old funding mechanisms based upon old ways of collecting data will be outmoded. New data streams will instead be used to measure success. For example, is the length of time a user/consumer chooses to engage in an experience more valid than the total number of experiences they engage?

Barry:   One problem for arts organization staffs is that those on the lower staff ranks, including the most recent hires, don’t get many opportunities for professional development that would both help them in doing their jobs better, but also in their career trajectory planning. In large part that is simply a function of limited budgets, where the professional development money is more often allocated to senior leadership. What can be done to afford more opportunities for professional development to all levels of arts organization staffs? Is there a role for WESTAF to help the SAA’s help their local organizations?

Christian:  As I mentioned earlier, WESTAF does focus a lot on professional development for culture workers in the field. In our own shop, WESTAF is also going through a major revamp of not just its organizational structure, but also in the way we manage performance across all levels of the organization. We’re establishing goals for each individual team member that transcend performance; we’re interested in development, aspiration and fulfilling the promise of guiding principles established by the organization as a whole. It’s an exciting time!

WESTAF strength is also to build a network of professionals in the field. We can help leverage this network to influence decision makers. Growing that influence over time with authentic relationships are key. So for example, it's not always about hosting a giant diversity conference as much as it is about building key authentic relationships with emerging leaders of color to support their growth and needs.

Barry:   Though still arguably embryonic, there has been an increase in foundations working with each other to fund projects that are larger than those within their normal territorial limits. What role might WESTAF play in brokering partnerships between different foundations, and between those partnerships and government agencies, in terms of collaborative funding of various projects that have an impact on the field as a whole.

Christian:  As you know, WESTAF’s relationship network with regional and national, public and private grants and foundations is still emerging. Nearly two decades ago, we did something wholly unique and quite risky as a nonprofit; we developed an earned revenue stream which afforded us independence and financial sustainability. Existential threats of an open competitive market notwithstanding, this portfolio of businesses is relatively stable and thriving today. We’re now just beginning to turn our attention to what foundation-funded capacity-building programs might look like at WESTAF over the next 1-4 years and we’re extremely excited to explore this. Naturally, including content partners in such an endeavor makes a “one plus one equals three” value proposition that is very attractive and also best for the field. In general, WESTAF is excited to pursue a range of partnerships and collaborations as long as it tracks to our mission, values and guiding principles and most importantly inures to the benefit of the constituents that we serve.

Barry:   The RAOs are a largely independent group, each pretty much going their own way. While they have in common their relationship to the NEA, and while they do talk to each other and meet occasionally, for the most part they don’t often join forces on mutually agreeable projects that their collaboration and cooperation might help bring to scale, Do you have any feelings about exploring ways that the RAOs might change that pattern?

Christian:  This is a momentous time for Regional Arts Organizations, as there is a lot of leadership change, which is really exciting! Of the six RAO Executive Directors, the one who has been there the longest now has been there just five years. So, we’re all quite new! Recently we voted to change our periodic meetings from bi-annually to annually, and there is definitely an appetite among RAO leadership to collaborate on projects and to see how we can leverage our collective influence to the benefit of the fields we serve. The nature of these projects is still emerging (our least retreat was just a few months ago), but watch this space.

Barry:   Like the rest of the country, there are a number of states in the west, that do not have a truly functioning advocacy organization. In the past, WESTAF provided funding to each member state to help in this area, yet the number without ongoing, staffed advocacy organizations didn’t really change. What can WESTAF do in the future to change that dynamic so that every state has a real advocacy presence?

Christian:  I see this as being in alignment with the question about the biggest challenges facing state arts agencies. I see this as a collaborative and customized effort with each participating state, as each are so different in their dynamics, challenges and approaches. We are on the verge of hiring a brand new position -- a Director of Public Policy -- which will significantly impact for the better WESTAF’s approach to exactly this kind of work. Having a full-time member of our leadership resource team engaged in this issue will make a real difference. We’ll soon be adding a fourth strategic planning cohort (in addition to the ones currently operating, which are Business, Communications and Equity), focused solely on alliances and advocacy, which will also help in radically shaping WESTAF’s approach in the next 1-3 years.

Barry:   What would you like people to know about you?

Christian:  I am extremely proud of my two spectacular children Lola (23) and Luke (20). I come from a big, close family (I’m the youngest of six) and I am thankful every day for that good fortune. This is how I described myself when I was out and about looking for my next career challenge: “A film, art and technology leader who is passionate about bringing opportunities to artists, inspiring teams to do their best work and creating joyful spaces where everybody can belong.” I think that sums up pretty well what drives me professionally. I try my hardest to meet people where they’re at. I collect snow globes.


Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to answer these questions, Barry!

Thank you Christian.


Have a great week everybody

Don"t Quit
Barry