Sunday, June 23, 2019

Millennials Are No Different Than the Rest of Us.

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

We have spent a lot of time over the past decade trying to figure out Millennials; trying to understand what they want, what they need; trying to develop strategies to recruit them to our teams, to get them as our audiences, to convert them to being our donors.  We've focused on their devotion to high tech and social network platforms.  We've adapted programming and marketing to target them, and we've adopted new ways to present and exhibit art.  We've bought into the idea that because of their life experiences with tech, and their alleged penchant for doing things differently than previous generations, they are somehow different in fundamental ways than we are.  We subscribe to the notion that they simply want to access art in different ways than generations of the past.  We appreciate that their politics are different from ours.

But is all that true?

In the halcyon days of the Boomers back in the 60's, my generation thought we would, in the words of a Don Henley song, "change the world with words like love and peace".  In Berkeley and Boston, New York and Los Angeles, we thought our entire generation thought the same; because we shared the same musical tastes, we were of the same mind.  That turned out NOT to be true.  The fact is that we were not a homogeneous group that shared the same politics, nor did we even share the same life experiences.  Our preferences and tastes were all over the map - molded by a plethora of influences ranging from socio-economic status, education, religion, where we grew up and a lot more. And as we grew older, like generations before us, we grew more conservative.

The Millennials are likely no different.  Yes, they grew up with the technological revolution of computers and smart phones.  Yes they seem to love selfies.  Yes they have been impacted by the Great Recession, and those that are college educated carry heavy student loan debts.  Yes they they may be more likely to still live at home in their 20's, and yes they may have more trouble finding their job niches.  But fundamentally different from us in their politics, their tastes, their way of approaching life?  I'm not so sure.

In an article in Pacific Standard, a new report from the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, suggests Millennials aren't so different from previous generations, at least in part:

"Millennials, according to the cliché, are both woke and broke. Woke in the sense that, having grown up in an increasingly multicultural society, they're less racist and sexist than previous generations; broke in that, having entered the workforce during the Great Recession, they have yet to catch up to the economic achievements of their parents.
The report which analyzes data from a variety of sources, largely debunks both of those notions.
Today's young adults are just as likely to endorse traditional racial and gender stereotypes as members of previous generations. And by age 30, those who have earned college degrees enjoy incomes comparable to those of their predecessors."

The report's authors note:

"By age 30," unemployment declines among Millennials, and reaches levels comparable to those prevailing in generations that preceded them." 

To the extent we have internalized the idea that Millennials don't have sufficient income to become our audiences, our patrons, our donors - that's apparently not true.  They don't all live at home, they're not all without jobs, struggling to get by.

And, I wonder how many other assumptions we have made about them are also without justification.  I wonder if they really all necessarily prefer to access art through some tech medium as opposed to the traditional live performances and museum visits.  I wonder if they will likely, as did we, grow into being more interested in the arts as they mature, gain leisure time, disposable income, and settle down.

The article notes that:

"Finally, the report debunks widespread fears that Millennials are abandoning face-to-face interactions in favor of phones and computers.
"Millennials spend as much time with relatives or friends, and hanging out at bars, as 20- to 35-year-olds have been doing since at least the 1970s," write sociologists Mario Small and Maleah Fekete. "More than 47 percent socialized with relatives at least several times a week. More than 30 percent did so with friends."

I think its very likely that Millennials are far more like their parents - like us - than we supposed.  I think our efforts to dramatically change how we approach providing access to what we do may have been overreaching; that, in fact, they will be as likely to support the arts, and in the same ways, as we have been.  That's not to say that we don't still have a challenge in attracting them, much as we still have a challenge in attracting the Boomers and Xers.  But the challenge may not be to devise some wholesale way to fundamentally change how we present art.

Millennials are very likely, in my opinion, as they age, to become, as generations  before them,  more conservative.  They aren't likely to stay some course of fundamental rebellion that will herald a new order of things.  As in another Don Henley song line:  "Things in this life change very slowly, if they ever change at all."

Of course, Millennials have grown up with different experiences than did we.  Of course, their world is different, but their world is still our world as we continue to grow in it too.  I think we may be wasting some time trying to identify some magic new pathways to doing what we do; believing somehow that that is necessary to relate to a generation as so foreign and different from us that they might as well be from another planet.  In large part, they are us - just younger.  Do you remember when you were their age?

So how do we approach marketing to them?  What strategies do we adopt to include them as part of our sustainable future?

In an article in Ladders,  Amazon's Jeff Bezos is quoted as saying:

"The true secret to business success is to focus on the things that won’t change, not the things that will.  For Amazon’s e-commerce business, for instance, he knows that in the next decade people will still want low prices, fast shipping, and a large selection."

