Five Minutes, Five Questions: Marlene Ibsen of the Travelers Foundation

Posted by Patrick O'Herron On July - 17 - 2014
Marlene Ibsen

Marlene Ibsen

Patrick O'Herron

Patrick O’Herron

Past BCA 10 honoree Travelers has been a long-time advocate of the arts. In 2013 alone, 17 percent of Travelers’ overall corporate giving went to arts and culture organizations. The company’s belief in the power of arts is also held by its employees.

Marlene Ibsen, President and CEO of the Travelers Foundation and Vice President of Community Relations at Travelers, recently talked to Americans for the Arts about the Travelers Arts & Diversity Committee, a group of Travelers employees who are out in the community and use the arts to encourage diversity.

Patrick O’Herron, Business Committee for the Arts Coordinator, Americans for the Arts: Can you start by giving me a quick overview of the Arts & Diversity Committee?

Marlene Ibsen: The Travelers Arts & Diversity Committee is comprised of employees in our St. Paul, Minnesota office who are looking to provide first-hand support to the region’s arts scene. They allocate funds to various arts organizations that are committed to supporting diversity.

Though funding is a substantial portion of what they do, their work doesn’t end there. Some committee members have prior experience in the arts, and they use that background to occasionally help produce local live performances. Their passion for both the arts and their neighborhoods’ appeal makes this group a strong–and highly visible–component of our involvement in our communities. Read the rest of this entry »

Building a Pipeline to the Arts, World Cup Style

Posted by Nina Simon On July - 11 - 2014

Nina Simon

In light of our upcoming webinar on July 23 at 3pm on sports and arts partnerships, the World Cup final this weekend, and our upcoming blog salon next week on unique arts/business partnerships – we reached out to Nina Simon and asked if we could repost a blog she wrote for Museum 2.0 on learning from the growing popularity of soccer in the United States, and how we might relate and apply it to the arts world.

It’s World Cup time. And for the first time in my adult life as an American, that seems significant. People at work with the games running in the background on their computers. Conversations about the tournament on the street. Constant radio coverage.

If you are reading this outside the United States, this sounds ridiculously basic. Football/soccer is the world’s sport. But in the US, it has only recently become something worth watching. For most of my life in America, pro soccer was considered something risible and vaguely deviant, like picking your nose in public.

But now it’s everywhere. It’s exciting. And it’s got me thinking about how we build energy and audience for the arts in this country.

Read the rest of this entry »

Creating Dangerously: My Week at VONA

Posted by Eric Nguyen On July - 9 - 2014
Eric Nguyen and M. Evelina Galang

Eric Nguyen and M. Evelina Galang

On June 22nd I visited Berkeley to attend the Voices of Our Nation Arts (VONA) Writers’ Workshop. This workshop is a week-long conference for writers of color with workshops led by award-winning writers in a variety of genres, including fiction writer M. Evelina Galang, poet Patricia Smith, memorist Andrew X. Pham, and novelist Junot Diaz, among many others.

The organization was founded in 1999 by Junot Díaz, Elmaz Abinader, Victor Díaz, and Diem Jones. Each envisioned an arts organization that could change the landscape for writers of color by supporting individual writer growth, creating a platform for community engagement, and providing a workshop and mentor focus to expand writing opportunities. Fifteen years after its founding, it has become one of the most esteemed writers’ conferences in the US. Read the rest of this entry »

How to Get a Seat at the Table

Posted by Linda Langston On May - 30 - 2014
Linda Langston

Linda Langston

I recently spoke in an Americans for the Arts’ State Arts Action Network webinar entitled, “How to Get a Seat at the Table” on May 7.  As president of the National Association of Counties, I presented from a political perspective.  As a former museum director though, I am attuned to the unique challenges and opportunities in making sure your voice is heard as an arts organization.  Your first priority in getting a seat at the table is to make sure that your organization’s business plan and vision are in line.  You need to define what your organization is and also you need to determine your organization’s place is in the community.  You must be the story-teller of your organization. Read the rest of this entry »

Jim Clark

Jim Clark

“Creative Placemaking” as described by Anne Gadwa Nicodemus and Ann Markusen offers artists and arts administrators a template to engage business and civic leaders in the articulation of new cultural policies at the local level.  In her paper, “Fuzzy Vibrancy: Creative Placemaking as Ascendant U.S. Cultural Policy,” Nicodemus states that one of the hallmarks of creative placemaking is the development of cross-sector partnerships to promote “arts-centered initiatives with place-based physical, economic and/or social outcomes.”

