Scaling a Project: As Easy As Alpha, Beta, Charlie

Posted by KJ Sanchez On December - 11 - 2012

KJ Sanchez

As the CEO of American Records, a theater company devoted to making work that chronicles our time/work that serves as a bridge between people, scale is always on my mind and an important part of how we produce.

For your information, I’m the CEO, not the artistic director because American Records is an S Corp, not a nonprofit. We have the soul of a nonprofit in that every dollar we make we spend on artists and programing (i.e. we have no profit margin), which allows us to work under the fiscal sponsorship of Fractured Atlas.

This is a great partnership because being a corporation keeps us light and lean and able to work very quickly, and the fiscal sponsorship allows for grants for particular projects. Right now, our average earned/contributed ratio is 80/20 (80% earned, 20% contributed). We’re not the only ones pioneering this model. Rainpan 43 Performance Group and Universes are also S Corps with fiscal sponsorship. Other companies are pioneering the L3C.

I bring up our company structure because it is fundamentally tied to how we work on scale. The way we’re working on “going big” and the reason we have such a high level of earned income is because we tour. Our tours go to traditional theaters like Actors Theater of Louisville and Roundhouse and traditional presenters like The Hopkins Center at Dartmouth but we also tour to conferences, hospitals, lecture halls, and military bases.

Last year I contracted with the Department of Defense to take our play ReEntry to Army bases throughout Germany and Italy, where command used the performances as post-deployment training. ABC News covered the play as part of a larger story about veteran suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder. Read the rest of this entry »

Blog Salon Recap: So, Does Size Matter?

Posted by Joanna Chin On December - 7 - 2012

Joanna Chin

As the newest staff member on the Animating Democracy team, reflecting on how our past has informed present work has been illuminating.

By placing individual artists and organizations such as those that made up our original Animating Democracy Lab cohort into a national or field-wide context, we hope we have helped to magnify their impact over time and on a national scale.

Although the initial Animating Democracy grant cohort was a relatively small group (36 organizations), we continue to see the connections and ripples from relationships formed through many deep learning exchanges. As time progresses, the connections made within a small group of artists and arts organizations continues to “scale out” (a phrase borrowed from Roberto Bedoya’s post) in the form of collaborations and cross sector work such as that of Sojourn Theatre.

We have always been a national initiative; but, we accomplish our goals by creating opportunities to capture and translate the practitioner’s voice to a broader field and across sectors. This is still essentially true in our current work exploring the social impact of the arts as well as mapping art and social change trends.

We are national in scope, but scale has been achieved primarily through promoting human connections and ripples over time. In this vein, I’d like to take a crack at summarizing and connecting our bloggers under some major themes/approaches that emerged during the Salon: 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 »

Eugene O’Neill’s Grant Writer Walks Into A Bar….

Posted by Bill O'Brien On December - 7 - 2012

Bill O’Brien

…and spots the dramatist hunched over in a corner booth, scribbling in his notebook. He walks over to the playwright, drops the first draft of Long Day’s Journey Into Night on the table and says, “That’s great, Eugene—but how am I supposed to prove economic growth or improved health and well-being with this?”

Obviously, this never happened. But if it did, it would be a great example of the conundrum we sometimes find ourselves in when we try to “scale up” societal benefits via the power of the arts. Identifying positive outcomes we’d like to pursue on policy levels at 20,000 feet can sometimes feel far removed from the missions being pursued by artists on the ground.

Trying to harness the power of the arts to provide broad public benefit in a strategized way is a good idea. The idea that our greatest American playwright should bend his art-making towards these aims is not. So if we’re trying to organize a way to share specific impacts of the arts so more people can benefit, how should we proceed?

In an art-science post called “The Imagine Engine!” on the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) Art Works blog this spring, I stated that it may be possible for artists and scientists to “borrow freely from each other’s methods and practices and share insights with each other that they might be unable to find on their own.” This fall, through a program we’ve established via a partnership with the Department of Defense, we’re beginning to see evidence suggesting this hypothesis may be true. 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 »

An Artist Reflects on Growth through the Eyes of His Community

Posted by Regin Igloria On December - 6 - 2012

Regin Igloria

Staying small sounds a bit counter-intuitive to creative types, especially artists.