What won't change for us?  People, including all the generations, will still want exceptional artistic experiences, they will still want reasonable pricing; they will still want convenience; they will still want opportunities for enjoyable social outings, they will still seek fun as part of their social lives.  We are told they want "authenticate" experiences.  Well, we all want authentic experiences.   That's exactly what all our customers want.  To provide those things is already challenging, and we struggle to meet those needs.  And that won't change.  But to believe that the Millennials want art via some tech delivery system - perhaps even ones not yet developed - is a risky conclusion, largely unsupported by reality.

Perhaps Bezos is right and we ought to focus on delivering what we do in ways that satisfy those basic demands that won't change. That is not to suggest that we ignore societal changes, nor that we fail to reasonably consider and employ every new device that might help us.  And I'm not saying Millennials are exactly like us in every respect.  But I am saying they are not all alike either, and that they are far more like us, than different from us.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Teachers and Writers Collaborative Interview

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

Note:  This is the fifth in a series of interviews with Aroha Philanthropies Vitality Arts grantees delving into their launch, management and continuation of creative aging programs for seniors.  The final two interviews to post in a couple of weeks.  

Teachers & Writers Collaborative (T&W) seeks to educate the imagination by offering innovative creative writing programs for students and teachers, and by providing a variety of publications and resources to support learning through the literary arts. T&W programs include writing workshops for students, professional development for educators, managing the NYS Poetry Out Loud competition, and publishing Teachers & Writers Magazine and other resources about the teaching of creative writing.


Barry:  Your organization has previously offered creative writing programs for seniors, and you've had experience with appealing to, and focusing on, seniors.  Was the project an expansion of your previous efforts in this arena, or more of a refinement of what you had been offering?

T&W:  Teachers & Writers Collaborative (T&W) has offered arts programming for seniors at various periods over our five-decade history, but this had not been a sustained focus for our work since the 1990s. In 2016, we initiated a partnership with VISIONS: Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired to offer a poetry writing and recitation workshop for senior center clients as an outgrowth of our management of the Poetry Out Loud recitation competition for high school students in New York State.

Our Aroha-funded work at VISIONS gave us the chance to build on the success of our 2016 workshop and to refine our approach by offering more sessions in each workshop, expanding art forms (e.g., adding musical components), having multiple teaching artists in each workshop, etc. The basic approach to the workshops has not changed from our programs for students of all ages, which utilize artistic models to help participants learn about different literary genres/art forms and inspire them to create their own work.

Barry:   Your project encompassed workshops in songwriting, playwriting, poetry, musical theater, and memoir. Each program was led by poet, playwright, and teaching artist.  Can you elaborate on those component parts?

T&W:  T&W’s five workshops at VISIONS included multi-disciplinary programs focused on songwriting and musical theater. Dave Johnson, our lead teaching artist at VISIONS, is a poet and playwright and he collaborated with Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Allison Moore on the songwriting workshop, and with experienced musician and teaching artist Scott Lilley for the musical theater program. These teaching artist partnerships enabled us to offer programs designed by working artists in different, but related, art forms. They collaborated to create the curriculum for the programs that involved music. Johnson took the lead in helping participants to write lyrics, and Moore/Lilley then supported the seniors in creating melodies for their songs.

In addition to these teaching artists, teaching assistants worked with Johnson on all of the programs. These assistants included graduate students from The New School and New York University writing programs, along with individuals trained to support arts programs by Johnson as part of his work as poet-in-residence for the NYC Department of Probation. The involvement of these assistants was essential to the success of our VISIONS programming, since they offered support ranging from taking dictation from individuals who were not able to write during the workshop sessions to contributing their ideas to collaborative writing assignments.

Barry:  As you had previous experience in these kinds of offerings, you had time to consider the potential obstacles and barriers.  Was the reality of designing, then implementing, the project pretty much as expected, or were there still elements that surprised you?

T&W:  Because we already had some experience at VISIONS, there were not huge surprises in program implementation. We did gain a better understanding of how we could best overcome challenges for people with visual impairments; e.g., recording the discussion and providing the recording on a flash drive at the end of each session so participants had something to take home as a reminder of ideas they wanted to incorporate in their writing between sessions. We also found that having additional “teaching assistants” work in each session (e.g., to take dictation from participants) paid off not only in increasing the amount of work produced during each session, but also in enriching the conversations with added perspectives.

Barry:  In creating a budget for the project, what were the major projected costs, and were there any unanticipated expenses?  Did you leverage additional funding from other sources?  What sources and how difficult was raising the additional funding?

T&W:  Our primary costs at VISIONS were payments to teaching artists. We secured additional funds from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Brewer and the New York State Council on the Arts have awarded funding that is allowing us to continue to work at VISIONS beyond the end of Aroha’s funding. We have received additional support for our post-Aroha work with seniors from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. The challenge we have faced in securing funds is the limited number of institutional funders focused on creative aging, but the funders we have identified thus far have been generous in their support.

