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February 1, 2005

Reap what ye sow

I frequently hear from foundation administrators and grants panelists who bemoan the dry and incomplete grant requests they receive...lacking the spark and storytelling you might expect from organizations focused on creative expression. But then when you look at their grant guidelines -- dry and dull, sequential and uninspiring -- it's a bit easier to spread the blame.

Which is why I've often returned with fondness to this particular set of grant-writing tips from the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission, which are friendly, clear, and suggestive of positive steps toward a successful grant. Two favorite tips:

5. If your proposal is easy to understand, it will be easier to approve for funding. Describe your activity in a simple, straight-forward style. Leave pretentious language to art critics and catalog essayists. We prefer plain English--and, in fact, we know of no funding source anywhere that wants it otherwise.

12. Little gold stars are reserved in heaven for those applicants who file their proposals early. Frequently, the grants go to them as well. Most unsuccessful applicants concede that their proposals were casualties of last-minute scrambles. Yours, of course, will be prepared weeks in advance, the result of thoughtful planning, consulting, writing and editing. Good for you!

By modeling good behavior, they may receive requests that are ever so slightly more pleasant and useful than the average -- at least I would hope so.

Posted by ataylor at 8:25 AM

February 2, 2005

Warehouses and retail

Last week, UK arts minister Estelle Morris suggested a distribution problem in England's museums...with too much stuff hidden in city-based museum storehouses, and not enough out in the fringes. Said she:

''We want to see the cultural centre of gravity start to move from the capital. Part of this could involve sharing works more -- the best of our culture should be accessible to all, no matter where they live. There is a clear -- and growing -- appetite around the country for more 'serious' culture while, at the same time, large parts of the collections of some of the major London institutions are rarely seen by the public.''

Among the statistics to prove her point:

  • The British Museum has seven million objects in its collection, of which 75,000 are on display
  • The National Gallery has 10,500 portraits. Of these 60% are regularly displayed at the National Portrait Gallery or elsewhere.

A spokeswoman for the British Museum cried foul, suggesting that the bulk of things left unseen are either uninteresting to the general public, too fragile to be displayed, or available for viewing by appointment. Said she:

''...everything that is worth seeing is available to the public.''

The debate was sparked by a new report on the future of museums in England, which suggested a critical rethink of how great works are stored, shared, and seen by the public regardless of where they live.

It's a classic tension in the museum world, between the collection/stewardship of essential elements of arts and artifacts and the public access to those collections. The more publicly a work is shown, the greater the threat to its physical condition...and its availability to future generations. But arts and artifacts left unexperienced can lose their vibrancy and meaning, making them irrelevant to current and future audiences.

It's also a complex question of ownership. When an individual museum acquires a work, who owns it? Certainly the institution has gained control of the thing itself, but as a public institution, the ownership and rights to the work are really in the public trust. Says the report:

Questions of ownership and use are connected. Within the context of limited resources and broader public benefit, museums' collections and acquisitions, while remaining in the direct ownership of individual institutions, could also be viewed as contributing to the nation's 'public collection' as a single resource under the custodianship of many individual museums. This would not affect the direct ownership of particular collections, but would encourage their wider use and sharing of expertise.

There are so many issues of industry structure, mission, purpose, and reach in this particular question, it's bound to have legs for a long-term conversation (already begun long before this report, but wonderfully brought to the front last week).

Posted by ataylor at 8:49 AM

February 3, 2005

The end-to-end experience

There's lots of chatter these days in the consumer products world (especially technology products) about the 'end-to-end experience' -- or the start-to-finish engagement a consumer has with a particular product, from when they first hear of it, to when they perceive its marketing, to when they buy it, open its packaging, use it, and live with it for a while (and then, of course, when they consider buying another one).

A quick Google search even shows a job posting for an End-to-End Category Leader at Intuit. When a trend becomes a job title, it's a good time to pay attention.

According to a fairly lame white paper on the subject (see the PDF), full of blustery business-speak:

Why Track End-to-End Customer Experience? The answer is quite simple. Customer satisfaction, intention to repurchase at the same or higher level and willingness to be a positive reference lead to higher profits and increased market share through repeat purchases and new business with referrals. In short, knowing what drives customer loyalty is important to your company's financial health.

In essense, consumers judge a product not just by its features and function, but on their full experience from first contact until the last batteries are dead.

It seems an obvious lesson, but consider how many arts organizations follow its teachings. When you call the box office, when you try to speak to a real person to find directions or learn the right number to give your babysitter, when you want to know about exchange policies, when you enter the space for the first time and aren't sure where to go, when an usher or attendant takes your ticket or exhibit pass, when you move through the event or exhibit, when you leave the building, when you return home, and when you go on-line to learn more about what you just many single cultural experiences feel consistent and engaging from end-to-end?

And a compelling end-to-end experience in the arts isn't necessarily about opulence -- concierge services, red carpet valet, chrome and marble foyer, etc. It's about a total experience consistent with the particular creative moment at hand -- sometimes donuts and apple cider can trump truffles and Champagne.

