Judy Belk

Judy Belk

After years of recession-battered budgets, nonprofits finally are getting good news: U.S. charitable donations appear to be rebounding. Corporate giving, in particular, increased a cumulative 14.7% since 2010, according to the Giving USA Foundation. The median of total giving by companies jumped 23% last year and is almost back to pre-recession levels.

Many, but not all, nonprofits are getting some lift from that rising tide. A survey by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative found that 42% of nonprofits said they received more corporate funding in 2012 than in 2011.

Converging trends, however, are shaping how such funds will be allocated in the future. Most notable is pressure from customers and employees for companies to become better corporate citizens. At the same time, business-oriented thinking is coming to bear on philanthropy, including “impact investment” approaches, leveraging non-cash assets, more strategic planning and a desire to align charity and corporate missions.

These changes are spawning new expectations for nonprofits – but also revealing new resources for them to tap. Here are six trends to understand to successfully engage corporate donors. Read the rest of this entry »

Roland Kushner

Roland Kushner

I was happy to see the editorial “Handsome is as handsome gives” from long-time musician and arts advocate Arthur C. Brooks in the Wall Street Journal on Nov 25. Brooks, also an accomplished social scientist and president of American Enterprise Institute, cites studies, cites studies showing how increased generosity is good for one’s health, well-being, and attractiveness.  He cheerfully encourages readers to give generously so they might reap those rewards for themselves.

It turns out that Brooks missed one other benefit of increased generosity: it’s good for the artistic instinct and the progress of the arts.  There is a strong connection between the vitality of the arts and private support of all charitable causes that has persisted over many years.  Here’s some interesting data about that connection.

Last August, Americans for the Arts released the 2013 National Arts Index report, our fourth annual measure of vitality of arts and culture in the U.S.  The report spanned 2000 through 2011.  Co-author Randy Cohen and I calculate the Index score from 78 indicators of attendance, participation, consumption, investment, returns, volunteering, performances, compositions, imports and exports, government funding at all levels, numbers of artists and more.  The Index shows how dynamic those years were for the arts.

And not only the arts … we experienced recessions, booms, crises, recoveries, wars, political changes, technological advances, demographic shifts, new social movements, and of course, changes in the arts.  Intuition and experience suggest how that some of those dynamic forces – mostly macroeconomic – are positively linked to the arts: GDP, employment, stock market, population, and income. Some behavior and attitude patterns are arts-friendly: charitable giving, consumer confidence, leisure participation.  Each of these forces (and others) has its own record of growth and decline in recent years. How closely do the arts track these other forces? Read the rest of this entry »

Erin Marie McDonald

Erin Marie McDonald

Over the past few weeks, I’ve reflected on the 2013 National Arts Marketing Project Conference in Portland, Oregon. This was my first year attending NAMPC and I left with more than I imagined. Although the conference was filled with brilliant colleagues and inspiring sessions, my biggest take-away and learning experience came from an unscheduled, happenstance moment in the Speakers Prep room with an Americans for the Arts staff member.

First, let me provide a little context: I work at an art organization that was founded five years ago. As the newest addition to the now five-person team, I’m holding down the first communications/community engagement position in our small, yet dedicated office.

At the conference, I was scheduled to assist Danielle Williams, the website and new media manager at American for the Arts, with an interview for its blog. Unfortunately, the interview subject did not show up. However, this turned out to be an ideal opportunity for me to see ideas from many of the workshops put into direct action. Following the canceled video interview, Danielle had another appointment planned; it was a website user experience test for the new American for the Arts site. Read the rest of this entry »

Giving: Arts and Culture

Posted by Tim McClimon On December - 9 - 2013No comments yet
Tim McClimon

Tim McClimon

There are lots of good reasons to support arts and culture organizations in your community: encouraging creativity, fostering innovation, enhancing the quality of life, beautifying our parks and public spaces, educating young people and audiences, and just for pure enjoyment and personal fulfillment – to name a few. I mean, who among us hasn’t enjoyed listening to great music in a concert hall, watching spectacular dance on stage, engaging with provocative actors in a theater or visiting a world-class art museum?