Does this widespread interest in creative placemaking present an opportunity for us to expand and develop cultural policy at the local level? Read the rest of this entry »

“It’s Not Forever”: Temporary Works and Deaccessioning

Posted by Ciara McKeown On February - 5 - 2014
Ciara McKeown

Ciara McKeown

Many municipal public art programs in North America are creating permanent public artworks in response to policy, funding structures, and a variety of other reasons. And yet, there is a recognizable shift towards durational works that focus on experience and process over object-based work. It also seems many of us are reaching capacity—more works entering into the collection and less funds to take care of them all; more time dealing with the vast unknown of conserving new media works; and  overloaded staff capacities to manage all parts of the process. Are we at the tipping point where change has to happen before we see implosion? I would argue that we are. I would argue that we need to develop the conversation in our field, nationally and internationally, to have municipal policies, funding, and programs that reflect the need and desire for both shorter and longer-term public art.

And, in tandem, we need to not shy away from why public artworks do not need to, and cannot always, last forever. Discussion is imperative—deaccession is not a bad word.

Temporary: Why it Matters and Why it Works

An excerpt I recently read from the publication Locating the Producers: An End to the Beginning, the Beginning of the End by Paul O’Neill & Claire Doherty [1], explored the established notion of place-based practice and stated that the book’s aim was to show, through research and case studies, “…that a fundamental shift in thinking about ‘time’ rather than simply the ‘space’ of public art commissioning is required to affect change at the level of policy.”[1] This may be the crux of where our conceptual thinking around public art can be refocused, adjusted, and rethought. Site response and notions of place are important, but we need to also break down words and terms. In my current public art world, we are hearing a lot about community engagement, but what does that mean? What are the real questions being asked; what is the desired outcome; and what are we asking the artist for and why? I think the desire for engagement is about experience and memory. It is about bringing together people and inciting conversation. In many of my favorite temporary projects, the strengths lie in the artist’s freedom to explore risk; unravel issues; and create a platform for meaningful public interaction, participation, and collaboration. Read the rest of this entry »

A Conversation with Community Advocate John Davis

Posted by Lindsay Sheridan On October - 23 - 2013
Lindsay Sheridan

Lindsay Sheridan

John Davis

John Davis

Note: an abridged version of “Teaching Moments” from this interview, conducted by our former intern Lindsay Sheridan, was published in Arts Link, the quarterly membership publication of Americans for the Arts. John Davis is the Executive Director of Lanesboro Arts Center.

LINDSAY SHERIDAN: What is your personal arts history and educational background?

JOHN DAVIS: From a very early age, my mom was supportive of my interest in the arts. We lived in Minneapolis, and I grew up with her taking me to all the museums there. I went to college at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, so my background is in fine art and design. I studied graphic design and industrial design, but ended up taking classes in painting and sculpture. I pretty much love all aspects of the arts.

SHERIDAN: Is there an arts leader or community advocate who helped you hone your interests at a young age and develop your own career? 

DAVIS: In college I took a class on creative problem solving, and my professor was a man named Jerry Allen. I began using the principles he taught us as an approach to community development and arts administration years later in my career. I think that class and that professor were really pivotal for me. He taught us that anything was possible, and that mindset, especially when working in a rural area, is extremely valuable.  Professor Allen is definitely the first person that comes to mind when I think of people who have helped me develop a leadership philosophy.

