Took the kids to the Museum of Anthropology today.
There are probably forty of these in all in the atrium. I tried to explain this one, but Faith said, “The look too happy to be slaves, Daddy!” So we just went along to the next one…
We basically scurried from display to display…
we did some impressions….
And we generally had a good time…
From Schema Magazine:
High-brow performance met street culture as world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma collaborated with Los Angeles-based dancer Charles Riley a.k.a. Lil’ Buckfor a presentation of “The Dying Swan.” The performance pairs Ma’s expressive, emotionally-wrenching bow strokes with Riley’s fluid, surreal body movements.
The way in which Riley, a twenty-two year old dancer who is the 2011 Vail International Dance Festival’s Artist-in-Residence, contorts his body to Ma’s melancholy melody is something I have never seen before. Apparently Riley’s contorted body movements are known as “jookin’”, a dance style that sprang from his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.
This – this is why the arts are important
The claim that the performing arts lack innovation in an attempt to please a greying audience is foolish. Those sixty and seventy year olds need another old chestnut like they need another pill to take. They’d sooner fend off telemarketers than see another Tannhauser.
The arts attracted folks because of new work and it keeps them for the same reason. These old folks didn’t just show up that way. They started coming when they were thirty and still want to be treated that way.
To think otherwise is to disrespect a whole generation of patrons. If Michael Kaiser wants to sit in this ivory tower at the Kennedy Center and bemoan the lack of innovation, he has only himself to blame. I suggest he bulk up his travel budget and head west.
Innovation is just over the horizon, Michael, west of the sun, and south of your $60 million straw man.
Always loved Fast Company. Key quote from this Ruth Sherman article:
“Perhaps most importantly, the arts teach that qualitative evaluations can be as valid as quantitative evaluations. Questions such as: Is the work good? How do you know if there are no rules for judging it, or “correct” answers? are easily addressed by artists. Arts also teach about teamwork (think choral singing, band, orchestra, drama and other forms of group performing) and appreciating the different talents and strengths that others bring. “
What do you think?
Screw you if you don’t like my prose.
Lisa Barone at the link above says it best. Learn to write! If you cain’t right good, yer gonna loose custimers.
Many nonprofit arts organizations are nearing the end of their fiscal year (June 30) and are staring a good amount of red ink in the face. I expect to see some stunning and saddening announcements over the next twelve weeks as seasons close up, audits are completed and management and boards consider whether their organizations are going concerns.
With that in mind, I’m revisiting some good materials I’ve been fortunate to read this past year, chief among those is an article called “Surviving Hard Times: A Guide for Cultural Organizations” by Paul Ideker, Principal, Ideker Associates.
Credit to him for what follows, blame to me for errors in paraphrasing.
First a key quote:
“The groups that come out of the challenge successfully will be those that rise to the occasion with renewed dedication to their mission, hard work, and solid strategic thinking about how to get through these tough times.”
I feel that rededication to the core mission of the organization, innovation born out of scarcity, and solid strategic thinking and communication are all key to survival.
Can I boil it down further? Focus on what you do best. Spend less and innovate more. Have a plan and be very clear with everyone on what it is.
OK, back to Ideker:
Stay on your donors’ radar screens.
Find every excuse to talk to your donors about how important they are and how important and successful you are. Don’t always ask them for money, show them what their money does, and they’ll decide before you even ask them.
Stay visible in tough times to the press and patrons.
Tell them what you’re doing to address these tough times. Now is not the time to disappear or hunker down. Now is time to show your best practices and that you are a market/industry leader. Even if you are having real trouble, showing that you are trying to address it will reassure donors, keep them from speculating, and might even draw some assistance.
Increase the transparency of your organization.
Along the lines of don’t hunker down. Don’t be secretive. People need to know where the money is going. Nonprofits rely on the public trust. Earn that trust with open, honest communication and multiple access points for people to lend a hand.
Review the strat plan assumptions, the clarify the core mission, communicate it, and stick to it
This is not likely to be a short term downturn. Best take another look at those growth assumptions. Don’t start anything new. Stick to your core mission, your core competencies, and shore up your weaknesses. What’s the one reason people give you money or buy tickets? That is your core mission.
Stabilize leadership, both board and key staff
If you’ve got a good board and staff, reinforce them any way you can. Engage them in the problems at hand. Break down communication barriers. Budgets don’t accomplish things, people do. An informed, engaged, dedicated person can do more with less.
Be proactive in fundraising.
Everybody will have a hand out. Get in there and fight for it. Have a good message and a good team. Ask for help and show how it will have a positive, measurable outcome/impact. Don’t wait to find out bad news. Go actively looking for support and you will find out who needs to sit this year out.
Remember its not all about you.
Thank people. Ask for advice not money. Get people to talk for you about how important you are. Ask what you can do for your patrons/donors. Pay attention to the big picture. Know your place in it.
Here’s some added things I’ve learned from others:
Show Your Face. Show Compassion.