Barry:  What kinds of marketing did you employ in recruiting senior participants and did you go outside your usual constituent base?

T&W:  We were fortunate that VISIONS staff handled all program marketing, which made it very easy for us. We did provide language for fliers that were distributed to senior center clients, and one or more teaching artists made presentations about upcoming workshops at monthly “Senior Speak Out” sessions.

Barry:  Did you accurately identify the workload and time involved that management of the project ended up taking, and can you describe that workload and the time involved.  How did you develop your team to oversee the project?  What elements did you include?

T&W:  T&W manages arts programs all the time, so we had a good sense of the time that would be involved in the Aroha-funded programs. Teaching artists who work with us as independent contractors did most of the work for each workshop, including attending a planning meeting with VISIONS and T&W staff, developing the curriculum for each workshop series and the individual sessions, leading sessions and rehearsals for final events, preparing anthologies for printing and publication on Teachers & Writers Magazine, and acting as MC at the program celebrations. In the workshops that involved two teaching artists, they spent a few hours meeting to develop curriculum together. Prep time for the individual two-hour sessions took 30 minutes to an hour (e.g., to identify model texts for use in the workshop). Editing and designing each anthology took about half a day.

Staff took part in the planning meeting for each program, did at least one observation during implementation, proofed anthologies and prepared them for the printer and the magazine, raised funds, and handled financial matters. In addition staff identified a recording engineer who attended all the workshops, rehearsals, and final events to create audio recordings; and a videographer to create a video from most of the final events. We also reached out to colleagues at other organizations to identify a musician/teaching artist to work in the musical theater workshop.

T&W has partnerships with The New School and New York University through which graduate students in creative writing programs serve as T&W education associates and work alongside experience teaching artists in a variety of classroom settings.  Several education associates were teaching assistants for VISIONS workshops. We also drew on Johnson’s work with the NYC Department of Probation through which he has trained a number of individuals as teaching assistants. Two of the people Dave has trained worked with us at VISIONS.

Barry:  Your said your project augmented the teaching artist with graduate students from The New School and New York University who work as T&W education associates, and with individuals your teaching artists has trained to work with him via the NYC Department of Probation.  How was the addition of those other support people critical to the success of the program?

T&W:  The additional support from teaching assistants was critical to the success of our work at VISIONS. Most sessions included a mix of discussion, sharing of work, and writing. Although some VISIONS clients have enough vision to be able to write on paper or a computer, others wrote by dictating to a teaching assistant. They also supported the program by serving as escorts to help participants get around at VISIONS, to get to their post-workshop transportation, and to attend the Broadway production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. Teaching assistants typed work written by participants who were not able to type their own pieces and contributed their insights and ideas to discussions during workshops. One of the 2016–2017 education associates, Allison Moorer, is a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter. Moorer worked with Johnson on the songwriting workshop during spring 2017. Her involvement was a treat for participants who continue to follow her career now that she has completed the MFA.

Barry:  Did the project involve any collaborative efforts and / or partnerships with other organizations within the community, such as with senior centers, care facilities or otherwise?  How did those come about and how did they work?  How critical were those to the success of the project?

T&W:  All of our work in the Aroha-funded program was carried out in partnership with VISIONS: Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. We have worked at VISIONS since the late 2000s, and initially offered after-school performance poetry workshops for teens. In early 2016, we provided a poetry program for clients at VISIONS’ senior center. The success of that initiative led to our interest in reviving T&W’s commitment to creative aging and to our application to Aroha Philanthropies.

We could not have asked for better partners than the staff at VISIONS. They have offered us good advice on how to work effectively with the population they serve, taken on significant responsibility for program implementation (e.g., handling all marketing), and been open to our ideas. For example, when we asked about the possibility of having teaching assistants trained through the Department of Probation, VISIONS staff agreed right away and were welcoming to these young people who are in the justice system.

Barry:  Besides your experience providing services for the visually impaired and the blind, how did you deal with other senior issues such as non-native speaker participants, diversity recruitment, dealing with transportation issues of the senior participants etc?

T&W:  Although English is a second language for some of the seniors we work with at VISIONS, all of them are fluent in English. When they wanted to write a poem or song in Spanish, they were free to do so.

VISIONS is the only senior center in New York City at which all services are adapted for people with visual impairments. As a result, senior center clients come from all five boroughs. This resulted in a very diverse group of program participants with individuals of different races, ethnicities, national origins, and economic status.

Many of the senior center clients live at VISIONS, which is located in a public housing building. T&W program participants who don’t live at VISIONS got to workshops in a variety of ways, ranging from taxis to Access-a-Ride, the city’s free transportation serve for low-income seniors. (A majority of VISIONS clients self-identify as low income and/or Medicaid eligible.)