But another reason to support the arts is the economic impact that arts and culture organizations have in their local communities and the jobs they create.

According to a recent study of 182 communities by Americans for the Arts (Arts & Economic Prosperity IV), the nation’s nonprofit arts industry generated over $135 billion in economic activity nationally in 2010 (for-profit arts and entertainment activity was excluded from this study). $61 billion of this activity was generated directly by the country’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations and $74 billion was generated in event-related expenditures by their audience members.

This economic activity supports over 4 million full-time jobs and it generates over $22 billion in revenue for local, state and federal governments every year – a yield well beyond the $4 billion that is allocated to support arts organizations by governments annually.

According to the report, arts and culture organizations are resilient and entrepreneurial businesses. They employ people locally, purchase goods and services within their communities, and promote their communities as tourist destinations and great places to live.

Additionally, when patrons attend events, they often pay for parking or transportation, eat at local restaurants, shop in retail stores, have dessert on the way home, pay a babysitter or stay in local hotels. Based on over 150,000 audience surveys, the typical arts attendee spends almost $25 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission – and this number is much greater in metropolitan areas. Read the rest of this entry »

Looking for the Punch Line

Posted by Joanna Chin On December - 9 - 2013No comments yet
Joanna Chin

Joanna Chin

Animating Democracy’s December blog salon explored how artists, comedians, and other cultural commentators employ humor in the heavy work of social justice. Starting out the salon, I posed several questions to bloggers including the seemingly simple inquiry, how does humor work?  When is humor a strategic choice and toward what social effects? Similar to other art forms, humor is fundamentally about emotions and human connection, which makes it simultaneously risky and inviting; relatable and inexplicable. While their methods and approach vary greatly – from slapstick to satire; political cartoon to YouTube musical number – the bloggers for this salon all seem to agree on the aspects of humor that make it so effective in social justice work:

  • On an individual level, comedy and laughter can stimulate creativity, open lines of communication, improve people’s moods, and diffuse tense situations
  • Humor comes from a personal place, but connects to universal feelings and experience
  • Laughter builds community and a sense of belonging (e.g., inside jokes)
  • Humor calls on the audience to finish the piece, think, fill in the blanks, come to his/her own conclusion/interpretation

Particularly as tongue-in-cheek skits and articles without clear punch lines gain popularity, the expectations and dynamics between comedian and audience continue to shift. As I said in my intro post, humor has always been something mysterious and untouchable to me. But, even if I’ll never be a stand-up comedian, the growing expectation and responsibility placed on audiences to interpret, understand, and even add their own layer of irony or satire to humorous work, especially as a tool for social change, gives me and all of us an important role to play in crafting our own punch lines.

Hungry for more? Check out Animating Democracy’s trend paper about the role of humor in the work of social change by Dr. Nancy Goldman and this post from Safe Places for the Advancement of Community & Equity, which has additional resources.

Lovebirds

Lovebirds

Laughter is the other side of sorrow.  The arts explore this relationship in various forms, perhaps most poignantly and concisely in poetry.  An understanding of this relationship forms the basis for healing.  Artists are known to explore the dark side of human nature through art, an encounter that yields no assurances or promises.  Some experiences yield discoveries that hope, goodness, light and love are attainable.  In Galway Kinnell’s poem, Wait, written to dissuade a friend from suicide, he says, “You’re tired.  But everyone’s tired.  But no one is tired enough.”  Such renderings rejuvenate us; tell us to hang in there.

