Amena Brown

As a follow-up to my previous blog, “Poet and a Cubicle,” here are two ways to use creativity and the arts to liven up a business meeting.

We have all endured them: the dreaded department meeting with more tedious agenda items than should possibly be covered in a two-hour time span. This is the kind of meeting you only agree to because there will be free lunch. No matter how left-brained the industry, injecting a right-brain moment into a meeting can better connect employees, boost morale and encourage innovative thinking. Here are two suggestions:

Share Your Theme Song – This idea didn’t just work in the now defunct TV series Ally McBeal. Take five minutes in your meeting and have each person share one theme song that helps them make it through their work week. If your department is large, you may want to try splitting up into smaller groups for this exercise. During this interactive activity, you may find out that a senior level executive who you perceived to be stuffy is a die-hard Kanye West fan. Or you may discover that you and an intern are both avid listeners of Justin Beiber. The biggest thing you’ll discover is how music brings people together and gives each of us common ground, our humanity.

Provide a blank canvas – Before starting a brainstorming meeting, hand out a blank sheet of paper to everyone. Give them five minutes to draw or write whatever they would like. This encourages a moment of free-thinking and can inspire creativity in your work team. Allow some time for a few people to share what they’ve created. This exercise can serve as a great metaphor for what many of us do each day in our jobs, make something out of nothing, which is an essential element in the creative process.

What are some other ways you have used creative, artistic, or innovative thinking to impact the business world?

Hamburgers, fries, and the arts

Posted by Jeff Hawthorne On December - 10 - 20102 COMMENTS

We’re having lots of great discussions here about how and why businesses give to the arts, and strategies we might adopt to reverse the trend of declining corporate investment.  In an earlier post I advocated for local arts agencies to consider workplace giving and other employee engagement programs that could help inform corporate leaders’ understanding of the importance of arts and culture in their community.

Here below is some pertinent recent testimony from Mary Beth Cozza, Executive Vice President of Talent Management for Burgerville. (Is that a great title or what?!? We also like the title of her colleague, Jack Graves, Chief Cultural Officer!) Burgerville is a sustainable fast food chain in Oregon and Washington that received our award last month for having the highest number of employees participating in our Work for Art employee giving campaign. When asked why Burgerville and its employees were so involved, this is what she said:

Burgerville is a company committed to building thriving communities and thriving employees.  We do this through our development programs and by offering our employees many opportunities to give back to their communities and Work for the Art is one of many ways we do that. Read the rest of this entry »

Wally Hurst

Giving to the arts, especially for businesses (large and small), is always a choice. For the businesses who support the arts in our little corner of the world, that choice is based on: 1) the personal relationships we have with the business owners/executives, and 2) the sustained quality of our product and our people. Through all the recent economic downturns and the twists and turns of fortune, these businesses have to prioritize their (perhaps) shrinking resources. They will continue to support those people and places with whom they have the strongest relationship.

For our organization, businesses that continued funding at the same or higher levels have all come, without exception, from businesses with exceptionally strong personal ties to us, either as performers on our stage, volunteers at the theatre, or visible supporters in the public eye. They are here for the same reason that our volunteers are here: because they love the place and the people that are associated with it. Just as we have a passion for the arts and for our theatre, these business people (and the businesses they run) have a passion and a personal connection to this place and its people. They do not have a business obligation to give – they have a personal obligation to do so. We have found that those businesses with whom we have little or no face-to-face interaction (their choice) are the most unlikely to continue regular funding our programs. Although the businesses in the survey said that they were cutting funding to the arts because of the economic downturn, I believe that those businesses with a close personal connection to specific arts organizations (and people) will move heaven and earth to continue supporting those organizations they believe in. Read the rest of this entry »

Many of us have spent years searching for the strongest possible message and the best case on which to build support for the arts. Yet the messages we’ve used, and successfully integrated in the dialogue across the country, have not yielded the broad sense of shared responsibility that we seek.

Seriously, if we were succeeding, there’s no way we’d see news reports with quotes like this that lead to calls for an end to funding:

“Why should the working class pay for the leisure of the elite when in fact one of the things the working class likes to do for leisure is to go to professional wrestling? And if I suggested we should have federal funds for professional wrestling to lower the cost of the ticket, people would think I’m insane. I don’t go to museums any more than any Americans do.”

Reporters and bloggers love to shine a spotlight on fights like the one that erupted in recent days over a privately-funded exhibit at the publicly-funded Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. And opponents of broad support for the arts know they can undermine that support by tagging art as elitist for the few. We’ve seen it happen time and again.