Our major transportation challenge was helping seniors get to the Broadway theater at which the group attended Beautiful as part of the musical theater workshop. In addition to T&W staff and teaching assistants working the program, we recruited volunteers to help with transportation. Everyone met at VISIONS and took taxis to the theater. The trip to the performance went very smoothly with everyone arriving in time to get into the theater and seated before other patrons arrived. The return trip was more challenging, since we had to find taxis or try to arrange app-car pick-ups during a rush hour rainstorm in Midtown Manhattan. Everyone returned to VISIONS safely, and all the seniors said that the time and effort involved in getting back to VISIONS hadn’t marred their enjoyment of the afternoon.

Barry:  What were the overall pros and cons, logistically and otherwise, in designing, creating, and implementing the project?  What benefits were there to the organization - e.g., new volunteers, new support, greater community involvement, media coverage, expanded organization image within the community etc.?

T&W:  There were no real cons for T&W, and far too many pros to list! One major benefit was realizing that we have the organizational capacity to offer creative aging programs based on many of the same strategies that we use in our work with children and teens. We also learned how many of our teaching artists had experience with creative aging and how many are interested in working with seniors.

One concrete benefit of the Aroha-funded work is that it helped us to reconnect with Elders Share the Arts (ESTA), a 40-year-old creative aging organization that was originally established as an outgrowth of a T&W project called Artists & Elders. In early 2018, T&W and ESTA collaborated on a poetry and visual arts program at the SAGE-GRIOT Innovative Senior Center in Brooklyn. Due in part to the success of that partnership, ESTA, which was preparing to cease operations in summer 2018, asked T&W to take over management of senior and intergenerational programs it had initiated. We took on those programs without hesitation, and might not have done so if we hadn’t had such a positive experience with our Aroha-funded work at VISIONS.

Barry:  What criteria did you use to determine if the project succeeded from your organization’s point of view?  How did you evaluate the project during its course and post completion?

T&W:  We did not establish specific criteria to evaluate the VISIONS programs before they began, but indicators of success over the last two years have included:

  • People signing up for multiple workshops. About two-thirds of participants in the workshops took part in at least one previous program.
  • Attracting new people to the program. Although there were many repeat participants, new folks took part in each workshop series. This mix of new and continuing participants enabled us to create a community of artists that was always invigorated by new voices and ideas.
  • The ease of recruitment. Fliers were created for each workshop and upcoming programs were announced at VISIONS’ regular senior speak-out sessions and at classes held at the senior center. In four out of the five workshops, the number of people who signed up to take part was more than the maximum number of participants we had set. Knowing that some individuals wouldn’t be able to take part in every session (because of health issues or other reasons), we didn’t turn anyone away.
  • The quality of the writing and performances seen in the program anthologies and at the final events.The feedback we received from VISIONS staff, who told us they heard only positive comments about the workshops from their clients, and that they observed participants sharing their work and rehearsing for events throughout the week between workshop sessions.

Barry:  What lessons did you learn from your experience with the project?  How will you apply what you’ve learned to the sustainability of offering new and additional creative aging projects to the senior community in the future?

T&W:  Because T&W provides arts programs for people of all ages, the primary lessons for us from the work at VISIONS relate to effective strategies for working with people who have vision impairments. Some of those lessons are transferable to providing programs for people with other disabilities. For example, the artists and assistants who worked at VISIONS are all much more adept at helping people who have mobility challenges of various kinds to move safely through a challenging space, whether it’s a New York City sidewalk during rush hour or a senior center undergoing renovations, as VISIONS has been for several years. Our decision to record workshops so that participants could take home a record of each day’s session on a thumb drive is a strategy that would be helpful in workshops that include people who have difficulty hearing in a group setting, but who could hear the discussion while listening to a recording in their own home.

Barry:  Would you recommend that other organizations consider creating and launching their own creative aging vitality arts programs?  What are the major considerations organizations ought to consider before embarking on the launch of their own programs?  What are the specific considerations in your experience that writing organizations ought to consider in planning a creative aging vitality program?

T&W:  Creative aging isn’t right for every organization, but it has been an exciting direction for T&W. Things to consider in exploring the possibility include:

  • Whether the organization has any history of working with seniors and what the results of those earlier efforts were.
  • Whether there are systems/infrastructure in place to support creative aging work or if those would have to be created from scratch.
  • Whether there is an organizational commitment sufficient to fund programs for a few years in order to get some proven results to take to outside funders in order to generate revenue to support creative aging initiatives.
  • Writing can be a particularly good art form for creative aging work, since it’s something that anyone can do with relatively few resources; i.e. you don’t need a big space or a lot of supplies to create a poem. Older adults have a lot of stories to tell, and writing memoirs, poems, plays, or songs is a great vehicle to tell and share those stories.