In the old days before language was studded with acronyms and technology a cloud over intimacy, people were moved by spectacle.  Truths were profound and the process to determine them, mostly known and practiced by the devoutly religious or the highly educated (i.e., not something arrived at through Googling).  In the virtual world, you don’t have to be “Somebody” to access many things simultaneously; conceptually; quickly.  The effortless speed of this process is powerful, seductive and fun. We have always pitted our mortality against the fast and furious (i.e., invincibility vs. vulnerability).  Wit at a clip is a reflection of intellect.  Intellect is fast. Feelings? Not so fast.  It takes time to experience them.  It takes time to let go.

Physiologically, laughter is a spontaneous release of energy and a momentary letting go of our defenses.  So when we take our next breath, we are in that instant vulnerable to the realization we have just experienced.  A grain of truth is juxtaposed with how we see ourselves or how we see others.  Our unexpected exposure to the truth causes uncertainty and invokes laughter.  In this way, humor is an effective tool for teaching, encouraging understanding between people, building relationships – and it is universal.  Pop art was a successful international movement that still influences artists today.  A Claes Oldenburg sculpture of a giant inverted ice cream cone melting over a department store roof comes to mind.  Everybody laughs.  Read the rest of this entry »

“The Holy Fool” as a Tool

Posted by Ed Holmes On December - 6 - 2013No comments yet
EHolmes_headshot

Ed Holmes

Is there too much humor in religion?  Can comic analysis of the last great taboo help save Humanity? Does this parade make me look old?

I’d answer….no, maybe, and yes.

I fell into the professional Fool business forty years ago, by accident. Too much education, seven years of college, and living in one of the wackiest areas in the world–San Francisco Bay–led me to instigate a gathering of like-minded extroverts to take to the streets for the purpose of sacrilege. A show of comedic, historically correct  insubordination in the face of the dominate religion of America…free market capitalism.

There is a movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (the Charles Laughton version) in which he is crowned King of Fools. He is paraded past the cathedral in raucus style till the fun is stopped by a church official and he is sent back to the bell tower. A classic movie from a classic book. The street party, the Feast of Fools, was a safety valve for the populace. In medieval European times the peasant worked for the crown or the cross. A little springtime paganism was allowed to let off steam for those whose life was grim and short. Today, the true temples and cathedrals of modern times are the towers of finance. The dollar is King. The canyons of the financial district of San Francisco became the focus of my/our frustration with the ‘way things are’. The first Saint Stupid’s Day Parade took place April 1, 1979. Read the rest of this entry »

Caroline Ceniza-Levine

Caroline Ceniza-Levine

Typically, if I ask my 12-year old a question, I’ll get a short answer that I’ll need to probe with many more questions to get the information I need. If you’re a parent of an older child, you recognize that scenario. But when my daughter mentioned her math class was working on integers, I asked, “do you mean positive numbers, the ones that say ‘You go, girl. You can do it!’ and negative numbers, the ones that are sad and discouraged?” She laughed, and we had a free-flowing conversation. If humor can wrestle information from an adolescent habituated to clam up rather than share, what other habits can we change with humor?

Our society needs to save more. With retirement savings too low, this puts an unsustainable financial burden on the economy. At the same time, consumer debt is at an all-time high implying we’re on a path to increased exposure with a shrinking safety net. We can remind people to save more and spend less but the ones with the problem probably already know that and have resigned themselves to these habits. This Saturday Night Live sketch on saving would make an excellent public service announcement to encourage better financial habits.

Another habit worth adopting would be to lay off texting while driving, as this is a growing cause of car accidents. Again, people know this intuitively, and we could try scaring people with graphic pictures of automobile crashes and the consequences. Or we could circulate this video of Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake and their ridiculous Twitter talk and let humor show people how ridiculous it is to bring too much online into our offline lives.

As a longtime professional in the human resources field, I could point out the grim statistics on diversity – too few women and people of color in executive and board positions. Instead, I include a bit about the lack of Asian-Americans in mainstream entertainment in my stand-up comedy.

