Choose Your Own Adventure: Innovate or Bust (from Arts Watch)

Posted by Stephanie Hanson On May - 22 - 2012
Stephanie Hanson

Stephanie Hanson

(Author’s Note: The ArtsFwd team invited me to respond to their NextGen Quick Poll because of my knowledge of the challenges and opportunities facing young leaders today gleaned in my role at Americans for the Arts.)

Pretend you have two job offers in front of you (I know, we’re just pretending here, okay?!)

  • Organization A is a respected organization that has been producing high-quality artistic work for the past 50 years. You get the sense that your role in the marketing department will be to continue business as usual to an audience who can afford the organization’s $150 per seat tickets. There is no social media campaign, something that you are very interested in starting. However, it’s unclear whether the organization’s leadership understands social media, or if they think it’s a good use of time or energy.
  • Organization B is a start-up organization that is three-years-old. The social impact is clear—Organization B is providing a safe space for children from dual income families to go after work. The children are exposed to art, music, and dance classes at an affordable rate. Your job would be to launch a social media presence, but you’d also be tasked with finding new untapped sources of revenue and creative partnerships to help sustain and grow the important work this organization is doing for the community.

So, which position would you choose? (By the way—we’re also pretending the pay scale, benefits, and title level of both positions is the same, although we know that in reality, this would not be the case).

If you choose Organization B (which we’re defining as the highly-innovative organization), then according to ArtsFwd and EmcArts recent NextGen QuickPoll, you may find yourself feeling 80 percent more likely to want to “move up” in the organization. Granted, this is not a scientific study, nor was it intended to be. Also, I made up those above case organizations. But, the survey and exercise itself brings up some very interesting questions and illuminates some issues in our field that I believe need addressing. Read the rest of this entry »

Elizabeth Schwan-Rosenwald

Yesterday I met with a number of potential applicants for the Taproot Foundation’s Service Grant program, which connects business professionals with nonprofits to deliver pro bono consulting projects in marketing, strategy, and human resources. I was there to continue my research into some of the more universal pain points in building strong infrastructures for performing arts organizations.

As we sat there I heard an executive director mention that “in six years we’ve never sat down and planned for or talked about the future.” They were, he explained; too busy focusing on developing and producing art.

I hesitated for a moment trying to decide the right response and the conversation turned away from his comment. But it stayed with me—I’ve heard this before.

The “now” culture within arts organizations, the focus on getting up the next show, the ever present feeling that if you’re not producing you’re somehow failing, means that conversations about how to strategically plan for the future are often an organization’s last priority.

But I hesitated yesterday because I’m not convinced; I’ve seen and worked with too many artists who are driven rather than stymied by how their vision fits into the larger national landscape. So what is it then—what is the roadblock that keeps arts organization from talking about the future?

My answer—resources; the scarcity of resources for arts organizations means most artists have adopted a head-down approach to their work. Read the rest of this entry »

Randy Cohen

This post is one in a series highlighting the Local Arts Index (LAI) by Americans for the Arts. The LAI provides a set of measures to help understand the breadth, depth, and character of the cultural life of a community. It provides county-level data about arts participation, funding, fiscal health, competitiveness, and more. Check out your county and compare it to any of the nation’s 3,143 counties at ArtsIndexUSA.org.

Today we release Local Arts Index indicator #6 (out of 50).

Total nonprofit arts organizations per 100,000 population (Based on those filing IRS 990s)

The vigor of the arts rests in many ways on the thousands of nonprofit organizations that present and organize arts programs in communities around the country. In many arts disciplines—such as visual and performing arts, historical and museum organizations, and arts education—nonprofit status is the norm.

This indicator measures how many nonprofit arts organizations are in a county per 100,000 population, demonstrating the breadth of the nonprofit arts sector in a community as experienced by its residents.

With all the attention given to arts funding, cultural policy and economics, and the impact of the arts on a community, it is especially significant to show how available nonprofit arts groups are as part of the capacity of the arts in a county.

Nonprofit arts organizations that filed an IRS Form 990 can be found in 1,204 counties in the U.S. Nationally, the average in those counties is 20.9 arts organizations per 100,000 population, and the median county has 15.3. Also nationally, the total number of nonprofit arts organizations increased from about 75,000 in 1999 to 113,000 in 2010.

It is worth noting, however, that only about 35 percent of these organizations file a Form 990 in any given year. The likely reason for 65 percent not filing is that they are small (organizations with less than $25,000 in total revenues are not required to file Form 990).

All of this data comes from the National Center for Charitable Statistics at the Urban Institute.

Have you ever wondered if it’s worth your time to start that Pinterest page for your organization or business? Is it important that you know what Digg is?

Thankfully, OnlineMBA.com has pulled together a fantastic infographic that will help you determine if Facebook is better for your message or if you should hurry up and start that Twitter account.