Debates like this make even our friends and supporters leery of publicly backing the arts — whether with money or advocacy.

We have to change the landscape so the arts are not so vulnerable in the public forum. Business leaders, indeed all leaders, need to see the arts as necessary — not just nice.

While most people feel positively toward the arts, we need a new focus in order to motivate action by business and civic leaders. Read the rest of this entry »

Akhtar Badshah

Over the last decade we have seen an increasing number of arts organizations effectively using technologies as a way to get out in front of their audiences and to enhance the relationship arts organizations have with their patrons, participants, supporters etc.   I can talk a lot about CRM systems as a way to have an effective database that can pull member information, ticketing information, funder information all in a seamless manner providing information at the fingertips to the executive director, the development officer or the communications manager.   What I want to share, though, is a few thoughts on how to effectively use IT to unleash the creativity within arts organizations and make for fresh, richer programming experiences to attract new and young patrons.

With the advent of the CLOUD, web 2.0 and other social media platforms we have, at any given moment, a seamless flow of information between devices whether they are in your hand with a smartphone, or on your desk (PC) and on your wall (TV).  This convergence – where you are able to seamlessly get data in a highly interactive manner is making for a much richer experience for the user.  Already today the MET broadcasts their Opera’s with translation via the web.  With the increase in available bandwidth and high definition screens the quality of broadcast will continue to improve.  What is the opportunity to combine individual web-based experience and bring them into the theatre to see live performances? Read the rest of this entry »

Bruce Whitacre

At the NCTF Board meeting this fall, we invited Louise Chalfant, the Director of Education at the Guthrie Theatre, to talk about her programs targeting professionals.  (See

Our guest speaker slot is usually offered to a distinguished artist, an artistic director, a major producer, someone one would normally consider of interest to the managing directors and high level executives on our Board.  This time, we wanted to share the special programs Louise and her team have created that are quite unique in their scope, their consistency, and their success.  It was an eye-opening presentation.

Louise is building a very important new bridge into corporations and professional firms for her community, and the country as a whole.  Success such as hers makes a strong case for companies to engage with the arts the Shugol report cites, but at an all new level.

Over the past few years, in conjunction with board members and corporate partners (more on this, below), Louise and her team have crafted the rather likely but exciting range of professional training for employees: leadership, team-building through improvisation.  Sporadically, many theatres have offered this to specific corporate partners, but few do it consistently.  However, there are many for-profit, small-scale companies of actors who have entered some of these arenas.  Louise’s focus, which she emphasizes time and again, is that she brings Guthrie-level standards of excellence to these programs.  Many were tested on the companies of Guthrie board members before entering the curriculum. Read the rest of this entry »

Jim Rivett

First and foremost we must define what support actually means. Support in the way of financial contributions is most often cited, yet it is only one measure among many. And as we know, constricted financial donations are a reality in times of economic hardship.

Yet there are numerous ways that businesses and individuals can support the arts, through times of both Boom and Bust. Attending and partaking in artistic events is a basic level of arts support that’s easy and also entertaining.

But more importantly, businesses should recognize that there are ways to offer support that can have an equally important bottom-line impact on the arts as any cash donation or sponsorship. Corporate engagement in the form of time, talent, energy and expertise are all incredibly valuable resources that today’s businesses can provide to arts organizations and initiatives.

For instance, at Arketype, we make it part of our corporate mission to give back to the arts in ways that go well beyond cash contributions. Our 80/20 rule is a reflection of that commitment—80 percent of our time is spent on client projects, while 20 percent is spent putting creative resources in the form of in-kind design, advertising, marketing, video and multimedia toward helping museums, theatres, musicians, artists and other nonprofit groups that share a passion for the arts. Read the rest of this entry »

Eleanor Oakley

Small silver lining in current downturn: the “other big thing” the corporate world can offer arts non-profits–the ability to offer a workplace campaign to raise funds for the arts.  For about 20 years, our organization has used workplace campaigns as part of our fund raising strategy.  For years, we have operated in about 35 different workplaces in our metro county (about 280 sites).  But over the past six years or so, we were rarely able to add more than one or two a year, and these were almost routinely off-set by the loss of one or two others from the previous year.  With the economic downturn, we have suddenly added six new workplaces to our current campaign year and are on pace to add possibly more than that in 2011.  The easiest explanation seems to be that when companies cannot themselves contribute more dollars to us, they are more willing to allow us to ask their employees.

