What would a Minnesotan orchestra look like? A reverie on place

Road sign along Highway 38 in northern Minnesota

With the Minnesota Orchestra lockout over and with musicians and audiences re-united in the newly renovated Orchestra Hall, there is a lot conversation in our cities about what sort of orchestra we have and what’s needed for its long-term vitality. The conversation is taking place more frequently than you might expect, in cafes and at dinner tables, in blogs and newspapers, and certainly within the arts community and its primary donors. And all of this has led to much discussion about the nature of arts organizations both generally and … [Read more...]

New digital culture report from Media Impact Funders

On The Boards TV Homepage

Late last week Media Impact Funders (MIF) released a report I helped create titled Molto + Media; Digital Culture Funding.  The report consists of data MIF commissioned from the Foundation Center documenting private sector giving to cultural organizations in the U.S. for media purposes, and nine profiles of organizations doing exemplary digital media work. It's great that media funders are exploring the increasingly blurred line that once divided media and cultural organizations. In prior generations, cultural organizations needed "the … [Read more...]

Organizations as platforms

Northern Spark logo

I credit Steve Dietz, the founder and director of the Twin Cities’ treasured organization Northern Lights, with casually saying to me one day, “Build platforms not organizations.”  It stuck and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Dietz, a self-described “serial platform creator,” is the director of Northern Spark, a once-a-year, all night festival that last Saturday drew 20,000 people to St. Paul’s arty and urban Lowertown neighborhood to participate in dozens of performances, installations, and participatory experiences (sing, dance, … [Read more...]

Reflections on a week at Harvard Business School (and thank you NAS)

Harvard Business School classroom

For the past two weeks I have been digesting the terrific week of learning at Harvard Business School that National Arts Strategies offered as part of its Chief Executive Program. The week’s theme was The New Nature of Relevance, and our case studies, HBR articles, and group exercises were designed to foster conversation about leadership and how to steer our organizations through the opportunities and obstacles presented by the post-recession, digitally-enabled, generationally-shifting, globally-connected world. For me, the location of … [Read more...]

Landmark 1988 Oakland Symphony study released in digital format


Thanks to the efforts of Grantmakers in the Arts, the landmark 1988 study of the Oakland Symphony bankruptcy is newly available in digital format. Titled, Autopsy of an Orchestra: An Analysis of the Factors Contributing to the Bankruptcy of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra Association, the research was conducted and the report written by Melanie Beene, Patricia Mitchell, and Fenton Johnson. They interviewed dozens of artists, staff, board, funders, and community observers and had access to all of the orchestra's files and correspondence. The … [Read more...]

Don’t hope

Graffiti photo by Rupert Ganzer

About a month ago there was a NY Times interview with Ben Lerer, co-founder and chief executive at Thrillist Media Group. He says, "One thing we preach at work all day long is 'don't hope.' What that means is don't wait for somebody to do something for you. Don't do something 90 percent well and hope that it'll slide through. Don't rely on luck." Lerer went on, "It is important to know that you're giving as close as you can to 100 percent, dedicated effort, and you're being thoughtful about it. Definitions of hope: "The feeling that … [Read more...]

Inventive capitalization program reaping benefits for theater festival

Legacy Bond image

The Great River Shakespeare Festival (GRSF) in Winona, Minnesota has created an inventive capitalization instrument that will interest the broader field. The Festival's "Legacy Bond Investment Program," launched in September, 2011 is a state-approved investment offer for Festival patrons that provides GRSF with significant working capital.  Essentially, GRSF is offering donors the opportunity to support the organization through interest-bearing loans, with the idea being relatively small loans ($5,000) from a relatively large number of … [Read more...]

New business models? Bring them on

Peter Frumkin

I have been following the modest torrent of discussion in the blogosphere about appropriate business models for the nonprofit cultural sector. A recently published paper was useful to my own thinking about this so I'll summarize it here and direct you to the link. The paper's author is Peter Frumkin of the RGK Center for Philanthropy and Community Service at the University of  Texas, Austin. It was distributed to the 100 arts leaders who are part of National Arts Strategies' CEOs Program, which convened in Austin in May and is now posted on the … [Read more...]

Thoughts on being a worthy opponent


Earlier this month the Walker Art Center hosted a symposium on agonism in collaboration with Northern Lights. I only attended a small portion of the week-end's offerings but even a small dose has been enough to keep my mind active for the past two weeks. And what's stuck with me is the idea that there is good work to be done in being a worthy opponent, "a thoroughly dedicated adversary." More on that in just a bit. The first question is, what is agonism? Maybe you all already know all about it but I had to read and think about it before the … [Read more...]

Does your organization need a Chief Experience Officer?

A big part of our choice of favorite products and companies comes from the quality of how they engage us. My favorite coffee shop not only has the best coffee in Saint Paul but also the best playlist going in the shop, the best free Internet access, comfy chairs, an entertaining and useful Facebook page, and multiple ways of interacting with writers, visual artists and local food producers. It’s a sole proprietorship that’s curated by its owner in every sense of the word. Apple tries to do this on a global scale (and in my opinion, fails in … [Read more...]