By gathering social media demographic info and putting it together in an arts-friendly way (a solar system of social media info), you can take a quick look at the social media universe and then decide if you’re on the right path or if you should be heading toward another orbit.

Here are some facts I gleaned from the resource (as posted on Mashable):

  • FACT: Facebook users visit the site 40 times per month and average over 23 minutes on the site per session.
  • OPPORTUNITY: That creates an opportunity to really engage with Facebook users. If you can get an article or link to your site on a Facebook user’s newsfeed at the right time, you will have them hooked…for at least that day. A study covering 2007-2010 Facebook use says that the peak use time is Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. ET and daily it is at 11:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m., and 8:00 p.m. ET.
  • FACT: 82 percent of Pinterest users are female.
  • OPPORTUNITY: The arts are already female-skewing, but if you want to reach out further into the demo, you’ll want to sign up for an account and try it out soon.
  • FACT: 71 percent of Google+ users are male and 43 percent are single men.
  • OPPORTUNITY: The arts are already female-skewing, but if you want to reach out to older, single men who may bring dates, girlfriends, and/or mothers to your gallery or performing arts center, you might want to dabble and see where Google+ takes you. Read the rest of this entry »

How Art Can Strengthen Evaluation

Posted by Renan Snowden On May - 4 - 2012

Renan Snowden

Let’s be honest: sometimes evaluation can feel like taking medicine. What’s more, the results of evaluation often take the form of dry reports that are unwelcoming and, at worst, hard to penetrate. But evaluation doesn’t have to be this way.

Evaluation can be a useful and engaging process that incorporates creativity and participation to help an organization learn how it can more effectively reach its goals. Evaluation presents an opportunity for arts organizations to demonstrate the impact they are making in their communities. Incorporating artistic practice and a combination of narrative documentation and compelling graphics can make evaluation interesting and build off of an arts organization’s existing skill set.

Artists and arts organizations have an advantage with evaluation: you want it to be a creative process. Right now, some arts organizations are taking the lead in including drawing, storytelling, and graphic design as part of their evaluation process and reporting.

By making evaluation a creative and dynamic process, these organizations are helping make assessment more attractive to practitioners by showing that evaluation can build off the work your organization already has expertise in.

As a graduate student in urban planning, I’m interested in ways that the arts can help create shared spaces for community development. Writing short summaries of the in-depth resources available on the Animating Democracy website as the spring IMPACT intern, I began to notice that some of the best case studies of measuring the impact of social change incorporated the arts as part of the evaluation process. These innovative approaches to evaluation are facilitating new ways of evaluation that emphasize experience and engagement as key components of evaluation. Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Stern

Mark Stern

Susan Seifert and I began the Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) in 1994 in response to the attention that economic impact studies were gaining at the time.

We felt—in addition to their methodological flaws—that these studies captured only a fraction of the importance that the arts held for society. We committed ourselves to think through the theoretical and methodological issues involved in documenting the contribution that arts and cultural engagement have for community life.

Over the years, we’ve discovered many connections between the arts and social well-being, some of them quite surprising.

It turned out that the arts were associated with preserving ethnic and racial diversity in urban neighborhoods, lower rates of social distress, and reduced rates of ethnic and racial harassment. Perhaps most surprisingly, we found that the presence of cultural assets in urban neighborhoods was associated with economic improvements, including declines in poverty.

We used the concept of “natural” cultural districts to study neighborhoods where we found unplanned concentrations of arts organizations, cultural enterprises, artists, and cultural participants and documented that it was the social and civic engagement associated with the arts that seemed to drive these economic benefits and revitalization.

Over the past several years, we’ve been trying to re-conceptualize our findings and their meaning for the cultural community, urban public policy, and scholarship. Read the rest of this entry »

Without the Data, You’re Just Another Person with an Opinion

Posted by Randy Cohen On April - 11 - 2012

Three years before writing Future Shock in 1970, futurist Alvin Toffler first wrote The Art of Measuring the Arts, and noted, “A cultural data system is needed to provide information for rational policy-making in the cultural field and to assist those outside the field in understanding their impact on it.”

This week, Americans for the Arts released the 2012 National Arts Index report, which delivers a 2010 score of the health and vitality of the arts in the U.S.

From its low point in 2009, the Index rose slightly from 96.3 to 96.7 in 2010.

This year’s report bears witness to how the arts sector fared during the Great Recession—and the losses were swift and measurable.

In 2010, half of the 83 indicators measured increased, which is equivalent to pre-recession, 2007 levels. In comparison, only one-third of the indicators were up in 2008 and in 2009, just one-quarter increased.