Barry:  What advice would you give those organizations gleaned from your experience?

T&W:  Find a senior center or other partner that is as invested in your creative aging work as you are. That is one of the major keys to success. Having a strong relationship with a center allows both partners in the program to maximize what they do well (e.g., getting recruitment messages to clients of the senior center vs. designing an arts program) and know that the rest of the work is in good hands.

Barry:  Do you intend to continue to offer these kinds of program to your senior community?  Why or why not?

T&W:  As noted above, T&W has taken over management of programs initiated by ESTA, and we are also continuing our partnership with VISIONS where we are currently offering a “Text &Touch” workshop on poetry and tactile collage.

Thanks to Amy Swauger at Teachers &Writer's Collaborative

Have a good weekend.

Don't Quit

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Minneapolis Institute of Art Interview

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

Note:  This is the fourth in a series of interviews with Aroha Philanthropies Vitality Arts grantees delving into their launch, management and continuation of creative aging programs for seniors.  A fifth to follow later in the week.  

MIA describes itself as:  "Inspiring wonder through the power of art. The Minneapolis Institute of Art enriches the community by collecting, preserving, and making accessible outstanding works of art from the world’s diverse cultures."

Project Description:

Funds from Aroha Philanthropies enabled Mia to present three workshop seriesto engage older adults in art-making activities that provide opportunities for critical thinking, creative expression,personal enrichment, and fostering social connectedness.

This year's series focused on personal portraits. Participants discovered the varied ways that artists have painted portraits over time by looking at examples in Mia's collection of various styles of
portraiture, from figurative to abstract. Guided by a teaching artist, participants then worked within a community of practice to gain fundamental techniques of painting and advance their skills through a sequential model of learning. Each class builds on the next, as participants became comfortable with the medium of painting, learned how to draw facial features, discovered how to capture a personal likeness and sense of personality, and gained proficiency in creating dynamic compositions.
Throughout the series, classmates were encouraged to share their work and reflections on their process, culminating in an exhibition of student work in the museum's Community Commons gallery and an opening reception. Mia's workshop series enables the museum to enhance and build upon past learnings to design and build a program that serves a broader audience of adults throughimpactful arts experiences. Teaching artists work closely with museum staff and community partners to engage and involve participants.

This program serves Mia's vital older adult audiences: 29 percent of the museum's visitors are ages 56 and older, with 16 percent of that demographic over age 65. In addition, in very meaningful ways, this program is advancing the museum's strategic goals for Fueling Curiosity, Engaging Communities, and Deepening Relationships, as outlined in "Mia 2021," the museum's strategic plan.


Barry:  What made you want to pursue a vitality arts program specifically for seniors? While a large portion of your audience are seniors, had you had previous experience with crafting programs specifically designed to focus on, and appeal to, seniors?

MIA:  Mia has a strong and long-standing tradition of engaging older audiences through collections, special exhibitions, and programming. The demographics of Mia’s visitors reflect the museum’s continued service to older audiences (see above statistics). The museum’s Board of Trustees and
leadership are committed to continuing programs serving this vital audience. Mia is deeply committed to providing quality, engaging artistic and educational programming serving older adults, and has strong community relationships with partners such as Centro Tyrone Guzman, a deeply committed corps of docents and guides, the Friends of the Institute, and others that strengthen the museum’s programming serving this audience. The museum continues to build on its learnings from the Vitality Arts grant and play a more prominent role as a visual arts organization in the creative aging space. Mia recently reorganized its Multi-Generational Learning department to provide dedicated ongoing staff time to support this initiative. Engaging Communities, and Fueling Curiosity.

Mia’s global collection offers unique opportunities for inspiration and learning, and Aroha’s VitalityArts programs advance all three of the museum’s strategic plan goals: Deepening Relationships,

Barry:  Your project focused on personal portraits. What was the thinking in focusing on thatspecific art form?

MIA:  Portraiture can be used both as a tool for skill-building in painting and for individual self-reflection and group sharing around the subject and composition choices. We also see a bridge between portraiture and Mia’s ongoing work around empathy and the museum’s Center for Empathy and the Visual Arts (CEVA).

Mia’s substantial global collection provides tremendous opportunities for participants working in portraiture. In the programs proposed for Year 2 Vitality Arts, participants will discover the varied ways that artists have used their medium over time by looking at examples in Mia’s collection of various styles of portraiture.

In Mia’s Year 1 Vitality Arts program, several participants in the Centro Tyrone Guzman program indicated that they were interested in learning how to paint people and faces, so proposing a portraiture program for Year 2 is in direct response to these participants’ requests. In addition, Miaalso will offer Portraiture to participants at Wilder Foundation, who also indicated they wanted tocontinue developing their painting skills through this project.