When a company gets it right, it's often unstoppable. Witness all the Microsoft employees stealthily wearing Apple iPods in the Microsoft headquarters. When a company gets it wrong -- by focusing only on the thing itself -- they're left wondering why their staff is using a competitor's product.

Find a friend you trust. Ask them to be a first-time buyer of a cultural event at your establishment. Then see how they describe or critique the full breadth of experience they receive when they choose to attend an event. The research costs nothing, but the findings could be priceless.

Posted by ataylor at 8:36 AM

February 4, 2005

The healthy arts leader

I'm off to Toronto this weekend (and Monday) to speak and to join the conversation for Re-Generation: The Healthy Arts Leader (ou en franηais), an arts management conference hosted by the Ontario Arts Council. With sessions on succession planning, mentoring, compensation, professional development, and other issues of worklife in arts and cultural management, the conference builds on extensive work in Ontario on human resource challenges in the field. According to a report from one phase of the project (available at the bottom of the page linked above):

[The Creative Management Project] deals with one of the most challenging resource dilemmas facing Canada's not-for-profit arts and heritage sector -- how we can keep our current experienced managers and administrators in the sector and provide for their professional renewal, and how we can attract, develop and retain a new generation of committed managers to continue the work of our present leaders.

The effort mirrors similar work by the Illinois Arts Alliance, forging a refreshing, pre-emptive strike on issues ignored or suppressed by the rest of us.

I hope to publish my keynote on this weblog shortly after the event (pending approval by the conference organizers). And I'm sure I'll have thoughts and reactions when I return next week. If any of you readers will be there, please come up and say 'hi'. I'll be the bald guy at the podium on Monday morning.

Posted by ataylor at 12:15 AM

February 8, 2005

Talking in Toronto

I had a wonderful time in Toronto over the past few days, talking with over 300 arts managers and other colleagues about defining and promoting the healthy arts organization, and the healthy staff therein. I'll provide some background and summary in future posts, but I promised the group I would post my Monday morning keynote for them today.

(Hi Ontarians, good to have you here.)

So, here it is, in all of its rambling glory (or just rambling, that's for you to decide):

''Managing Metaphors''
a keynote address for the conference
Re-Generation: The Healthy Arts Leader
Ontario Arts Council
presented on February 7, 2005
Toronto, Ontario

As with all elements of my weblog, I've published the speech under a Creative Commons license, so you can feel free to print it, copy it, distribute it, reprint it in your newsletters or web sites if you like. Just follow the basic rules of the license, which are pretty friendly.

More news later. I've got e-mail to dig out.

Posted by ataylor at 9:58 AM

Toronto Keynote: Managing Metaphors

Download this speech
in PDF format

(requires free Acrobat reader)

Re-Generation: The Healthy Arts Leader
Hosted by the Ontario Arts Council, February 7, 2005
Toronto, Ontario

"Managing Metaphors"
a keynote address by Andrew Taylor
Director, Bolz Center for Arts Administration
University of Wisconsin-Madison
School of Business

NOTE: This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License, which means that you may copy it, print it, distribute it to colleagues, paper your wall with it, or republish it in your own newsletters or web sites without the specific permission of the author. Just follow the basic rules of the license.

[thanks and acknowledgments came here -- you had to be there to enjoy them]

All keynotes are supposed to begin with a joke, so here is mine. Forgive me if you've heard it before, but it has a larger purpose that we'll get to soon:

Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are out in the woods on a camping trip (as was so common in their time). In the middle of the night, Sherlock Holmes shakes Doctor Watson awake and says to him, "Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you deduce." So Watson rubs his eyes and looks up at the night sky, saying: "I see a billion stars, among which there may be a million planets, among which there may be planets much like our Earth, and upon which there may well be sentient life looking back at their night sky at this very moment, wondering if we might exist." After this speech, Sherlock Holmes pauses for a moment and responds, "No Watson, you idiot. Someone has stolen our tent."

I love that particular joke for many reasons -- for one, it makes me laugh. For another, it has the rhythm and structure of so many great jokes, lulling us into one perspective of the world and then snapping us into another. It's a miniature version of what pundits call a "paradigm shift," a phrase I happen to hate but feel compelled to use, if perhaps by the common laws of conference keynotes. [Must use phrase: 'paradigm shift' -- check.] For this morning, I also think the joke captures a key idea that may help us in the topic we're here to talk about: conceptual re-generation, professional renewal, and the healthy arts leader.

I'm going to suggest today that, like Doctor Watson in that joke, our impulse when faced with these and many similar challenges is to focus our weary eyes on the wrong scale. In our case, however, we focus on the tent -- tactical responses and procedural adjustments. We hunger for tips, tricks, best practices, new business models, funding initiatives, and other adjustments. We hope that these tactical responses might make our work lives less stressful, our workday less jumbled, and our organizations healthier. But by indulging this impulse, we may be missing a more productive scale for exploration. Worse, we may be reinforcing and entrenching the very problems we hope to solve. What if, instead of shuffling the symptoms and the cures, we began to discuss and discover the cause of what we're struggling with?

