Evaluating to Increase Impact

Photo by Jori Ketten

Evaluation appeals to my intense curiosity to figure out how and why things work and don’t work. Many high performing organizations that I have come to know generally use a combination of formal and informal evaluation to build learning loops towards increasing strategic success. That is, they hire experts to increase internal knowledge and staff capabilities and to work with them on particularly complex inquiries, where it is critical to understand the elements on which a program will fail or succeed. And, they look to their staffs to … [Read more...]

Placemaking: Leverage, Alignment and Moving Mountains

Irrigate!

Leverage. “Give me a place to stand and I shall move mountains with it.” This was Archimedes’ take on it back in the 3rd century B.C. Given that arts and culture organizations are in the business of moving mountains, leverage and a place to stand (alignment) are the keys to their success. In physics a lever amplifies an input force to provide a greater output force. That lever pivots on a fulcrum and where you place that fulcrum makes all the difference. As does finding the right lever, ideally one that produces no friction. To think … [Read more...]

An Unlikely Partnership: Reinventing Swan Lake

photo: Cecil Sanders

Developing audiences, deepening engagement and expanding creative horizons are some of the biggest concerns of the leaders we work with at National Arts Strategies. With increasing entertainment options and access to technology, organizations feel the need to make their work more innovative and appealing to modern consumers, but many struggle in figuring out how to do so. For some, exploring new forms of collaboration can be the answer to remaining relevant and competitive in today’s environment. Earlier this year, Ballet Memphis Founding … [Read more...]

Tell me about a time…

WeWantYou

Hearing about how our colleagues in the field address challenges can be extremely motivating and energizing. But sometimes, it’s hard to see how the steps one organization took can be translated to our own work. There’s no carbon copy solution to the issues facing the field but we can certainly benefit from understanding others’ experiences. What’s important is to find the key lessons that emerge from an experience rather than focus on the how-to of a particular example. At NAS, we love digging into stories from the field to find these learning … [Read more...]

Partnerships: From Good to Great

capp header

One of the most important responsibilities for any nonprofit is to understand how you can best leverage organizational assets to serve your mission and your constituents. But often, our assets alone aren’t plentiful enough to let us deliver on our mission with the level of impact we’d like. Partnerships are one way to do more without the requirement of additional internal resources, but it’s important to enter into a partnership for the right reasons. Regardless of shared vision or a great rapport, making the most out of collaborations requires … [Read more...]

Stories from the Field: Measuring Impact

Calipers

Over the past three or four years that I’ve worked in the US cultural sector, I’ve noticed that arts organizations are experimenting with the way that we count.  Or, perhaps it is more accurate to say that we are developing more holistic ways of measuring what really counts.  The recent Counting New Beans study challenged theaters to go beyond economic impact or numbers of “butts in seats” to measure the intrinsic value of their work.  Similarly, many organizations are striving to measure intangibles such as attitudinal change or increased … [Read more...]

Stories from the Field: The Loft Literary Center

The Loft

In the last several years, myriad organizations have moved into online education from different sectors. The proliferation of broadband and ubiquity of digital platforms enabling the distribution of high-definition video and related educational tools at low cost have converged to make this an option for organizations of any size. At National Arts Strategies, we first dipped our toes in the digital sea in 2009, presenting two series of online events: Talk with an Expert and Closer Look. I led development and presentation of both series. While a … [Read more...]

Stories from the Field: The Walters Art Museum

Art Bytes

For centuries, museums have been places folks go to see important stuff. (Museums are full of stuff.) That stuff has always been carefully chosen by experts – folks with information – in the museum. (Museums are also full of experts.) Digital technology has made information readily available to folks outside of museums. Now, not only can folks see stuff online, but they also consider themselves experts. What’s a museum to do? I went to Baltimore to talk with Dr. Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum and the museum’s manager of … [Read more...]

Stories from the Field: Boston Children’s Chorus

Boston Children's Chorus

Frederick Douglas once said “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” That quote has resonated with me since the day I discovered it, and I would imagine Hubie Jones had a similar mantra in mind when he founded the Boston Children’s Chorus nine years ago. The potent mental and emotional memory of Boston’s racial past attributes to the city’s current racial tension and siloed communities. By investing in the city’s youth, Boston Children’s Chorus is working to dispel the past, and progress toward an integrated future. By … [Read more...]

Stories from the Field: LA Stage Alliance

LA Stage Alliance

What if you had online access 24/7 to information on over half of the households in your region, including demographic, psychographic and buying trends? What changes might you make to your programs, to your marketing efforts or to your partnerships because you had access to such data? If you live in LA County, this scenario is a reality. I recently sat down with Terence McFarland, CEO of LA Stage Alliance, to discuss the Arts Census project, a research project to better understand the region’s arts audience market. I was struck by two … [Read more...]