Barry:  How did you deal with issues such as non-native speaker participants, diversity recruitment, disability issues, dealing with transportation issues of the senior participants etc.?

MIA:  Fortunately, because of experience and existing partnerships with community organizations, Mia has practices in place to address and support some of these challenges. For example, Mia and Centro Tyrone Guzman have been partnering on programs for several years, so there was a familiarity with how to structure and approach this bilingual class. Additionally, understanding that the participants at Wilder would have a range of mobility issues, Mia reached out to Sara Tucker, a teaching artist who has lead Mia’s “Discover Your Story” program for adults with Alzheimer’s, and who is skilled at creating accessibility accommodations.

Barry:  In creating a budget for the project, what were the major projected costs, and were there any unanticipated expenses? Did you leverage additional funding from other sources? What sources and how difficult was raising the additional funding?

MIA:  For Mia’s 2018 Vitality Arts programming (Year 1), artists’ fees comprised the majority of costs: $5,250 of a total project expenses of $13,965.60. Other direct costs, including museum staff salaries directly related to the program, accounted for $4,590 in project costs. Aroha was remarkably thorough in urging grantees to think through all potential costs, so there were no major surprises, apart from staff time (please see response below). For the few unanticipated things that did come up, additional funding from Mia’s operating budget was used to cover program costs not met by the Aroha Philanthropies grant. For example, from previous experience working with Centro, Mia staff understood that food and hospitality are essential to any programming with this audience, so funds from the museum’s operating budget were used to supply refreshments for the class.

Barry:  Did you accurately identify the workload and time involved that management of the project ended up taking, and can you describe that workload and the time involved? How did you
develop your team to oversee the project? What staff roles did you include?

MIA:  In its original proposal, Mia underestimated the time museum staff would need to plan and implement the project, and executing the programs required more time than had been anticipated.Activities related to supporting the teaching artists’ requirements, planning and prep, also were greater than projected. Additional assistance also was needed from the museum’s Learning Innovations team, costs for which were not planned in the original budget.

Mia adjusted these projected costs in its Year 2 proposal to more accurately reflect the amount of time needed from museum staff, teaching artists, a teaching assistant, and program support to realize these programs. In addition, the museum’s Multi-generational Learning Innovations team was aligned to improve efficiencies and service to Mia’s programming serving older adults. Museum staff roles related to the project include: Head of Multi-Generational Learning; Manager of Lectures & Academic Programs; Manager, Audience Research & Impact; Photographer; and Videographer.

Barry:  How did you go about recruiting the teaching artists involved in the program, or were they already affiliated with the organization? What was involved in their training and involvement that you didn’t anticipate at the outset? Were there benefits to the teaching artists involvement that came as a bonus? or otherwise? How did those come about and how did they work? How critical were those"

MIA:  The three teaching artists were already associated with previous museum programs. While they were all accustomed to creating lesson plans, they were surprised by the level of curriculum planning and front-end work required by Aroha, so one of our teaching artists stepped down midway through the grant cycle due to capacity. Mia then quickly identified and contracted another teaching artist in the museum’s network.

Barry:  Did the project involve any collaborative efforts and / or partnerships with other organizations within the community, such as with universities, senior centers, care facilities the success of the project?

MIA:  Mia partnered with Centro Tyrone Guzman for Year 1 Vitality Arts programming. Mia has longstanding collaborations with this community partner through a variety of museum programming. This relationship, built over years of experience and trust, was critical to the success of the project. Mia also partnered with Wilder, an organization the museum had been looking for a way to connect with, so the Vitality Arts program offered a perfect opportunity.

Barry:  What kinds of marketing did you employ in recruiting senior participants and did you go outside your constituent / audience base?

MIA:  Participants for classes at Centro and Wilder were recruited from their existing programming for older adults. At Wilder, through their day care centers, and at Centro, through their Wise Elder program. Both classes quickly filled. At Mia, the class was first listed in our general programs email and did not initially fill. Marketing staff then created a targeted email to audiences who attended and indicated interest in similar programming in the past. After that, within two or three days, the class filled. Mia knows there is an audience for these programs, and this confirmed to staff that some customized communication may be needed as we begin to build awareness of these offerings at the museum.

Barry:  Your program was designed: “to engage older adults in art-making activities that provide opportunities for critical thinking, creative expression, personal enrichment, and fostering social connectedness.” What criteria did you use to determine if the project succeeded from your organization’s point of view? How did you evaluate the project during its course, and post completion?

MIA:  During the programs, teaching artists used time at the beginning and end of each class to check-in with participants, gauge their response to the class thus far, and plan for any alterations needed to the curriculum. At the close of each series, Mia program staff used the survey provided by Lifetime Arts to evaluate the program’s success. The Mia class was also followed by a discussion between participants and an evaluator from Lifetime Arts to explore some of the impacts, and Mia staff held post-program discussions with each of the teaching artists to gather their perspective.