To me, that cause is on a scale at once more massive and more intensely personal. That cause lies deeply embedded in the metaphors we manage by, and in the mental models that drive our interactions with the world.

Arts and cultural managers are in the business of metaphor, symbol, narrative, and meaning. Why not engage more of that capacity in exploring the ways we describe and understand what we do?


But first a confession: I'm a huge fan of tips, tricks, tactics, and techniques. To me, visiting an office supply superstore is like a pilgrimage to Mecca -- so many gadgets and systems and software solutions designed to streamline my professional life. Surely here, I think every time, are the answers to my cluttered desk, my missed appointments, my relentless deadlines. So, I buy some bundle of things and bring them home. I eagerly unwrap them and place them around my workspace. And then, I almost instantly go back to working as I always have -- with just a bit more clutter of unused filing apparatus crowding my personal space. My desk is the place that office products go to die. Worse yet, those icons of efficiency eventually seem to glare at me as I work, a constant judgmental reminder of the ways I should be working, but can't bring myself to do.

At most professional training sessions and conferences, the experience for me is much the same. They are so gloriously jam-packed with tips, and tricks, and lists of the six steps you've got to follow to do something or another, and the five trends that you absolutely have to track in your line of work. E-mail marketing. Web development. Relationship building. Grant writing. Planned giving. Wonderful stuff. Thoughtfully presented. Earnestly received. But all too soon, they become little dust-bunnies in my brain or illegible scrawls in the conference notes I never look at again. And as with the office supply gadgets, the wonderful insights and energy of professional training can eventually come back to haunt me -- more stuff I could and should be doing if I were smarter, or better, or more organized, or had more time or money. I leave these conferences elated and full of potential, but quickly become exhausted and full of self-doubt.

In my own work, this challenge isn't just a personal issue, but a core concern. As the director of an MBA degree program in Arts Administration, it's my job to select the things that future leaders need to know. My graduates are supposed to be ready to manage effective, sustainable, and dynamic organizations or initiatives, not just in the world that was, but in a world that's continually emerging. With the standard tools of academia, I'm supposed to sketch out the path to get them there (fortunately, I have lots of insanely intelligent help, and I'm blessed with brilliant students). But as I assemble my various syllabi every year, there seem to be more and more things that an effective manager has to know. Okay, I say, we're covering marketing, human resources, operations, financial accounting, finance, nonprofit industry structure, negotiation, education, outreach, fundraising in all of its forms...but boy, we really need international exchange, cultural policy, copyright, contract law, advocacy, technology, and on and on and on. The impulse is to counter complexity with complexity, adding more and more stuff to the curriculum in an effort to stem the tide. But that complexity comes at a great price. It can lead to students with a full toolkit, but with little contextual understanding of when each tool is most appropriate. It can lead them to burn out before they begin, once they see the sheer scope and scale of the challenges they will face as working managers.

At the same time, I'm writing this fairly-daily weblog on the business of arts and culture on To be honest, I do this almost entirely for my own benefit -- my morning mental calisthenics. Plus, the deadline and the public posting force me to actually do what I encourage in others: to find at least one interesting article, issue, or conversation going on in the world each day and try to give it some context or connection. It's a happy accident that anyone actually reads the thing. But I'm pleased and humbled that they do.

Through the course of the 18 months I've been writing this weblog -- some 299 entries by my last count -- I've seen an eerie mirror out in the wider world of my own struggle. More and more stuff to know, more trends, more tips, more tricks, more challenges. More articles about "shifting landscapes" and "paradigm shifts" (there, I've said it twice now, two points for me), and the tactical responses they require. More events and symposia on "change management" and "capacity building" -- without anyone defining either "change" or "capacity." And somewhere in there is the feeling that despite our best efforts, the problems are getting larger and more complex, running away from us just as quickly as we can chase them.

There's a pattern here that might be obvious and familiar to many of you. When faced with a complex problem, we counter with a well-meaning and reasoned response, only to find the problem made worse by our interventions. The response to office clutter can lead to more office clutter. The process of professional training and renewal can leave us less responsive and confident. The policies intended to force a new connection between arts organization and community just leave them more disconnected, but in different ways.

This pattern, and the fact that it shows up in so many places, suggests that error in scale that I talked about at the beginning. Perhaps as we've been straining toward the night sky for an answer, the real opportunity has been right in front of us.

Which, forgive me, brings me to another joke[1]:

Two villagers decide to go bird hunting. They pack their guns and set out, with their dog, into the fields. Near evening, with no success at all, one says to the other, "We must be doing something wrong." His friend nods his head, and says, "You're right. Perhaps we're not throwing the dog high enough."

Let's put down the dog, and take a breath.


To get to where I'm going, we need one more slight detour. And that's to suggest that we all interact with the world not directly, but through mental models, or through metaphor. It seems too obvious to say, but we can't hold the world in our head. We can only interact with the world, and slowly build a sense of how it reacts to our actions. If you've ever watched an infant or toddler play with a new toy or confront a new challenge, you know what I mean: a burst of experimentation, of play, of trial and error, that slowly becomes a nuanced engagement with the thing -- not just then, but at every future interaction.

