The (In)Efficiencies of Scale (Part One)

Posted by Michael Hickey On January - 22 - 2013

Michael Hickey

ARTSBlog recently hosted a [Blog Salon] called: “Scaling Up: Does Size Matter?” The short answer is hell yes it does, but I disagree with a few of the writers about why.

I found the best piece in the series was penned by the whip-smart Ian David Moss (“Economies and Diseconomies of Scale in the Arts – Take Two”), and it was his post that inspired both me to both write an initial comment, and then to take on the subject more fully below.

You see, dear reader, like many of my fellow funders and financiers I’ve often touted the benefits of moving toward greater scale: improved operational efficiencies, greater programmatic reach, increased access to resources, heavier political punch. But I’ve also struggled with the oft recognized but seldom addressed reality that scale is not an answer in and of itself, and that sometimes scaled solutions leave even larger problems in their wake. Thanks to Ian, I think I got the mental kick in the epiphany I needed.

I hope you’ll enjoy this two-part miniseries on why I think scale sometimes, well, stinks up the joint.

The Mechanics of Moving Capital

I don’t care how you’re doing it, when it comes to getting money out the door it’s always easier to do it in big chunks. Whether you’re making a grant, extending a loan, or placing private equity, cost per transaction is lower if you make fewer, larger transactions. This is axiomatic. Read the rest of this entry »

500 Artists, Gardens Celebrate Florida’s 500th Birthday

Posted by Xavier Cortada On December - 17 - 2012

On Easter Sunday 1513, Ponce de Leon landed his three ships on the eastern shore of the peninsula where I live.

Claiming the land for Spain, he named the place La Florida, (for the Spanish word “flor” or flower) because of the lush landscape and because of the day the explorers arrived, Pascua florida, Easter.

As we approach the 500th anniversary of this encounter, I am working through the Florida International University College of Architecture + The Arts to develop FLOR500, a participatory art, nature, and history project that encourages participants to explore Florida’s natural wonder:

Indeed, I wanted to create an art project that allowed our inhabitants to understand the multicultural origins of our state, its fragile biodiversity, and its threatened coastlines. So I took the father of the Fountain of Youth mythology and his historic milestone as a point of departure to explore ways of rejuvenating “the Sunshine State.” 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 »

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 »

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 »

Does Size Matter? (or Welcome to Our Blog Salon on Scaling Up)

Posted by Joanna Chin On December - 3 - 2012

Examples of scaling.

The notion of scaling up has gained currency as arts organizations, artists, and funders seek greater impact from their efforts and investments. The idea of sharing something that is effective so that the benefits can be experienced by more people is attractive, especially when something is producing good results.

One Story of Successful Scaling

A significant example of scaling up for the public good came to us just last week through a news update from one of Animating Democracy’s early grantees. Since its PBS broadcast in June 2008, Katrina Brown’s film, Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North has spawned a nonprofit, the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery, which has engaged thousands of people from all backgrounds in honest, productive dialogues about race, privilege, and the history of slavery, based on the story of Katrina’s ancestors’ role in the slave trade in New England.

The news update cites a breathtaking array of ways the organization is reaching people—from a workshop for members of the Connecticut General Assembly and its staff to sharing the film and related work with thousands of attendees at the 77th Episcopal General Convention. Using the film’s narrative, the Center has reached across education, government, faith, and cultural sectors to make a difference on pervasive and persistent issues of race and class in America. 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.