Take into consideration the many years of art school where teachers keep telling students to “work bigger” so that they can “see that piece done on a much larger scale.” Sometimes it speaks beyond the formal issues of a piece: understanding that the effectiveness of its meaning and concept can be directly related to the size of the audience it has reached.

I’ve been thinking about this topic of scale my entire career, not just as a studio artist, but as a teacher and arts administrator who constantly has to create opportunities for others in the field while maintaining some sense of respect for my own creative ambitions.

My full-time paying gig is serving as the Director of Artists-In-Residence at The Ragdale Foundation, where artists, writers, and composers are offered time and space to get important work done.

As administrators, we are constantly balancing the working conditions of the artists, especially when it comes time to “gather round the dinner table.” Yes, sometimes the space where we consume our food is more important than the size of the studio where we make work.

We’ve kept the number of residents to about a dozen residents per session, so everyone can sit family-style at one large table rather than in separate clique-y style cafeteria tables. This is just one example of how to keep the residents engaged with appropriate peers (Author’s Note: You can read about the various types of programs through the Alliance of Artist Communities.) Read the rest of this entry »

To Scale or Not to Scale, There Are Many Questions

Posted by Kathie de Nobriga On December - 6 - 2012

Kathie de Nobriga

In the last 15 years or so, I have worked as a consultant to many nonprofit organizations as they undertake strategic planning, and if there’s one mantra I repeat, time after time, it’s “bigger is NOT (necessarily) better.”

Everything in our culture tells us otherwise: to children we approvingly coo, “look at how big you’ve grown!” To youth we say, “when you’re big you can do what you want…,” and so on. Size is equated with success: big houses, big cars, big everything—livin’ large.

Of course growing bigger is not always healthy: witness Hummers and cancer, both products of unbridled growth.

The pressure to grow organizational budgets and programs is unrelenting, but I think it’s a crass and easy measurement of success. So I’d like to speak for staying small, for finding a sustainable and healthy size. Growth then can be measured by impact, how much difference you can make in a community, how deeply your organization is connected to the tapestry of social order, to what degree your organization can work collaboratively with others. What if we said to ten-year-olds, “wow, look at how wise you’ve become!” ?

My thinking about this subject is influenced by the work of Margaret Wheatley. In her book, Leadership and the New Science, she posits that change happens in more than one way. The way we are most familiar with is cause-and-effect: I do one thing, and something else happens as a result. Often the ‘doing’ is made more effective by mass, weight, velocity, i.e., size—tangible measures of existence. Read the rest of this entry »

Scaling Out Like a Saguaro Cactus

Posted by Roberto Bedoya On December - 6 - 2012

Roberto Bedoya

I don’t have a great talent to align easily with authority…one could say I have an allergic response to it…so when I was asked to write about “scaling up”, my head began to ache and I started to sneeze.

Maybe my responses are triggered by the “authoritarian” tone associated with scaling up, it’s hierarchical connotations that projects images of success, as a bigger and better operation that makes me wonder about the assumptions at work here or maybe it is the management chants of “scale up, scale up” that makes me nervous.

I do not oppose the work of scaling up, but I am not a skilled manger in that arena and the process of scaling up is mercurial to me. My experiences in the arena of community cultural development practices, has produce a understanding of scaling that is focused on scaling “out” as opposed to scaling “up”

A desert story: The most beautiful aspects of the Sonoran desert are the Saguaro cacti. Their majesty is how they dot the landscape as these tall and eloquent plants that reach upward. And in their long life span it takes up to 75 years to develop a side arm that stand out against the vivid blue of the desert sky. In the heat of this desert they thrive and their success lies in their root systems—a system that is linear, moves outward across the land and grows and proposer.

The Saguaro is a model of development that we can learn from—how to scale out and thrive. I find that the language of scaling up is inadequate when ones charge, as an art leader is to foster cultural vitality and support an equitable society. To do this work over time one must know to build relations, know how to scale-out these relationships that results in healthy communities and a robust democracy. Read the rest of this entry »

Go Deep to Go Wide

Posted by Jeanette Lee and Mike Medow On December - 6 - 2012

Attendees enjoy an Allied Media Conference session.

Organizers often believe we have to choose between breadth and depth. Do we prioritize meaningful relationships or strive to “reach” the greatest number of people?