We never stop building, refining, and rebuilding such models. We just become so exceptional at it that the process becomes invisible to us. We don't have fire in our head, but we know that if we touch it, it will burn. We don't have the mechanics of a doorknob in our head, but we have a fairly nuanced model of how to engage a doorknob to make something useful happen. In fact, we have multiple door-opening-device models in our head ready to engage the knob, or the push bar, or the handle, or the motion sensor.

These mental models are invariably shorthand. They don't require all the details, just a selection of essential elements. We usually adjust them as we confront unexpected responses or new configurations -- think of your first experience with one of those touchless sinks in the restroom. But they are shorthand. They are abstractions. They are incomplete. They have to be, or else we'd get nothing done.

While we use these models and metaphors quite successfully for simple systems with immediate feedback, we use the same techniques for modeling complex interactions with the world. For example, the human brain turns out to be exceptionally powerful at reading other people's expressions and modeling other people's minds. There are fascinating studies that show that our efforts to model what other people might be thinking also starts very early on in life -- somewhere between three and four years old for most of us.[2]

This, too, we forget that we're doing until we're horribly wrong -- when we misinterpret someone's feelings and get smacked in the face, when we are surprised by a specific response, when we tell a joke that's wrong for the room, or when we meet people who grew up in other cultures.

So, we model our environment. We model other peoples' minds. And we also model larger systems like social groups, organizations, ethnic groups, demographic groups, environmental systems, and everything else. Just listen closely to any political debate and you will hear two versions of the world slamming against each other, or more often breezing by each other.

So why, on earth, am I telling a room full of arts and cultural managers that humans interact with the world through metaphor? Metaphor is what we do. We're constantly telling the world about art's ability to change lives, shift perspectives, build empathy, voice alternative views, and question our collective assumptions about the world. And for many in the room, right now, this may be really old news. Duh.

I'm walking us through this idea because it's clear in many situations that we don't as managers, as funders, as artists, apply the same creative eye to the metaphors that drive our management practice, and our search for leadership responses.

As examples, let's pull out just a few of our collective metaphors about arts and cultural management and take them for a spin. If I'm right, then the change of scale might inform our other conversations, and break a few logjams in our thoughts about what to do next.

Let's begin with a big one:

Production and Consumption
When arts managers talk about what we do, our language is infused with the metaphors of production and consumption. We produce theater, present performing arts, mount an exhibition, or launch a program. We do outreach and education. We collect and preserve -- much like warehousing. And when we're done, we expose our work to an audience.

On the consuming side is the audience or the community. They come in to see our completed work and react to it. They consume it, not by actually consuming it (unless it's food art), but by receiving it or observing it. We have marketing departments and marketing plans. We have a marketing budget, so we must be selling something.

I'm being a bit crass here, but I hope you see the point.

As another example, in the United States, there's a bubbling conversation among arts funders about supply and demand. Many of them believe that they've focused for the past decades on supporting the supply of the arts in America. Perhaps now it is time to shift focus to the demand. There's an imbalance, they have determined, and it needs to be adjusted. Supply and demand is another form of production and consumption. And it's a metaphor we seem to take as reality.

So, what's wrong with that? It seems a useful metaphor in many ways to talk about supply and demand, production and consumption, giving and receiving. All of you know the energy and stamina it takes to arrive at opening night. It feels like production. And you are producing something. Where's the danger in it?

The danger is that this is a metaphor, a model. It's not reality, it's a convenient abstraction that helps us make decisions and do our work. Our metaphors also define the worldview in which we search for solutions, responses, and reactions. And if we're stuck in a particular metaphor, we are also often blinded to the full range of options in front of us.

There's an old consultant's saying (said by old consultants everywhere) that:

If you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

So, if you only have production and consumption, every problem looks like a market imbalance, or a marketing problem, or a disconnect.

Further, consider the funders who are turning their efforts from demand to supply. If the accepted metaphor is fundamentally flawed, might they just be reinforcing the problem they're trying to solve? Or at the least, might they get no results, or results that surprise them in unpleasant ways?

The true test of a metaphor is to find another option that works equally well or better. Let's unbundle this a bit to see where it takes us: Think for a moment about a meaningful experience you've had as an audience member or observer of a creative work -- a theater work, musical performance, sculpture, painting, whatever. By "meaningful" I mean all the usual stuff -- transfixing, transformative, a sense of losing time and space perhaps, of being "in the moment." Stick with an audience moment for now, a consumer moment. Do you have something in your head? I'll give you a minute to find it.

Now, a question: who produced that moment? There was certainly a production involved; you were sharing space with it in a theater, a museum, a gallery, a city street, or someplace else. But who produced the moment? Your reaction to the creative expression was likely fueled by something inside you -- a memory, an emotion that was waiting to be expressed, a resonance that perhaps you can't even define or don't care to, a love or knowledge of the art form or the art work. You brought something to that moment. The art brought something too.

Now, if you can, recall a moment when you created something, or expressed something to someone else or to an audience. There is likely a moment or two where you felt a similar sense of connection in time and space, when you were "in the zone." We talk about this more often in the performing arts, but there is a tangible quality to an audience and how it reacts during a performance. There's an invisible give and take that draws something exceptional out of the artist, and leads them to a similarly powerful place.