SHERIDAN: What drove you to want to become community advocate?

DAVIS: Living in a small town, one tends to be more aware of the need for advocacy. After 25 years of living in rural communities, it’s not really a choice–one has to be an advocate. I think what that means is speaking out for others in the community and giving them a voice. It means advocating for accessibility, advocating for innovation, and advocating for the recognition that there’s value in your community, no matter what size it is. And I believe that really translates from rural small towns to metropolitan big cities.

Read the rest of this entry »

Retaining and Building Your Community by Working the Margins

Posted by Steven Roth On October - 11 - 2013
Steven Roth

Steven Roth

Here’s the data* – we all know it:

  • Somewhere between 60% and 80% of single ticket buyers never return.
  • Multi-buyers (including subscribers) can account for over 50% of all ticket income and more than 80% of all donation income, yet comprise around 25% of all patrons
  •  Churn numbers can exceed 80% for single ticket buyers, 20+% for subscribers, and around 50% overall

These numbers cause marketing directors to age prematurely.   Says one:  “I’ve been a marketing director for a dozen years.  There must be something I can do to increase the number of attenders.  I hate standing still. There must be something we can do to slowly increase the numbers.   Growth is very slow.  We have a high renewal rate for some packages, but I’d like it to be higher. The biggest challenge lies in one-time single ticket buyers.   There are so many each season.  Surely there is something we can do with them.  How can we identify/entice move more single ticket buyers into more frequent attendance and towards subscription?” Read the rest of this entry »

James Sims

James Sims

If size matters, community engagement must not, or so the current trend of Facebook advertising and it’s near white-noise moment forecasts. Now that the dust has settled on arts organizations creating social media channels, the urgency for continually increasing follower count needs to slow down and priority needs to shift to integrating content and social strategies.

Did someone in your marketing department cheer when Instagram announced that advertisements were nearing reality on the photo-sharing network? Send that person back to Social Media 101. For every step a social platform takes towards monetization, two steps are lost in the journey towards community engagement.

“Marketers believe that a good ad can divert attention, maybe even kick start conversation – a troubling proposition,” writes André Mouton. Is he wrong? Hardly. Beyond the obvious danger of over-saturation, the loss of an already somewhat tenuous relationship between brand and consumer on digital platforms is a real risk.

Breaking that relationship would mean a complete defeat of the social engagement overhaul organizations spent the last few years adopting. “Social media is in danger of becoming something like reality television – a glimpse into the lives of people we find interesting, but have little personal connection with,” Mounton adds.

How should a brand avoid falling down the advertising rabbit hole on social media? Start understanding that everything you post on social media is, by its very nature of coming from a brand account, considered an advertisement. That innocuous photo of a gorgeous sunset over your theatre’s plaza might have resulted in ten times the number of shares a link to the latest New York Times review received, but they are both serving the same purpose in the eyes of a consumer—brand awareness. Read the rest of this entry »

Participation is Power

Posted by Amanda Bohan On October - 10 - 2013
American Museum of Natural History Whale Tweetup

American Museum of Natural History Whale Tweetup

The National Arts Marketing Project Conference is just over 1 month away and I’m thrilled to be both attending and speaking for the very first time. But what I’m most excited about is the theme: “Powered by Community.” Already, I’ve met so many amazing new people online through the conference Twitter hashtag (#NAMPC) and the Linkedin group. And meeting these people has reinforced just how powerful the online world can be in forging meaningful, long-lasting relationships.