Barry:  When you conceived the project, what obstacles and barriers did you identify, and was the reality of designing, then implementing, the project pretty much as expected, or were there elements that surprised you?

MIA:  In order to maximize participation and access to the class, Mia program staff chose to offer the classes to participants 60 and up. However, staff recognized that this could create the possibility of a very wide range of ages and abilities within one class—the differences between a 60-year-old and an 80-year-old, for example, could be considerable. So, Mia staff worked in advance with its teaching artists to ensure that each class could accommodate the diverse needs of its participants. In the end, the class at Centro demonstrated the unique opportunity of having, essentially, an intergenerational class when it emerged that there was a 30-year age difference between the youngest and oldest participants. The oldest participant, at 94 years old, was one of the most skilled artists in the class, and her participation challenged the assumptions about aging for many of her fellow participants.

Additionally, from the recruitment aspect, while Mia serves a broad audience of older adults through a variety of programs, we learned that marketing of our Vitality Arts programs in our general programs email, for example, was perhaps overlooked as the class did not initially fill. Mia’s marketing team then created a targeted email to audiences who attended and indicated interest in similar programming in the past. After that, within two or three days, the class filled. This confirmed to Mia staff that there is, indeed, an audience for these programs, but some customized communication may be needed as begin to build awareness of these specific offerings at the museum.

Barry:  What lessons did you learn from your experience with the project? How will you apply what you’ve learned to the sustainability of offering new and additional creative aging projects to the senior community in the future?

MIA:  Mia programming staff witnessed the deep impact that these programs have on this audience, and also learned a valuable lesson in how to best resource these programs. The museum continues to build on its learnings from the Vitality Arts grant and wants to play a more prominent role as a visual arts organization in the creative aging space. Therefore, the museum has recently reorganized its Multi-Generational Learning department to provide dedicated ongoing staff time to support creative
aging initiatives. Mia is grateful for renewed support from Aroha Philanthropies for Year 2 of the SVA Minnesota programming to serve this audience at the museum and continues to explore
opportunities for expanding its “creative aging” programming.

Barry:  What were the overall pros and cons, logistically and otherwise, in designing, creating, and implementing the project? What benefits were there to the organization - e.g., new volunteers, new support, new audience members, greater community involvement, media coverage, expanded organization image within the community etc.?

MIA: There were no cons that Mia staff could identify; however, the benefits were many. In addition to the impact on the participants, the conversations around aging had an impact on Mia staff, as well. One of the unexpected outcomes was how these programs revealed the subtle and not-so-subtle ways
that ageism plays out in our society, and how interrelated this work is with the museum’s ongoing equity and inclusion efforts, as well as its focus on empathy.

Barry:  Would you recommend that other organizations consider creating and launching their own creative aging vitality arts programs? What are the major considerations organizations ought to consider before embarking on the launch of their own programs?

MIA:  Yes, absolutely. These programs offer a unique opportunity to connect with, and positively impact, older adult audience members. As with the start of any new program, organization staff will want to honestly consider their capacity—both staffing and financially—to support, maintain, and sustain the program. Additionally, Aroha required grant applicants to issue a needs assessment survey, exploring interest in the class, potential topics, convenient class days/times. The information gleaned from this initial survey was very helpful as we developed the offerings.

Barry:  What advice would you give those organizations gleaned from your experience?

MIA:  Assign additional staff support to help initially get the programs off the ground. If you are working with a community organization, it may be helpful to start with one where you have an existing relationship. Piloting a new program with a new partner may be challenging.

Barry:  Do you intend to continue to offer these kinds of program to your senior community? Why or why not?

MIA:  Yes, absolutely. There is tremendous interest from older adult audiences in quality, engaging programming. With news of renewed funding from Aroha Philanthropies to support Year 2 of SVA Minnesota programming at Mia, the museum is looking forward to continued work serving older audiences through this initiative and others at Mia.

Participant Observations:

Participant Profile:

I am a married 76 years old retired customer service/instrumentation engineer at aerospace manufacturer,  living in Minnesota.  I spend my free time taking courses at the U and am also a gallery guide at Mia.

Asked why he decided to participate in the creative aging vitality arts program? he replied: "I like continued learning, particularly art history and studio art-based classes. I often take classes."

When asked to Rate and Review involvement in the project, whether it meet - or exceed - expectations? and about the benefits or negatives  of participation? he responded:

"As I mentioned, I have taken years of classes at the University, and Peyton is by far the best instructor I have ever had. He broke down the painting process in a very straight-forward, 
understandable way. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the medium of spray paint and learning about the history of the genre. I came in really cynical, but this was like a world-class master class--a mix between institutional expertise and street smarts. I also really enjoyed creating art collaboratively with my fellow classmates. The fact that we did all of this un such a compressed amount of time, it was like a dream. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity."