At this moment for the artist, who's producing? Who's consuming? Who supplied? Who demanded? I'm suggesting here that both experiences are co-constructions, not produced and consumed but generated as two or more sides spinning seamlessly together. It seems a minor point but it makes a major difference in how we manage, lead, and spend our energies.

And here I'm not just talking about what we call the "lively arts," or the art forms that bring artist and audience together in time and space. There's a similar feeling to visual and plastic arts in many cases, with a synergy between the construction of the work in the studio and the deconstruction/reconstruction of the individual experiencing the work. Despite the separation of place and time, the blurring of production and consumption is still just as relevant.

I'm sure I'm belaboring the point, but it's worth belaboring. Production and consumption of creative experience is a useful metaphor in many cases. But it's an abstraction, like everything else. When we ignore the other metaphors we might bring to bear, or accept our current metaphors as fact, we limit our vision, our insight, our options, and our choices as managers of the process.

But before we move on to another metaphor worth challenging, I'd like to extend this one a bit further. We have already talked about the intense creative experience as a co-production of sender and receiver, or artist and audience. They both have to be there, be engaged, and be ready for it in some personal way. But this artist/audience connection is only one of the many moments we have the privilege to broker or enable. And we can be thoughtful as managers as we consider where the weight of the moment might live.

For a professional performance, for example, we might focus our energy on the audience, and consider how they might find connection to what's on stage, how we can play a small role in supporting them, encouraging them, or giving them space to find their connection on their terms. In a community or amateur performance, our role as managers might be more focused on the performers, ensuring their experience has the greatest potential and space for meaning. For craft circles or heritage organizations, the experience might come in the learning of a handicraft or cultural ritual by many individuals.

There are management and leadership choices embedded deeply in how we define what we do, and what we hope to accomplish. We can choose the metaphor that suits us, rather than letting it choose us.

For example, a colleague of mine took a leadership position at a youth choir with a strong reputation for excellence, and a highly regarded quality in their public performances. The board of this organization expressed great pride in the group's public performances, and judged their success by the quality of the venue in which the children performed, and the level of artistic excellence they achieved in that environment.

But as they slowly noticed a decline in enrollments and a drop in interest, they were bold enough to question the metaphors that drove both their measures of success and their strategic plans. Through a long process, they slowly came to discover that what was truly important to them was engaging young people in the experience of intense discovery of musical performance, and a social exploration of the craft of singing. In this metaphor, a performance of the highest quality possible was still essential, but rather than a goal, it was a tool to reinforce their true purpose. A professional-quality performance was an important capstone and incentive, adding intensity and purpose to the rehearsal process. But it was no longer the center of the story.

When you challenge and inform your metaphors, you manage differently, you lead differently, and you measure differently. And that seems useful to me.

Okay, now a few variations on the theme:

Consider a donor at the announcement of a major gift (and here I mean "major" to them). These moments are often filled with emotion, with stories of their family history, their community bond, their life experience. They are expressing a vision of who they are, who they hope to be, what they want for their families and communities, and how they long to be remembered. Who's giving at that moment, and who's receiving? Who's thanking whom?

Or, consider the complex relationship between mentor and protΓ©gΓ©. We are quick to believe that one teaches and one receives wisdom, but from exploring our own experiences we can quickly see how the learning is a co-construction or a co-production, as well.

In short, the production and consumption metaphor is everywhere we look, or rather, everywhere we don't look. And it's worth a moment of our time.

Now let's take on another metaphor, though nothing quite so grandiose:

The Fiscal Year
We all know the rhythm of our fiscal year, or our season. It's a necessary time-frame for so many things -- from financial reporting to grant cycles to tax documentation. But it too can become for us a gold standard for how we manage and measure our work. If we're not careful, we can begin to think it's the appropriate frame for everything we do.

Think back to any of those meaningful moments you considered before: You in the audience; you on the stage or in the gallery or in some other creative space. What sort of time frame was required for that moment? Was it a calendar year? Was it an hour and a half? Or perhaps, was it a lifetime, or even two lifetimes: Your life to that point and the artist's, or yours and at least one audience member.

Of course, there are multiple rhythms and cycles to what we do. As managers and leaders, we must always work to recognize them and guide our organizations accordingly.

The great philosopher John Dewey explored these rhythms of creative experience more than seventy years ago in the speeches that became the classic book, Art as Experience. He had a glorious and brain-bending way of exploring the nature of the creative moment, and of questioning what still today are our fairly rigid metaphors for artistic expression and experience.

In one passage, he describes a flash of lightening illuminating a dark landscape. In that moment, we have a sudden view of the objects and we recognize them. But, he says:

....the recognition is not itself a mere point in time. It is the focal culmination of long, slow processes of maturation -- .It is as meaningless in isolation as would be the drama of Hamlet were it confined to a single line or word with no context.

If I didn't know the objects illuminated in the landscape, that lightening flash would carry little meaning for me. File that somewhere in your fiscal year.