Humor is a powerful vehicle for social change – one habit at a time. Humor is the perfect tool for raising self-awareness — it’s harder to get defensive when you’re laughing. Humor invites change — it’s easier to stay open to suggestions when you’re feeling silly. If pressed to define an activist’s work, you might think first of circulating a petition, organizing a protest, or rallying from a soap box. But we should also include sketch writing, viral videos and stand-up comedy in our toolkit for change.

The Power of Humor

Posted by Liza Donnelly On December - 6 - 20132 COMMENTS
Liza Donnelly

Liza Donnelly

Humor is a wonderful way to get ideas through to people. As a cartoonist, that is what I do. Sometimes the ideas are silly, but sometimes the ideas are difficult. Everyone loves cartoons; most people grew up with them and are drawn to them instinctively as if a child. Because of this, the cartoonist is often able to catch the viewer off guard and express an uncomfortable idea. Cartoons—particularly wordless ones—can cross boundaries and succinctly make a point.

Primarily, it is the job of the political cartoonist to give opinion. We are artists and we are observers like many other artists. But our job is specifically to observe the world around us and spit it back to our audience. I often say we are sponges: we soak up the world around us and squeeze it back out. With humor, usually.

Humor works in tandem with culture. Humor relies on culture—it can either solidify or break down cultural traditions. And because these constructs are often very tenuous, humor feeds off of people’s anxiety and manipulates it. Humor is created out of the unexpected, the twisting of the norm, and that’s what elicits a laugh. Humor also solidifies groups, nations and societies, as to common practices and beliefs. Humor can also enlighten as it exposes wrongful stereotypes and traditions. Read the rest of this entry »

Beth Grossman

Beth Grossman

In the small town of Brisbane, California, just outside of San Francisco, I was invited to create a special art exhibit in honor of the opening of our new City Hall. This provided an important opportunity to welcome Brisbane citizens into City Hall, to engage the public in a dialog about social commitment and encourage their involvement in local politics. After years of building relationships with Brisbane City officials as a local community environmental activist and arts champion, I wondered how far Brisbane City officials would go to support the arts and encourage public participation.

“The chairs have heard it all,” I thought as I endured interminable meetings at City Hall. In keeping with my artistic practice of creating site-specific work, I wondered what the view might be like from the City Hall conference room chairs’ perspective. It is in this very conference room that we speak our minds, fight for what we are passionate about, work together and laugh together. I decided to convince our Mayor and the entire City Council, Police Commander, Fire Chief and Harbormaster to immortalize their derrieres as “Seats of Power,” all in the name of Art.

In order to photographically capture the impression of City officials’ pants sitting on their chairs, I asked them hold a piece of plexi-glass firmly against their derrières. “Bend over, this won’t hurt a bit.” And from that position I chatted with them about their passions for being involved in City affairs.

I came to appreciate Brisbane officials from a perspective different from that of the Council Chambers or City Hall offices. The posterior photo images were later woven into textiles and upholstered onto chair seats. Read the rest of this entry »

D'Lo

D’Lo

As the dark kid in Hickeville, USA, I remember using my outrageous silliness as a way to deflect and distract from my queerness. I’m transgender, born with a vagina, but always aspiring to look like LL Cool J. Growing up, no one questioned my boyish swag; in fact, for the most part, I felt encouraged in it. I was funny and (thankfully) cool – though a different type of cool than the cool-white-kids at my schools – nonetheless, cool enough not to get bullied.

Moving into adulthood, I used my “funny-ness” to facilitate healing and social change. It is well known in our queer circles, how comedy plays a role in our healing. Carol Burnett said “Comedy is Tragedy mellowed by Time”. Sometimes, we queer folk come back from a family reunion where we have had to hear our blood family react/respond to us with negativity (to put it mildly). We hop in our cars and our tears blur the lane lines and the oncoming traffic headlights, but we don’t care if we get into an accident.  We arrive at our home and drink at our pity-party and hopefully, before the 3rd glass of wild turkey, we have called a friend, rather – chosen family, over to our house. We sit with them and cry again while recalling the events that broke our hearts. And by the time we’ve consummated our water-is-thicker-than-blood ritual, we’re falling over each other, laughing, taking power back by sharing sentiments over the absurdity of close-mindedness.

