Art, controversy, and community

Colleague and friend Steven J. Tepper released a rather extraordinary book this August on the dynamics and anatomy of controversy surrounding the arts. Not Here, Not Now, Not That! Protest over art and culture in America is an exhaustive and extensive sociological study of conflict around culture, built on data from 71 cities between 1995 and 1998. But it's also a book about politics, community, identity, expression, and the complex way those elements of our lives interact around art.Through his sociologist's lens and rigorous analysis, Tepper … [Read more...]

Parsing capital

One of the oddities of nonprofit accounting practice is the way it bundles all kinds of money into a single blob. Earned income, annual contributed income, and incoming capital money all show up in the Income Statement in a way that can cloud analysis of financial health, and distract us from a frank assessment of financial balance. The result can be opaque rather than transparent financial reports, particularly during a capital campaign. Worse, opaque reporting leads to hazy strategy both by organizations and by the funders that seek to help … [Read more...]

Economies of Life

Most conversations that try to connect ''the arts'' to ''the economy'' are exercises in frustration. For arts enthusiasts, the conversations seem cold and disconnected, but necessary to advance the cause. For non-enthusiasts interested a strong economy, the conversations seem like sales pitches more than substance.But in his lovely collection of essays entitled Economies of Life: Patterns of health and wealth (also available in a free download version here), Bill Sharpe offers us another way to frame the question. He suggests that there … [Read more...]

Business planning meets mixed-media

Business planning books are generally linear things, stepping you through the motions of starting or extending a business from insight to implementation. But we all know that reality is not like that, particularly in artistic enterprise. When artists and creative individuals consider starting their own business or profit-generating activity, vision, business, purpose, life, passion, and self-expression are all part of the mix.Which is why I appreciate Lisa Sonora Beam's book on the subject of business planning for artists and creative … [Read more...]

Way beyond butts in seats

Many of us have complained about the metrics we use in the arts to inform our management and measure our success. Number of tickets sold. Growth/decline in audience numbers year over year. Overall budget growth. These are inelegant and off-mission indicators that distract us rather than focus our work. But our complaints always ended the same way: what else is there? Blissfully, a new and extraordinary research study on the impact of cultural experience has dived right into the deep end to find out. The WolfBrown report, Assessing the Intrinsic … [Read more...]

Measuring cultural vitality

Lots of communities and consultants talk about ''cultural vitality,'' and the benefits of achieving that status for their local economy, education system, creative workforce, and quality of life. But few have actually detailed what they mean by the term, or by what measures they would know that they had achieved their goal. … [Read more...]

Better learning through comics

Intellectual property law is a sticky business for creative individuals -- especially those who end up including existing works of expression in their creative works (documentary filmmakers, for example). Unfortunately, most educational materials on the subject are as dense, dull, and disengaging as the law itself. Not so with Bound by Law, a copyright textbook in comic book form. It's a whimsical but extraordinarily informative effort on an essential topic for artists and arts organizations. Says the blurb: A documentary is being filmed. A … [Read more...]

The longer narrative on the ”long tail”

I posted back in 2004 about the idea of ''the long tail,'' advanced by Wired magazine's Chris Anderson. The gist of his theory was that emerging (primarily Internet) distribution models were dramatically altering the revenue potential of non-blockbuster material. In other words, while space-limited retailers like Walmart and Best Buy had to focus on selling massive quantities of very few things (ie, Madonna CDs, blockbuster movies, best-selling books), there was a world of opportunity in selling low quantities of lots and lots of things … [Read more...]

What does a ”great organization” look like?

Jim Collins' book, Good to Great, has been making the rounds in corporate America and in the social sector...defining the factors that differentiate competant organizations and leaders from exceptional ones. It's about focus, discipline, people, and the long view, as you might expect. Of particular relevance to nonprofit managers, however, is the available monograph addendum to the book, focusing on the social sector (excerpts are available here, and TCG's Ben Cameron muses on some of the ideas here). It's a compelling read (and a quick one, at … [Read more...]

Balancing the triangle at Steppenwolf

An exceptionally interesting case study of Steppenwolf's past 25 years (available for download in pdf format from the Nonprofit Finance Fund) paints a complex picture of how the organization moved in and out of balance as it grew from tiny to iconic. Like other analyses from the NFF, this story explores the dynamic balance in arts organizations among three sides of a pyramid: ''the artistic mission; the organizational capacity in the form of staff, skills, and investment in business operations; and the capital base, principally real estate, … [Read more...]