Of course, I'm preaching to the choir here. We all know that the creative moment is not a moment at all, but a flashpoint in the full experiences of the audience, the artist, the donor, the volunteer, the staff member, the board member. We can all stretch our metaphors to make room for multiple cycles in our work, multiple rhythms in our days.

But some metaphors are so persistent, so insistent, that they crowd out the other possibilities. The fiscal year is a particularly brutal abstraction. It requires continual energy to hold it only where it's useful to you and to your organization. By what time scale do you choose what to do, how to do it, and how to measure your success?

Do we dare? I think we do. Partnership is a wonderful word. It is the stuff of conferences and constant conversation. We need more of them. They must be built. They must be fed. They must be extended and enhanced.

The dictionary tells us that partnership is "a relationship between individuals or groups that is characterized by mutual cooperation and responsibility, as for the achievement of a specified goal."

As I said, it's a glorious metaphor, but it's a metaphor nonetheless. When we approach it without question, we can simply reinforce the problems we are seeking to solve through its use.

How so? The metaphor of "partnership" carries with it the assumption of separation. The word, itself, is from a Middle English root meaning "portion, part, or division." So, by seeking a partnership, you are accepting and reinforcing the idea that you and your partner are separate, that the lines between you can be reasonably drawn. And because you actively "form" such a thing, you also bundle the assumption that without your agreement, the organizations or individuals involved wouldn't be influencing each other's choices or options or lives.

Of course, that's nuts.

For one thing, we are all inextricably interconnected in startlingly practical ways -- by our markets, our geography, our leadership, sometimes even our board members, by the common communities we serve, and by the various revenue streams we draw upon.

For another thing, consider that meaningful moment once more. How many other arts organizations or public or private institutions or individuals played a part in that connection between artist and audience? My transfixed moment in a symphony hall may carry with it the church music I heard as a child, the muscle memory of my high school French Horn lessons, the connection I feel for a family member through our mutual love for the piece, the power of sharing that sound with my wife beside me. The symphony may have been the lightening in the field, but I was prepared for that flash by a thousand connections that came before.

The term and the metaphor of partnership can often blind us to the connections that already exist, that bind all of our choices and options to our peer institutions in the arts, our schools, our communities, our governments, and our disciplines. So often, instead of "forming" something, we are really just recognizing a connection that already exists between organizations, and informing it with conversation and thought. We are making the implicit connection explicit, and adding intention to the mix.

But in many places, we're starting to come around. Just last week, there was a report released by the United Kingdom's Department for Culture, Media, and Sport on the future of museums.[3] In part, it discussed the challenge of access for all the great art and artifacts scattered around the country, with so many in storage by London's major museums. The report framed the question in a rather extraordinary way:

"....museums' collections and acquisitions, while remaining in the direct ownership of individual institutions, could also be viewed as contributing to the nation's 'public collection' as a single resource under the custodianship of many individual museums."

So, although the museums are separate institutions, their collections can be considered part of a single public trust. They are separated by space and governance, but stewarding a common pool. We could also say the same of the creative moments of connection we keep talking about. "Partnership" isn't a particularly useful metaphor here, and perhaps even clouds a different truth.

Before I move on to the home stretch (and trust me, it's coming), let me just fling out a few more metaphors to watch for as our conversations continue today and beyond:

"Like a Business"
Okay, it's a simile, not a metaphor. But it's silly, nonetheless. In fact, it's silly because it's a simile. Arts organizations are businesses -- collections of people and contracts and capacities and assets. Anything they do is "like a business." And even if they weren't businesses, what other business are we supposed to be like? Enron? Halliburton? Usually, this phrase is a placeholder for more specific behaviors like accountability, responsibility, and sustainability.

If that's what we mean, let's just say it.

Emerging Leaders
Sorry, I couldn't resist given our conversations yesterday. It's a wonderful and nurturing sentiment, but a complicated metaphor when we start to spin it out. The implied evolution for people in this group would be "leaders who have emerged," and that's just odd. The best leaders I know at any level of an organization are constantly emerging. As someone said yesterday: you're done when you're dead.

I haven't yet come up with an alternative metaphor, so for now let me suggest a slight simplification: Leaders

We could honestly extend this exercise for days at a time, but I think you get the gist. And some of you are likely sick of it. Consider this a party game at your next staff meeting: pick a commonly held metaphor for what you do, and deconstruct it. It's particularly useful for problems or challenges that continue to return or get worse despite your tactical efforts and best intentions. When you flex the metaphors a bit, another option is likely to drop into your head.

So, you may well be asking, apart from tearing down long-held and even comforting beliefs, leading us to question everything we do, and making us nauseous or anxious or just plain mad, is there any positive outcome of this different scale of thinking?

Thank goodness, yes. And let me end with it.

What we're beginning to do in our MBA degree program in Arts Administration, and elsewhere, is to consider how we can call forward these metaphors to our advantage. How can we add metaphor, itself, to our toolkit as managers and leaders in the arts? As we do so, can we respond to the complexity of our work and our world by teaching less rather than more? Could there be patterns of knowledge or awareness that reunite the many disconnected things we do with our days?