Here are just a few top-level findings from the 2012 National Arts Index:

1. There has been significant growth in the number of nonprofit arts organizations: In the past decade, the number of nonprofit arts organizations grew 49 percent (76,000 to 113,000), a greater rate than all nonprofit organizations (32 percent). Or to look at it another way, from 2003-2010, a new nonprofit arts organization was created every three hours in the U.S. Read the rest of this entry »

Capturing the World of an Emerging Arts Leader

Posted by Stephanie Hanson On April - 6 - 2012
Stephanie Hanson

Stephanie Hanson

I am consistently inspired by the innovation that comes out of the Emerging Leaders Network, and this week’s blog salon was no exception.

We heard from representatives of 11 Emerging Leaders Networks, and gained some insight into what was happening in their communities. This week, bloggers have questioned and affirmed why they continue to dedicate their careers to the arts; wrote about examples of artists and arts organizations leading authentic community engagement; questioned the social inequity of unpaid interns; and shared a list of Things We Wish Someone Had Told Us at 25.

We gave ourselves permission to fail, permission to have multiple interests outside of the arts that may or may not intersect with the field, and reminded ourselves not to get stuck in a structure that no longer works for us as individuals or organizations.

It’s clear that emerging arts leaders are looking at their careers, organizations, and neighborhoods in a different way than arts administrators who have come before them. I believe it’s important that we honor the hard work of those who started in the field before us. Without them, we wouldn’t have the National Endowment for the Arts, the structure of public funding support, or the diversity of arts, cultural, and community engagement organizations that exist today.

There are four generations currently working and leading in the workforce, and we must find ways to work with one another, share our strengths, and support each other’s weaknesses at all levels of the generation spectrum.

To me, this blog salon demonstrated how many mini ripple effects of change are taking place in communities across the country at the same time. This is change at a very fundamental level that has the potential to reform our field in the way that Diane Ragsdale envisions in her post (and is our muse for this salon). Read the rest of this entry »

Cultural Historians: Paying Homage to the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

Posted by Molly O'Connor On April - 6 - 2012

Molly O'Connor

Working part time at a bookstore to pay for college, it was in 2001 when I first learned about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. I was shelving books when I came across a copy of Up from the Ashes by Hannibal B. Johnson.

I recall flipping through the pages, stunned that such massive atrocity that had taken place in my home state. And how was I just learning about this? The riot was certainly not included in Oklahoma History class.

Since that day, I’ve discovered I’m not the only Oklahoman who has been oblivious to the Tulsa Race Riot, the most horrifying act of racial violence in American history.

While this incident made national news, local history books and classes were devoid of information about this violent attack on the community of Greenwood. Even today, researching the event often leads to more questions.

There are discrepancies in the numbers of fatalities, and, as always, history has been written and controlled by those who have committed genocide. The mysteries of what really happened on May 31, 1921 are perhaps lost in the ashes.

For Oklahomans, how do we collectively reconcile this deep scar in our history and take steps to heal the wounds that still hurt and divide us? How do we ensure that we learn from the Tulsa Race Riot so that history does not repeat itself? Read the rest of this entry »

Making Arts Advocacy A Way of Life

Posted by Madeline Orton On April - 6 - 2012
Maddie Orton

Madeline Orton

On a recent visit to a community arts center, I was struck by the effortless inclusion of advocacy in the director’s curtain speech.

Plugs for the city rolled off her tongue like: “Don’t forget to check out our wonderful restaurants,” and my favorite, “If you’re looking for a new place, you should buy here—it’s a great time to buy!”

As someone who works for an arts advocacy organization (ArtPride New Jersey) nothing makes me happier.

Before I get on my soapbox about why you should be permanently stationed on yours, I want to point out two things: 1) neither of these comments is directly about the arts center and 2) the director is in her mid-20s.

When I have conversations about advocacy I receive a small range of reactions. Some people are thankful for the work advocacy groups do on their behalf, but don’t think they have the time to get involved. Others believe in the importance of advocating annually to their elected officials to protect funding.

Finally, some, like this community arts center director, build advocacy into everything they do all year long. Their advocacy efforts do not end at preserving funding, but extend to maintaining close contact with elected officials, the board of education, businesses, and other community organizations to ensure continued investment in their organization’s success.

I know that when this director calls for a visit during budget season, decision makers will not only know who she is, but will also have a clear understanding of the impact her organization has on the community—because she never stops telling them. Read the rest of this entry »

Group Therapy in the Arts: The Mega Church Model

Posted by Gregory Burbidge On April - 6 - 2012

Gregory Burbidge

The Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL has an annual weekly attendance of 24,000 people. It’s what is referred to as a “mega church.”

I remember details about this church opaquely from a history of modern Christianity class. It’s the organizational model they created I remember most.

Obviously 24,000 people don’t smoothly pull together into a tightly knit community, so the church creates small groups of people, hundreds of these small groups, around shared interests and age. The small groups are what keep things from unraveling at the seams.