Furthermore, it has reminded me how crucial participation is to the success of an event, beyond just the act of attending of course. So I’ve rounded up a few of my favorite examples from arts and culture organizations who have successfully encouraged their audiences to participate on a deeper level:

  1. American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) Tweetups: AMNH understood the significance of Twitter from an early start. Since 2010, they’ve been holding special tweetup events that offer a behind-the-scenes look at various exhibits. Most recently, they held the Whales Tweetup, allowing visitors to view whale specimens and listen to whale vocalizations after hours. And prior to Whales, they invited guests to explore Our Global Kitchen , where guests enjoyed wine, chocolate, and cooking lessons, all while tweeting. These Tweetup events result in hundreds of tweets, with the potential to reach thousands.
  2. Diablo Ballet’s Crowdsourced Ballet: At the beginning of 2013, California-based Diablo Ballet asked their Facebook and Twitter followers to suggest ideas for a brand new ballet by tweeting to their page, using the hashtag #DiabloWebBallet. Followers were asked to suggest the theme and mood of the piece, as well as specific dance moves, ultimately resulting in the creation of the first-ever crowdsourced ballet. Read the rest of this entry »

Reframing the Relationship: Community, Arts, and Engagement

Posted by Ryan Hurley On September - 13 - 2013
Ryan Hurley

Ryan Hurley

It is a beautiful Saturday morning in April. Students from a local high school are hosting a public art-based bus tour they developed in connection to Milwaukee’s civil rights movement of the 1960s. As with any “optional” program (held on a Saturday morning nonetheless) we are a little nervous about how many students will show up. As the bus pulls up to the meeting spot the lead teacher climbs out with a smile on her face and tells me “every student is here.”

Engagement is often an ambiguous word in community arts education. We talk about “engaging” families, “engaging” students, “engaging” community – but we are rarely exact in our definition. What does engagement look like? How do we do it? The terms “civic engagement” and “youth engagement” emerge in nearly every conversation around community arts, from marketing strategies to program development.

I found a pretty good definition of community engagement in the arts on the National Guild for Arts Education website.

“What is community engagement? Community describes the people and organizations that are related to a community arts education provider’s mission: students, parents, families, artists, partner organizations, schools, government agencies, and so on. Engagement describes an active, two-way process in which one party motivates another to get involved or take action—and both parties experience change. Mutual activity and involvement are the keys to community engagement. Sometimes organizations interpret community engagement as collaboration, marketing to diverse audiences, or developing programs for underserved groups. While those are all worthy and necessary activities, an engaged community arts education provider does more. It promotes consistent community interaction that is a step beyond conventional programmatic partnerships. Consistent community engagement is not program based; it is part of organizational culture” (2013).

I like this definition for two reasons:

1) It describes engagement as a two-way process. I interpret this as an environment in which an organization has a strong enough relationship with a community where the community feels comfortable engaging the organization. This flips the dynamic of what we typically think about when we refer to community engagement.

2) It asks for more than an initiative or program. Community engagement needs to be an inherent part of the culture of the organization. Over time, some organizations and institutions have created cultural barriers through a service-based model; today many of those same entities are asking how to engage with that same community they serve. I think we need to start by reframing the relationship dynamic between “organization” or “artist” and “community.” Community isn’t some vague entity for whom we provide services; community is a group of people who are our active partners in programming. Read the rest of this entry »

Ecosystems at Risk

Posted by Alex Sarian On July - 9 - 2013
Alex Sarian

Alex Sarian

Two very scary, and seemingly unrelated, things happened in 2008:   1) 100,000 nonprofits around the US (many of them arts, education, & culture based) began the slow and painful process of going out of business, and 2) the Holdridge’s toad, one of Costa Rica’s most prevalent species, was declared extinct.

Let’s talk toads first:

There are two schools of thought that explain why a species might become extinct. The first holds the environment responsible, stating that the Holdridge’s toad became extinct because of “chytridiomycosis” (look it up), a disease caused by effects of climate change. In this case, the toads were not able to evolve fast enough to adapt to the fast-changing environment around them. The second option, ironically, holds the species responsible. This popular evolutionary theory called the “Red Queen hypothesis” – named after Lewis Carroll’s character who described her country as a nation in which “it takes all the running YOU can do, to keep in the same place” – argues that species biologically increase in numbers until they reach the ‘carrying capacity’ of their environment, by which point the environment is too consumed (deteriorated) to sustain such diversity. Extinction. Scientists predict that by 2050, as a result of one of the two theories mentioned above, a full quarter of the species known to us today will be extinct. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Should Arts Organizations Focus on Social Bridging?