I'll admit that our first steps are horribly clumsy, and inevitably wrong, but I believe there's something there. Consider, for example, these two questions. How might you model these in your mind?

  • How do individuals and groups attach value to a lived experience?
  • and how to they express that value in money or time or attention?

In those two questions lie marketing, development, outreach, education, architecture or environment, volunteerism, and even experience design. If we can learn to more effectively observe, infer, inquire, and model these processes, we can translate them in a thousand different ways in service to the creative moment and to the particular form of expression we hope to support.

There's finally emerging research in the arts that's cutting to this particular core. The Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism just released a report in July, exploring how and why people value arts experiences -- in their own words, on their own time.[4]

And beyond specific research in the arts, a more broadly framed question can lead to direct connections with other disciplines of study -- from psychology to social science to urban studies to neuroscience. There are people already studying how people use the built environment, how cities form and evolve, how individuals construct meaning and purpose. We can learn from them if we frame our questions well.

And I'll admit that even the tearing down of persistent metaphors can lead to positive results. Consider the production/consumption metaphor, and the alternative of a co-production. The latter suggests that the entire organization has a meaningful role to play in the core purpose of the organization. It's not a production and creative team creating something to be sold and supported by marketing and development. It's a co-production that requires all of them, as well as front-of-house or audience services, facility management, custodial staff, ushers and volunteers, and the audience themselves.

And to me, at least, the idea of a co-constructed experience offers a healthy shift in defining what we do. In all of our efforts, we can only ever provide half of that moment. It's not a gesture of force, or of completion, or delivery, but an invitation, an open hand. It's a posture that's much more compelling and attractive, I believe, to the future leaders we're aching to attract. And it might make our lives a touch more sane.

I'll close with a quote from Jacques Lusseyran, the French resistance leader from World War II who so vividly describes his discovery of the world despite his blindness. To me it captures the glorious world that's available to us if we are willing to expand and explore the metaphors we live by. And it speaks to the nature of the creative moment of connection, and the part we play as arts managers within it. He says:

If I put my hand on the table without pressing it, I knew the table was there but knew nothing about it. To find out, my fingers had to bear down, and the amazing thing is that the pressure was answered by the table at once. Being blind I thought I should have to go out to meet things, but I found that they came to meet me instead. I have never had to go more than halfway, and the universe became the accomplice of all my wishes.[5]

May we all discover our world in this way. And may the universe be the accomplice of all of your work. Thank you for your attention and your time.

This line of thinking is a constant work in progress.
Feedback and comments are gratefully received:
Andrew Taylor, Director
Bolz Center for Arts Administration
School of Business
University of Wisconsin-Madison
975 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53706 USA
(608) 263-4161

[1] This one swiped from Minsky, Marvin, "Jokes and the Logic of the Cognitive Unconscious," which isn't particularly hilarious otherwise. It's available on-line at

[2] One particularly interesting experiment involved showing a child a candy box, but then also showing them that inside was a pencil, and not candy. The child was then told that someone was going to be coming into the room, and asked what that person would say was in the box. Children under four usually believed the new person would expect a pencil. Children four and over had the capacity to separate the other perspective from their own, and say that the new person would expect the box to contain candy. To join in the fun, read Perner, J., Leekam, S. R., & Wimmer, H. (1987). "Three-year-olds' difficulty with false belief." British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 5, 125-137.

[5] Lusseyran, Jacques, And There Was Light: Autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran, Blind Hero of the French Resistance

Posted by ataylor at 1:04 PM

February 9, 2005

What do we buy when we buy music?

The supremecy of the Apple iPod among portable music devices is about to be challenged by a new batch of hopefuls. The new contenders are attempting a business model different than Apple's -- in which you actually buy extensive rights to each song for 99 cents (you can burn it, run it on multiple computers or players, and such). The new services, instead, offer you full access to a massive library for a monthly fee.

The interesting question for arts managers is framed by this story in Technology Review:

Is music something you own or something you rent?

It's not a little question. And, in fact, it cuts to the heart of how consumers perceive their transactions with cultural merchants of all kinds. When you bought a compact disc, you were buying something tangible. And you could assume you also bought a bunch of rights to use it in various ways. Also, each new purchase would add to your collection, and accrue over time.

When you lease a library of music, you have a massive library to access, but as soon as you stop paying your monthly fee, the entire library is gone. Also, each song in the library carries more restrictive rights limiting how you can use it.

Over the past decade, there's been a similar struggle among libraries, as information suppliers and publishers have nudged them from an ownership position (purchasing physical copies of newspapers, magazines, and journals, for example) into a leaseholder (licensing access to electronic versions of these same publications). The shift has certainly relieved the shelf-space crunch that many of these libraries were facing. But it has also completely restructured their expenses and assets in ways they're still trying to figure.

When consumers shift perspective on how they purchase creative content in one medium, it can shift how they perceive all other such transactions (theater tickets, movie tickets, event passes, and such). That's why this particular market experiment is worth watching.