At Allied Media Projects we see this is a false dichotomy. Over the past 15 years of organizing the annual Allied Media Conference (AMC), we have learned that we can achieve broad engagement while also prioritizing deep relationships.

Relationships are key

The AMC has a unique conference organizing model that fosters relationships at the internal and interpersonal, community, and inter-community levels. Small-scale relationships fostered through the AMC have ripple effects that create large-scale impact. Founded as a zine conference in 1999 around the independent press mantra of “become the media,”  the AMC has since evolved a theory of change that says:

Creating our own media is a process of speaking and listening that allows us to investigate the problems that shape our realities, imagine other realities and then organize our communities to make them real. When we use media in this way, we transform ourselves from consumers of information to producers, from objects within narratives of exploitation and violence to active subjects in the transformation of the world.

Our definition of “media” has grown over the years to include everything from breakdancing to broadcasting community radio and building web applications. The conference features more than 140 hands-on workshops, strategy conversations, caucus meetings, and art and music events. Read the rest of this entry »

Defining, and Scaling, Our Terms

Posted by Andrew Taylor On December - 5 - 2012

Andrew Taylor

Before we can have a useful conversation about taking cultural enterprises or community arts efforts “to scale,” we need to define what we mean by that. “Going to scale” usually means serving more people in more places with the same service structure. But that can happen in a number of ways.

First, a single organization can successfully increase its reach or impact by expanding. Second, other individuals or organizations can replicate successful projects or programs to serve more people in more places, while the original organization remains much the same. Finally, you can scale through a hybrid of the two approaches above, where a successful program provider creates a “franchise” to license or sell or support multiple instances of the same program.

In the commercial world, scalability of a project or business has mostly to do with economics, and the interplay of fixed and variable costs (sorry, we have to go there…but I’ll be brief). It all begins with the fixed investment required to build the project or process…how big the machine or system or service network needs to be to launch.

After that, it’s all about incremental revenue. Projects can scale if the incremental revenue from additional users is large enough to surpass the fixed costs quickly, and leave them in the dust (the customer pays you $10 and they only cost you $1, for example). When incremental revenue is slim (customer pays you $10, but cost you $9 to serve), a project can’t capture its fixed costs quickly, can’t surpass those fixed costs dramatically, and therefore can’t scale very well. Read the rest of this entry »

Creating, Collaborating, Connecting with Art, Activism, and the Internet

Posted by Xavier Cortada On December - 5 - 2012

Xavier Cortada

At the end of the last millennium, when the internet was young, I installed two webcams in my studio and invited people watching me out in cyberspace to share their ideas in a chat room. I would incorporate their views into the murals I was creating in my “webstudio.”

Back then, I was painting collaborative message murals to address important social concerns in different locations around the world (AIDS in Africa, child welfare in Bolivia, peace in Northern Ireland gangs in Philadelphia).

The collaborative murals mattered because I wanted to amplify people’s voices, share their concerns. I wanted to expand the circle of participants beyond those I could reach in person. The webcams and the webstudio were my way of trying to expand beyond geographic boundaries. Back then, I think the farthest I got from my Miami studio was Atlanta.

Since then, technology has developed to a level where online and human interaction has revolutionized communication to an extent unimaginable when I first created that early project. Art making can have exclusively online manifestation, reaching millions in space and time. It is indisputable that one can also build a sense of community online—ask Facebook.

We have even created realms where we can have second lives fully inhabit a completely virtual reality. And that is good: I find participatory art projects that engage individuals locally across communities to be address global concerns very powerful. Read the rest of this entry »

Questions to Ask Before Addressing Scale

Posted by Judi Jennings On December - 5 - 2012

Judi Jennings

Does size matter? Of course it does. But is this the right question to ask first?

How about approaching the question of size by first asking how arts, culture, and philanthropy advance positive social change? And how does size relate to equity?

Size matters locally and globally, but arts and culture drive change regardless of the size. Maria Rosario Jackson’s recent report on Developing Artist-Driven Spaces in Marginalized Communities convincingly argues that arts and culture create community identity, stimulate civic engagement, and affect neighborhood economies directly and indirectly.

Writer and cultural organizer Jeff Chang argues that “where culture leads, politics will follow” on national and international issues.