This humor that enables healing can go on to create space for social change–space to initiate the dialogue, and the sometimes uncomfortable conversations in which mainstream society members have to question themselves and their hetero-normativity.  The vehicle for this humor is our stories. Read the rest of this entry »

Ken and Scott Blanchard

Ken and Scott Blanchard

We knew any presentation by actors from The Second City, Chicago’s world-famous improvisation troupe, would be funny. But who knew we would walk away with key insights into creating a collaborative work environment?

Yet that’s exactly what happened after we participated in an exercise led by Second City actors Colleen Murray and Mark Sutton at our recent Client Summit. Murray and Sutton asked us and the 200 other participants to break into groups of three for an exercise that taught us a valuable lesson about the power of positive reinforcement in fostering creativity and innovation.

The exercise started off with an imagined scenario: plan a memorable company party. One person in each group was designated as the party planner. Their task? Come up with some creative party ideas. The other two members were instructed to listen to each new idea, but then reject it and explain why. The negative responses had a chilling effect on the person pitching new ideas. Even the most creative types gave up after four or five ideas. They lost their ability to come up with anything in the face of all that negativity.

Next, Murray and Sutton instructed the three-person groups to rotate roles. Now a new person pitched ideas while the other two listened. But this time, instead of rejecting the ideas outright, the listeners were instructed to use a more subtle “yes, but…” response and share why the idea wouldn’t work. Again, it was a frustrating experience for the idea givers, who quit after trying a few times and getting nowhere.

Finally, the groups were instructed to rotate roles again. This time the two listeners were to use the phrase “yes, and…” to acknowledge, affirm, and build on the idea. The “yes, and…” response made all the difference. Ideas flowed. The groups generated innovative, creative approaches that none of the individuals would have come up with on their own. The increase in energy and collaboration was palpable as the room buzzed with animated conversations, laughing, high fives, and every other behavior you would expect to see when people are genuinely engaged with each other. Read the rest of this entry »

Laughing Together

Posted by Justin Krebs On December - 5 - 2013No comments yet
Justin Krebs

Justin Krebs

Comedy can play a number of roles in promoting political change. First, many people will be open to comedy in a way they won’t be to a political speech. We turn off political ads, while turning on funny online videos all the time. Second, the best performers with a knack for manipulating nuance and crafting memorable lines have the ability to communicate about progressive ideas more clearly and powerfully than many elected officials. A third feature is the endurance of mockery. When you raise your voice at an opponent in a political argument, you can seem shrill or out of control. When you raise laughter at your opponent, the effect of making him or her the butt of your joke can stay with an audience — or a voter — for a long time. Fourth, there is the power of surprise. A good punch line catches you off-guard, just as a good argument may push someone out of an entrenched stance.

But there is another power of comedy — just as important as its ability to surprise, persuade or attack: comedy’s power to unite, give those who laugh together the sense that they belong to something larger together.

I have had the pleasure of seeing this play out through the work of Laughing Liberally, the national comedy enterprise that promotes democracy one laugh at a time.  Laughing Liberally comedians have toured the country, local Laughing Liberally Labs have sprung up in over a dozen cities, and our team has worked with non-profit and advocacy partners to mix the power of humor into their creative campaigns, communications strategies, and online initiatives.

I didn’t start Laughing Liberally (with comedian Katie Halper, innovator David Alpert, and others from the Living Liberally family) because I had a team of comedians that needed a title, but the other way around: I had an audience that needed to be inspired. Read the rest of this entry »

Humor Me Some Social Change

Posted by Jamil Khoury On December - 5 - 2013No comments yet
Jamil Khoury

Jamil Khoury

My name is Jamil Khoury and I study the political utility of art. Too general. My name is Jamil Khoury and I study the diplomatic efficacy of theatre. Too ambiguous. My name is Jamil Khoury and I study the dialectics of storytelling and social change. Too academic. My name is Jamil Khoury and I study the empathic functions of humor. Whatever.