While we could not exist without direct corporate support, we equally value a corporation’s willingness to allow our organization direct contact with its employees.  We can tell our story, make more people aware of our work and the need for support for the arts, and generally gain more acceptance with a workplace campaign.  Our ideal corporate supporter makes a corporate contribution to our annual fund and allows us to run a workplace campaign in his or her company, often tying the corporate contribution to amount contributed by the employees.  Would that more companies do this!!

Justin Knabb

Last week at a concert, I experienced former Joy Division bassist Peter Hook rock out his rendition of the band’s first album, Unknown Pleasures. In the venue, I was engulfed by a wave of crowd-induced glowing light, but nary a raised lighter, swaying with the rhythm, was to be found. Instead, the artificial phosphorescence of cell phone light illuminated scores of busy fingers, filming, texting, tweeting away, while the band played on. And then a thought occurred to me: Is the unprecedented rate  of rapidly advancing technology and information actually hindering – not enhancing – our enjoyment of and appreciation for the arts?

A few days after the concert, I found my concerns were reflected by columnist Geoff Pevere of the Toronto Star, who is writing a series of articles that examine this phenomenon. Pevere highlights work by Dr. Gary Small, a neuroscientist at UCLA, who posits “the current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains. Many of us are developing neural circuitry that is customized for rapid and incisive spurts of directed concentration.”

There is little doubt that the progression of technology has vastly improved our listening and viewing experiences with the arts. From the construction of an elaborate museum which researches and displays world-class art and artifacts, to the increasing array of chemicals that compose the perfect brushstroke, to the bone-rattling sound system which allowed me to not only hear – but feel – Hook’s performance. Not to mention the innumerable positive effects new technology and social media have had for the arts advocacy and marketing fields. But I’m talking about in-person, literal engagement with an art form. Read the rest of this entry »

Partnership as Practice

Posted by Megan VanVoorhis On December - 8 - 20101 COMMENT

Megan Van Voorhis

At Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, partnership is part of our DNA. Perhaps it is a function of our environment. Some would say Cleveland has been in a recession for thirty years. So we have had to get creative to obtain support for arts and culture. At CPAC, we have embraced the arts and culture sector’s full scope of benefits as central to its purpose, and that view has brought new support and resources to the sector, while slowly making it a better place for everyone. Our work is not done, but here are a few examples of what we have achieved.

The Council of Smaller Enterprises (COSE), our small business association, created the first Arts Network in the country four years ago establishing its commitment to supporting artists and small arts businesses. Together we brought health insurance and small business resources to an industry that sorely needed them, and COSE found a new market. All it took was a little understanding that artists and small arts businesses are entrepreneurs; and, that they have the same needs as those COSE was already serving. Oh…and a little incentive. With the support of a progressive funder (Leveraging Investments in Creativity), and matching dollars, we brought the industry knowledge and incentive ($120,000) to animate the COSE Arts Network. Today, over 500 artists and arts-based business members look to the COSE Arts Network for services. Could you deliver a fully functioning small business association for the arts with one-year and $120,000? Alone, we couldn’t. But through partnership, we did. We bring that model to everything we do now. Read the rest of this entry »

Katherine Mooring

As we continue to move forward with fresh ideas, I am energized by the reminder that “Doing it “the old way” is not an option.”

Last year, thanks to a partnership with Farr Associates in High Point, NC, we were able to send five local executive directors to participate in Farr’s Mastering Leadership Dynamics™ Program, a five day program for mid to senior level executives. The program is designed to help executives master the dynamics of awareness, actions, and outcomes in order to deliver effective and sustainable leadership practices that maximize workforce performance. For us, the especially cool thing was that the majority of participants are from the corporate sector, so it gave our cultural leaders incredible access and exposure to peers from the for-profit world. Over an intensive five-day period, attendees not only improve their own skills, they also develop new relationships and enhance their understanding of the issues, worries and concerns on the minds of those we would ask for support. We’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the first round of participants, and are in the process of scheduling at least four others for the current year.