The model of the small group is broadly used. I am fortunate enough to be a part of someone’s small group. Hesitant to commit to reading and discussing a book, a group of us art administrators participate in an article club.

Every five or six weeks, the small group of us get together for lunch to discuss an article that’s creating a splash in the arts world that we wouldn’t otherwise take the time to read in detail.

Because of this group, I get to read great articles like Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change and Irvine’s report on participatory arts and audience involvement.

This version of a small group provides a busy group of colleagues a chance to catch up with what are our peers are doing, and to talk about how changes in the field can impact our own work. Read the rest of this entry »

Leadership Arts: Working Together to Create Change

Posted by Molly O'Connor On April - 4 - 2012

Molly O'Connor

Spring is in the air…which means that in Oklahoma the redbuds are in full bloom and one can look forward to the regular chorus of tornado sirens.

For me and my colleagues at the Oklahoma Arts Council, springtime also brings new promise and excitement for the arts as we coordinate and present our Leadership Arts Program.

Founded in 2008, Leadership Arts, is a professional development program open to 30 class members from across the state of Oklahoma. Now in its fifth year, this program continues to build up a growing statewide network of arts advocates.

Leadership Arts class members represent a diverse and talented mix of individuals from communities both small and large and every corner of the state. The class is generally made up of arts administrators, civic/community leaders, educators, artists, tribal, and cultural representatives.

Each class meets for two days over the course of four months in a different community in Oklahoma. Class curriculum specifically addresses how the arts play a crucial role in the economic impact, education, and quality of life throughout Oklahoma.

Recently I met with Georgia Williams, co-founder of Leadership Arts and former cultural development director for the state arts council, to learn more about how the concept for this program originated. Read the rest of this entry »

Pioneers in a Brave New Media World

Posted by Aaron Fiedler On April - 4 - 2012

Aaron Fiedler

A couple of summers ago, I heard sports marketing executive Kathleen Hessert speak on the topic of social media.

She pointed out people in the room, young and not so young, likely fell into one of two categories: (1) technology natives, those born in the 1980s who have grown up around technology; and (2) technology immigrants, those born before 1980 who have had to come to technology. The point is that younger people naturally adapt to technology more comfortably and easily than their older co-workers and superiors.t

For social media, being a technology native eases the fear of the unknown. While this has its advantages, we are all pioneers in this brave new media world.

I regularly meet with nonprofit marketing, development, and communication professionals to talk about trends and issues in social media. The meetings, occasionally informative and sometimes collaborative, are often filled with anxiety.

To be fair, if you work for a nonprofit arts organization and have a role managing social media accounts you have probably had this same anxious feeling at one point or another—efficient budgets, limited time, a feeling of a lack of expertise, and uncertainty over how to engage with people.

We all want to do this as well as we can, but are often impeded by things beyond our control. How do we overcome this? Read the rest of this entry »

Supporting Art or Inhibiting It?

Posted by Elizabeth McCloskey Miller On April - 4 - 2012
Liz Miller

Elizabeth McCloskey Miller

In my last post, I wrote about a “leading vs. following” conversation that happened at an Emerging Arts Leaders DC event with Liz Lerman in January.

Lerman’s most recent book, Hiking the Horizontal: Field Notes from a Choreographer, sparked another interesting topic of conversation at that same event.

In her book, she dedicates a section to “Structures and Underpinnings.” In the introduction to that section, Liz acknowledges that her dance company is always in transition, and attributes this frequent shape-shifting to the improvisational structuring that informs choreography.

At the event, Liz emphasized the importance of building flexible structures in our art and our arts organizations. This idea resonated deeply for me. Too frequently we identify a process, idea, or concept as successful, then proceed to build walls around it. That marketing strategy worked for one show, so now we need to do it for every show. Creating inflexible structures not only inhibits our success as emerging leaders, but also inhibits our ability to create and support art in our community.

The conversation about flexible structures immediately made me think of a survey I was creating at work to assess interest in a project. We had filled the questionnaire with “select one” answers designed for quick and easy analysis of the results. Read the rest of this entry »

Our New Home for Animating Democracy: A 10-Minute Tour

Posted by Joanna Chin On March - 28 - 2012

Joanna Chin

As the lead for developing Animating Democracy’s new website, I can tell you that it’s filled to the brim with incredible resources from our Arts and Social Change Mapping Initiative and Arts & Civic Engagement Impact Initiative as well as earlier publications, tools, and resources from the program’s first decade of contributions to the field.

In fact, I’d wager that if you’ve gone to the site, one of the problems is that there’s too much there! Have 10 minutes?

Let me walk you through my shortlist of the top-5 things to do on our new website:

ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices

Evaluation

Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.