Now is not the time to be officious (is there ever?). Get everybody in the room together for good news and bad. You might have layoffs or furloughs. Get out front. No emails. Meet in person. This goes for internal as well as external communication. There should be only be closed door meetings if you must legally have one (personnel issues for example).
My personal opinion is that everyone should know everything all the time. Work backwards from that premise.
It is impossible to talk too much about your core mission and ideals
Seriously, everyone should know what you stand for and what you are trying to accomplish. Then all you have to do is tell them how they can help you get there. This goes for staff, volunteers and board. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know what’s going on. Most companies are not so large that you could not meet with everyone individually, and you certainly could do so regularly as a group. Not only should you be able to justify your existence, so should all your people.
Don’t forget the “little people”
Every little bit helps, every little bit hurts. Your receptionist can have a greater effect on your bottom line than your CFO if you are not careful, or if she is. That intern might have the hookup you need to solve a problem. Everyone can contribute, anyone can blow a budget line. That little old lady might want to be a angel to you. We hit a ticket sales goal this year when an artist walked up and put us over the top by buying a ticket on closing night to see a friend in the show. You cannot afford to piss anyone off right now. And with social media blooming, one angry customer can literally “go viral” on you, sapping attention and resources from the important core mission.
There are some rough times ahead. The team that sticks together, stays on the objective, communicates well, and supports one another will survive. I have often compared leading a non-profit to leading a scout troop. Pick your own metaphor, but stick to the notes developed by far more experienced and smart people than me, and you are far more likely to get your troops through the forest in one piece.
To all my colleagues and any friends I may have in the non-profit world: Good luck and best wishes.
Great recent postings by Greg Sandow on the arts and popular culture.
I’ll summarize and add some thoughts of my own.
1. The fine arts exist within the framework of the larger popular culture and ignore or dismiss them at their peril. Don’t forget that the fine arts were largely the pop arts of their time. This leads me to wonder if there will be punk rock ensembles in the future.
2. The public does not need to be saved from pop culture. To imagine so is the height of elitism. The “high” arts don’t carry the burden of enlightening the masses any more than the white man or Christianity did. The natives will get along just fine without us, thank you very much.
3. Claiming the public lacks the attention span necessary to understand the fine arts really just means they lack the attention span to pay attention to what wethink they should pay attention to. They don’t seem to have any trouble sitting through Lord Of The Rings, nor have any trouble doing their jobs (like computer programming, risk analysis or teaching) which demand concentration and creativity. Someone out there is designing cool new iPhone apps as we speak.
So I work for a company that produces a lot of work from prior centuries. Why? Because it is good stuff and people will buy tickets. There’s a lot of good stuff people will not buy tickets to, just as there is a fair amount of stuff that people will buy tickets to, that in my opinion is crap. Our challenge is to remind people why the old stuff is so good, and also try to create for them in the theatre the same impact that the piece had originally. Artistry in execution above all. So too, we have a responsibility to keep up with popular culture and bring to the theatre quality new works that we think impact the audience in significant ways and which we believe will stand the test of time.
One puzzlement in the debate over the congressional stimulus bill has been the inability — or the perverse refusal — of many to include jobs in the culture industry as a legitimate concern. Politicians of various stripes, from California Democrat Dianne Feinstein to Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn, seem blind to the simple reality.
Scott Lilly of the Center for American Progress recently put it like this:
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) was typical of the opponents to the stimulus legislation who seized on the arts to discredit the overall package; he told the House chamber, “It included wasteful government spending that has nothing to do with creating jobs. As I asked on this floor last week, what does $50 million to the National Endowment for the Arts have to do with creating jobs in Indiana?” Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) was even more emphatic, saying, “We have real people out of work right now and putting $50 million in the NEA and pretending that’s going to save jobs as opposed to putting $50 million in a road project is disingenuous.”
Lilly cited a government study that showed at least 3 million arts industry workers are in support jobs —electricians, carpenters, seamstresses, janitors, accountants, publicists, etc. — and they’ll be just as out-of-work as a Wall Street trader or a Wal-Mart clerk if an arts center cuts back or closes. So what gives? Why are so many blind to the simple reality that arts workers are real workers?
I chalk it up to our celebrity culture.
Funding for theater? Tim Robbins doesn’t need money! Funding for art museums? Jeff Koons is rich! Funding for concert halls? Yo-Yo Ma is a superstar!
The glare of the celebrity spotlight obscures our view of the ticket-taker at Robbins’ play trying to make ends meet, the preparator at Koons’ museum exhibition struggling to put a kid through college or the education program coordinator at the concert hall where Yo-Yo Ma performs who has a pile of medical bills. Their jobs are at risk.
But they are anonymous, faceless. And of course, most artists are themselves obscure. Celebrity culture teaches us to equate the arts with fame, fame with success, success with money. Even in a national financial crisis, why would that need stimulus?
The distortion is severe. Whether Feinstein, Coburn, Pence, Kingston and the rest are just dumb, or whether they do get it and are cynically using the knowledge for their own political purposes is immaterial. People will still suffer, with no help from them.
— Christopher Knight
Credit: Andy Warhol, “Elvis,” 1970; print. Los Angeles County Museum of Art