Posted by Karina Mangu Ward On April - 15 - 2013
Karina Mangu Ward

Karina Mangu Ward

I live in New York City, a place with seemingly endless cultural opportunities. The problem is that the majority of these cultural experiences are designed to bring me closer to people I showed up with—an activity sociologists call “social bonding.”

That’s all well and good for me, but it’s not going to make my city more livable, more humane, and more just.

Inspired by Nina Simon’s TED Talk, I would argue that what my community needs, and what communities across this divided country need, is more opportunities to connect with people across difference—what sociologists call “social bridging.”

Moreover, I would argue that arts and culture organizations are uniquely poised to become a platform for social bridging in our communities, and that it’s essential that they do so or risk irrelevancy.

Why is social bridging so important? 

Our country is more politically, economically, and generationally divided than ever. Culture has been parsed into endless niches—with the rise of Facebook and Twitter, we’ve all become Creative Directors of our own brand, with our own set of followers.

In this new era of divisiveness and splintered identity, it’s essential that we create spaces where people can connect with others whose experiences are substantially different from our own. Read the rest of this entry »

Collective Impact and the Wisdom of Slow Culture

Posted by Bill Cleveland On December - 7 - 2012

Pomegranate Center works with communities to imagine, plan, and create shared public spaces designed to encourage social integration and build local identity.

In the world of commerce scaling up has a long history. In the eighteenth and ninetieth centuries, mass production spawned the industrial revolution. In the twentieth century, scaling applied to retail businesses like fast food and electronics manifested as chain stores and franchising.

The intention with these enterprises is to maximize profit by providing reliable and affordable products and services through economies of scale. In terms of profitability, mass production, chains, and franchising have been stupendously successful.

On the nonprofit side, given the significant gap between community needs and resources it is understandable that policymakers and funders are going to eager to find ways to extend the benefits of what they see as effective ideas and practice. Slow Food USA, Link TV, and KIPP charter schools are good examples of how innovative nonprofits have shared and spread the wealth.

The downside, of course is that one-size-fits-all predictability and sameness can have a sterilizing effect on the delicate strains of quirk and diversity upon which vital culture depends to multiply and thrive. For people like me who are concerned with community cultural development, or in the current vernacular, creative placemaking, this is no small thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Small Enough to Succeed

Posted by Doug Borwick On December - 6 - 2012

Doug Borwick

I have, for most of my life, been suspicious of the “growth is good” assumption that we often make in this country or did as I was growing up. (Sometimes when I replay in my mind the famous Gordon Gecko speech from Wall Street, it’s not greed I hear him praise but growth.)

At the risk of appearing to trivialize something that is incredibly serious, cancer is a demonstration (an extreme one to be sure) that not all growth is beneficial. Less hyperbolically, the quest for resources to support program growth as well as the need for expanding infrastructure to sustain it often creates a situation in which the mission out of which the program sprang gets left in the dust. The attention required to amass funding and personnel gets in the way of focusing on the reason the program was created. But that is a systemic (and management theory) issue that I am sure others participating in this Blog Salon will address.

Some in the for-profit world have been questioning the merits of “bigness” for years. Right-sizing, just-in-time production, and Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept (for focus on a core) and “Stop Doing List” (one of my favorites) all address the issue that big is not necessarily better, even in financial terms. In the not-for-profit arts world, the recent University of Chicago study, Set in Stone arrives at a similar conclusion about the dangers of facilities creep.

My principal interest is in effective community engagement in the service of creating healthier communities. This work is relationship driven and relationships cannot be mass-produced. However, as I discussed in a blog post some time ago–The Magic of Small Groups–megachurches, in creating and nurturing small subsets of the whole, have discovered a volunteer-labor-intensive path around that problem. Read the rest of this entry »

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

Teaching Artists

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Charting the Future of the Arts

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.