Finally, in the Spring of 2010, we launched our own leadership development initiative, designed and led by a wonderfully creative and insightful (and slightly unorthodox) facilitator and coach in our community, Angelina Corbet. Lead with Intention© targets mid-level professionals in the cultural sector with high potential to move into a chief executive (or equivalent) role. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s All in the Data

Posted by Mary Wright On December - 8 - 20101 COMMENT

Mary Wright

Corporate support for the arts has a long and well established history. In The Conference Board 2009 Corporate Contributions Report, arts and culture was the fourth most cited giving category, named by 84 percent of survey respondents. But that same category also showed the second most significant decline in actual dollars given. The recession and continuing tough climate require corporate philanthropists to make some tough choices, especially about giving that isn’t directly related to their core businesses. At the same time, our research shows that investing in creativity-fostering skills is also a critical business priority. As shown in The Conference Board 2008 report Ready to Innovate: Are Educators and Executives Aligned on the Creative Readiness of the U.S. Workforce? education in music, creative writing, drawing, dance, etc., help develop the creative skills employers seek – and these skills are gained in schools and in the community, rather than in the workplace. Contributions executives also cite other motivations for arts-related investment, such as reputation management, employee attraction and retention, and enhancing local economic development. One thing they universally report: Getting budget approval for any kind of philanthropic investment requires meaningful data and measurable outcomes.

Jeff Hawthorne

In an earlier blog post, Monograph author Katherine Mooring pointed out a quote that I too found thought-provoking. It’s from Bob Speltz, Director of Public Affairs for The Standard (an insurance and finance company in Portland, Oregon) making an important comment on intergenerational changes in corporate leadership:

“Doing it ‘the old way’ is not an option,” he says, “and it will require a very different set of skills for arts administrators to appeal to new leadership and the people who work around them.”

To establish and nurture stronger relationships between businesses and arts organizations, Speltz advocates for arts leaders to be more proactive about meeting with corporate decision-makers – but not to start off with soliciting a contribution. “Understanding what [businesses] are looking for in community partnerships” is key, says Speltz, and having these discussions can help arts organizations collaborate “in intelligent and innovative ways.”

I think most arts executives and fundraising professionals are well aware of the need to cultivate their corporate prospects methodically, and remember to reach out to their corporate donors when they’re not asking for money. Yet apparently it doesn’t always happen, so we need to be reminded. And while Speltz notes that it can be invaluable for arts organizations to simply listen to the needs of the business, I suspect many of us could spend more time and energy taking what they hear from a business and considering new innovative partnerships that can meet the needs of both the company and the arts organization. Read the rest of this entry »

Since 1968, the Business Committee for the Arts (BCA) has conducted a field-wide survey of businesses to determine why they support the arts, to what extent they support the arts, and how they support the arts. Conducted by Shugoll Research, the 2010 BCA Triennial Survey of Business Support to the Arts is the only survey in the United States that tracks support from small, midsize, and large companies to provide the most complete view of the arts funding landscape from businesses nationwide.

Why Business Supports the Arts

What’s the most important determinant of why a business that gives to the arts might increase its support? Profitability. Businesses make decisions based on bottom line. After profitability, respondents chose a “link to social causes or education” as the next most important factor in deciding to support the arts.

For example, Northeast Utilities, a 2010 BCA 10 award recipient, has an ongoing partnership with one Hartford area elementary school.  A $500,000 grant from the NU Foundation provided funding to enable The R.J. Kinsella Elementary School to transform itself into a K-8 arts-based magnet school.  According to Northeast Utilities Chairman, President and CEO, Charles W. Shivery, “Northeast Utilities and its companies embrace the important role played by the arts in energizing the social, economic and educational fabric of our communities.” Read the rest of this entry »

New Money for LAA/UAF’s

Posted by Andrew Witt On December - 7 - 20101 COMMENT

Andrew Witt

I recently had a conversation with one of our board members on how we (LAA’s and UAF’s) were addressing the economic issues that were forcing us (locally and nationally) to take a hard look at the traditional business model.

Over the past two years, and really well before that, the UAF field has seen reductions in traditional corporate philanthropy in favor of sponsorship marketing.  Coupled with that, constituent arts groups (grantees) have taken advantage of that shift to solicit and receive funding from the same corporate sources that were the major donors to united arts funds.

This was noted in the Triennial survey results as business advertising budgets and marketing/sponsorship budget support roughly equaled annual contributions budgets.  Further proof was noted in the Areas of Giving section that theatres and non-symphonic music received the largest percentage of support.  From these two findings, I see two main opportunities for our field:

  • Sponsorship and Marketing support is here to stay and the associated benefits such as comp tickets, program recognition, VIP sponsor receptions and the like will continue to be a strong draw.
  • Theatres and non-symphonic music have multiple performance runs and therefore more opportunities for exposure – more reach as the ad world says.  A three week 20 performance run even with fewer seats, has a greater impact than a one night concert in a large hall.

Indeed, I have a question to pose to the field.  Since this is a blog and we are asking for your comments, how about responding to this situation? Read the rest of this entry »