In response to the question of whether or not he planned tocontinue to pursue the art form that you learned in the program?  he answered:

"I think that I would." 

As to whether or not participation in the program increased his involvement with the sponsoring organizations, he noted:

"I am already a volunteer guide at the museum but would definitely take more classes like this here in  a heartbeat. "

What advice can you give to the sponsoring organization to make the program better?

"Go for it. You’ll be glad you did."

Thanks to Aubrey Mozer and Darcy Berus at MIA, and the participant's thoughts.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Richard Florida Looks at the Brain Drain Impact

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

According to an analysis by Richard Florida, of a new report by the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress, there is a brain drain of the most educated and smartest people, moving from parts of the country to other parts of the country, and it has been going on for decades, resulting in "a widening geographic divide between the winners and losers of the knowledge economy."

"The report uses U.S. Census data from 1940 to 2017, and focuses on highly educated people in their post-college and post-graduate-school years—people between the ages of 31 and 40 who are either “movers” or “leavers,” heading off to different states, or “stayers” who continue to live in their home state." 

Movement within America, according to Florida, is "a tale of two migrations: the skilled and educated “mobile” on the one hand and the less educated “stuck” on the other.  

"Gross brain drain is the simple difference between the share of leavers and share of stayers in a state (excluding people who move there). The biggest losers, as you might expect, span the Rust Belt, adjacent parts of the Great Plains, the South, and especially the Deep South, as well as Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire in New England. The winners are on the East and West Coasts, but they also include Texas and Colorado, as well as (perhaps more surprisingly) Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, and Kansas."
Bringing it all together, the best performers over the past three-quarters of a century are the states along the Boston–New York–D.C. corridor; on the West Coast; and Illinois, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and Hawaii. States fared the worst, experiencing more brain drain, in parts of the Midwest, the Great Plains, New England, the Southeast, and especially the Deep South.  The geographic winners have only seen their advantages grow since 1970."

So what does this mean for us - for the nonprofit arts and the creative communities?  Clearly, this brain drain is largely posited in terms of a high tech and entrepreneurial frame.  But certainly such movement has implications for our sector in terms of:

  • The best and the brightest moving to certain places will make it harder to recruit, retain and benefit from that class of leadership for those areas where the "drain" is in play.  It will also make competition for perhaps scarce positions harder in the areas where the "gain' is more pronounced.  
  • A consequence of that movement may likely make it easier to raise funds in certain "gain" areas, and harder to raise funds and stay afloat in the "drain" areas, as the economies and the donor class of the former areas grow and thrive, and the latter areas contact and struggle.  
  • And that may mean that: 1. access to arts education continues to be much more prevalent in some areas than others; 2.  the audiences for performances and exhibitions may shrink in the have not areas; 3. donor support may shrink in those same areas, as wealth moves from the "drain" areas to the "gain" areas; and, 4. arts organizations in the thriving areas may fare better economically, and thus offer better wages and benefits, perhaps further compounding the problem and encourage even more of a drain on the have nots.  
As Florida concluded:

"This split geography of brain gain and brain drain poses huge implications not only for our economy, but also for American society and politics. Brain drain has significant consequences—economic, yes, but also political and cultural,” the report notes. “By increasing social segregation, it limits opportunities for disparate groups to connect. And by siphoning a source of economic innovation from emptying communities, brain drain can also lead to crumbling institutions of civil society. As those natives who have more resources leave, those left behind may struggle."

The same may be true for the arts.  Or not.

The is not completely dissimilar from Florida's Creative Class theory which took our sector by storm years ago.  Of course, our previous experience with Florida's theses has led us to a healthy skepticism as these kinds of "general" theories are qualified by a host of conditions and influences not necessarily readily apparent on the surface - and so we ought not to rush to hard conclusions too easily.   And, we must acknowledge that it is a bit of a conceit, somewhat arrogant and arguably insulting to cast those who do not qualify under this kind of thinking as the best and the brightest as the remainers.  To suggest that only college educated, entrepreneurial people are the "brains" we all want is myopic and short sighted - if not in many cases simply wrong.

Still, as the country continues to diversify and change on profound levels, at a heretofore unheard of pace, population shifts will become more the reality, including movement of the educated, entrepreneurial and creative cohorts as those groups are generally defined.  While this kind of movement is not likely to be wholesale nor will it be universal - it may well be substantial, and it may well occur rapidly. We can't really know presently how this trend will manifest itself, or what this trend will mean for us.  But we can recognize its potential, and consider its implications and ramifications now, so that if and when the trend does result in challenges, we will be better able and prepared to address them.  It may be a boom for some, and doom for others.

Have  great week.

Don't Quit