Now that I’ve introduced myself, and established my “scholarly” credentials, how about indulging me a few terrorist attacks?  Specifically, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.That Mother of all Terrorist Attacks. Gut-busting, sidesplitting, rip-roaring funny, right? Not even remotely. But a catalyst. And a damn good one. When me and my husband, Malik Gillani, set out to create Silk Road Rising, we envisioned a theatre company that could articulate a “proactive, artistic response” to 9/11. Our destiny was to become 9/11 second responders, responding both to the hatred and fanaticism that fueled the attacks and to the anti-Arab, anti-Muslim, anti-Brown people backlash that quickly ensued. First Al Qaeda hijacked Islam, then public anger hijacked our citizenship.

From the get-go, our activist logic maintained that although our work would be serious and political, humor would be an integral ingredient, the fermenter of provocative ideas. The plays we’d produce would employ humor as a point of clarity and connection. Not to make light of a situation, but to deepen our understanding of it. Which means the humor would be organic to the stories we’d tell, neither gratuitous nor diversionary. A company birthed in trauma cries out for empathy, and empathy manifests viscerally. We knew instinctively that the laughter that transcends barriers is the substance of social change. Unpacking a clash of ignorance masquerading as a “Clash of Civilizations” demands irony and satire and parody and sarcasm.  For when the world gets divided into monolithic, historically fossilized, spatially demarcated “civilizations” forever at war with each other, it’s time to call in the humorists! Read the rest of this entry »

Humor is Hope

Posted by Ellen Callas On December - 4 - 2013No comments yet
Ellen Callas

Ellen Callas

At the San Francisco Mime Troupe, we have been using humor as a method of presenting serious socio/political topics to our audiences for over 54 years. Our intent is to engage and activate them and offer a sense of solidarity with their fellow viewers. It’s not a new concept.

Broadly drawn, easily recognizable characters are the basis of all forms of Popular Theater from Ancient Greece to the Commedia dell’arte of Renaissance Italy to American Melodrama. Be it Kabuki or Jatra, the basic archetypes are present onstage, demonstrating the commonality of humanity’s struggle with itself. The lines are easily drawn; heroes and villains, bosses and workers, landlords and tenants all evidence of the ongoing class struggle that is our collective history. It was (and is) humor that allowed the servants to laugh publicly at their masters as they were often portrayed onstage as vain and idiotic. It was a liberation of their spirit as audiences delighted in the undoing of the patricians at the hands of a clever underling.

Whether we are tackling GMO’s, corporate personhood, workers rights, C.I.A. backed wars or oil companies, our methodology is the same. Like Mary Poppins’ “spoonful of sugar,” we have found that facts and evidence stick with folks if the information is delivered through physical comedy and witty songs. People who might routinely disagree with our point of view are more receptive to alternative ideas when laughing. Often the humor acts as a time release pill of realization when an audience member sees in real life what we illustrated onstage.

Our call for activism is usually manifested onstage by our “every person” character, who is typically called upon to make a conscious choice between their own self interest and the common good. Often that character’s sense of disempowerment mirrors that of the audience. In “Social Work”, Sharon Lockwood played Phoebe, an overworked social worker whose ability to help her clients was hamstrung by budget cuts.  Driven by frustration, she dons a disguise and as The Lady in Red,   and in a comic Grand Guignol eliminates her foils in elaborate murders. Clearly we were not advocating murder, but the over-the-top style provided a catharsis for the audience as they cheered Phoebe on.  Often audience members recognize themselves onstage in a way that might affect their choices in the future, as in the portrayal of the disillusioned and disengaged activist. Humor can provide a wake-up call. Read the rest of this entry »