As a place-based grantmaker, my theory of change is that local people make the most appropriate and lasting advancements when they have the necessary tools and resources.

Allied Media Projects (AMP) in Detroit is a great example of place-based social change. AMP argues that “place is important” and “Detroit is a source of innovative, collaborative, low-resource solutions.”

Honoring local culture does not mean working in isolation. MicroFest USA, for example, led by the Network of Ensemble Theatres, is looking at how art and culture can create healthy communities in Detroit, Appalachia, New Orleans, and Hawaii. The idea is that performance-based learning exchanges like this can connect artists, activists, cultural workers, and thinkers working locally and nationally. Read the rest of this entry »

The Baltimore Art + Justice Project: A Question of Scope, Not Scale

Posted by Karen Stults and Kalima Young On December - 5 - 2012

Karen Stults

At the Baltimore Art + Justice Project, we generally do not debate the merits of scale. We are a citywide project based in Baltimore. Our scale is fixed. What we have wrestled with, adapted to, and been challenged by is the question of scope.

Scale is about numbers. Scope is about variety.

A project designed by Director of the Office of Community Engagement at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) Karen Stults, the Baltimore Art + Justice Project was originally designed as an asset inventory for the newly-minted office. In building the office, there was a distinct and urgent need to more fully understand MICA’s impact and role as a community-engaged campus in Baltimore City.

The asset inventory was to identify where, how, and with whom MICA was engaged in arts-based social change in the city, as a framework for the creation of new programs that avoid duplication, build on strengths, and increase impact.

When presented with the opportunity to receive national funding from the Open Society Foundations in New York, and to use the data collection process as a means to also contributing to a larger dialogue about the role of socially-engaged art and design, the MICA-specific inventory expanded to a citywide initiative. Read the rest of this entry »

Shared Outcomes and Collective Impact for Scaling Up

Posted by Victor Kuo On December - 5 - 2012

Victor Kuo

What are funders interested in scale and results talking about these days? A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of presenting at the Grantmakers in Arts 2012 Conference in Miami.

This year’s conference theme was “Forging Connections,” and I found the notion of connections incredibly relevant for scaling impact. Creating vibrant, livable communities is the responsibility of not just one project or organization, but rather partners across a sector and the entire community working together for change.

We explored an example of a community aspiring to build connections involving entire sectors, such as the arts, education, and workforce development.

The Greater Cincinnati area has a strong history of collaboration. Leading funders, such as the Greater Cincinnati Foundation and the United Way of Greater Cincinnati, are considering ways to take a collective approach to achieving social impact.

Specifically, they are talking about a collective impact approach described in “Channeling Change: Making Collective Impact Work” that identifies five key factors to facilitate change:

1) a common agenda,  2) shared measurement, 3) mutually reinforcing activity, 4) continuous communication, and 5) backbone support. Read the rest of this entry »

Economies and Diseconomies of Scale in the Arts

Posted by Ian David Moss On December - 4 - 2012

Ian David Moss

How does scale influence impact in the arts?

In 2007, back when I was a fresh-faced grad student, I actually addressed this question head on in the eighth post ever published on Createquity. I argued pretty strongly that scale in the arts was a myth, or at least not salient to the same extent as in other fields:

“It’s not that I don’t think large arts organizations do good work, or that they don’t deserve to be supported. What I’m going to argue instead is that there is a tendency among many institutional givers to direct their resources toward organizations that have well-developed support infrastructure, long histories, and vast budgets, and in a lot of ways it’s a tendency that doesn’t make much sense (or at the very least, could use some balance).

For one thing, those well-developed support infrastructures don’t come cheap. Consider the case of Carnegie Hall… [snip]

In contrast, small arts organizations are extraordinarily frugal with their resources, precisely because they have no resources of which to speak. It’s frankly amazing to me what largely unheralded art galleries, musical ensembles, theater companies, dance troupes, and performance art collectives are able accomplish with essentially nothing but passion on their side.

A $5,000 contribution that would barely get you into the sixth-highest donor category at Carnegie might radically transform the livelihood of an organization like this. Suddenly, they might be able to buy some time in the recording studio, or hire an accompanist for rehearsals, or redo that floor in the lobby, or even (gasp) PAY their artists! All of which previously had seemed inconceivable because of the poverty that these organizations grapple with.” Read the rest of this entry »