Posted by ataylor at 9:32 AM

February 10, 2005

Giving circles and community banks

Two news tracks suggest both a new boon and a growing threat to community-based giving. On one side, the popularity of giving circles (sort of like investment clubs for philanthropy) seems to be galvanizing the charitable impulse of many. On the other side, the aggressive moves of Wal-Mart into banking services might be threatening the traditional local boosters of community banks.

Giving circles, according to this article in the Washington Post are a fast-growing way for like-minded individuals to combine their giving toward common causes. According to the study that informed the article (available for download in PDF format):

Giving circles exemplify core American values of democracy and equality -- they are broadly accessible across wealth levels and they offer opportunities for learning, growth, collaborative decision-making, and community building. While the traditional philanthropic infrastructure of foundations can seem intimidating to an individual, giving circles allow easy access for people of all ages and affiliations. While individual philanthropy can be seen as the purview of the very wealthy, giving circles allow donors to leverage their assets by pooling their gifts for greater impact. Most giving circles provide each donor with an equal voice in the decision-making process. Donors in giving circles connect -- often powerfully -- with each other and with their community as they learn about community needs and practice community leadership.

The study found 220 giving circles in 39 states -- most of them less than four years old. Some aggregate major dollars by their members, others (like Boston's Daily Muses Fund) just require their members to donate a dollar a day to the pool. A wise development officer would learn more about these groups, and find them in their communities...just as the marketing staff should be trolling for book clubs.

While these groups may be focusing philanthropy within a community, some suggest that Wal-Mart's moves into banking and financial services may be sucking it back out. According to philanthropy blogger Lucy Bernholz, the low-price leader's business plans may put the squeeze on local community banks. That, in turn, could be bad news for local nonprofits and community funds:

Community banks, long-time investors in local economies and staunch philanthropic allies to community foundations and other local nonprofits, have a tough-enough time competing against global banking behemoths. Wal-Mart's ''everyday low prices'' for money transfers put it smack in the middle of the multi-billion dollar remittance business. Perhaps it has plans to offer community development investments, mortgages, and small-business loans one aisle down from its payroll cashing service and just past the toilet paper and cleaning supplies.

The weird tension between aggressively local and massively global continues.

Posted by ataylor at 8:42 AM

February 11, 2005

Get them young-ens' acculturated

The Christian Science Monitor offers a short article on Broadway's attempt to woo the next generation of theater goers. Not surprisingly, the tactics include deep discounts, hip marketing (temporary tattoos, anyone?), and an emphasis on family-friendly content. Says the article:

''The movement is more toward producing material that will appeal to a wider age range,'' says Margo Lion, a ''Hairspray'' producer whose next project is a stage version of ''The Wedding Singer.'' ''Our job is to make sure that this population is exposed as much as we can to the experience of going to the theater.''

....When they do produce works with ideas that appeal to hip audiences, sometimes the problem is in the marketing. Broadway, for example, is still ''antediluvian'' when it comes to getting the word out, but it is utilizing the Internet more, Ms. Lion says. Still, the 20-something crowd isn't always getting the message from theaters in general, particularly in New York.

Of course, you could also argue that a vital approach to engaging younger people in theater would be to actually engage them. Fluffier and safer theater may just serve to make the experience that much more irrelevant to their lives. These kids are perhaps the most visually sophisticated generation to ever walk this earth. Instead of staying on the shallow end, perhaps we could plumb the depths of what that means for them.

(NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: any time you need to put a real word in quotes -- like 'antediluvian' -- it's time to put down the thesaurus. You don't want to scare off the young folks.)

Posted by ataylor at 9:08 AM

February 15, 2005

Searching, searching, ever searching

I was off-line yesterday, serving on a selection committee for an arts-related position in our local community (won't say which). This interview team was the fourth such search and screen process I've been part of in as many months (for positions ranging from public library director to campus arts coordinator to administrative staff), and I was struck again by the strange processes we use to identify, screen, and select administrative leaders in the arts.

A few of these interview processes were close to the norm these days, especially for public institutions: a standard list of questions, read one-by-one by a panel of interviewers -- with varying degrees of ability to follow-up or converse on the topic. The goal here is equity, for each candidate to have the same questions in the same order, and to focus the interview team on the skills they determined were important for the job.

In another process, candidates moved through different 'stations,' intended to simulate actual job functions and assess their performance in those situations -- arguing a budget before a city council, presenting to a Rotary club, responding to an irate e-mail, leading a staff meeting, explaining a policy choice to a board. Each station would have small teams of interviewers pretending to be the audience, and rating the candidate on their actual performance.

The first process -- the series of questions -- is falling out of favor with large corporate recruiters, since it turns out to be a poor predictor of actual performance on the job. The second process is an extreme version of what seems to be taking the place of the traditional interview: the performance-based or behavior-based interview.

According to this summary article:

The premise behind behavioral interviewing is that the most accurate predictor of future performance is past performance in similar situations. Behavioral interviewing, in fact, is said to be 55 percent predictive of future on-the-job behavior, while traditional interviewing is only 10 percent predictive.

In a traditional, skills-based interview process, you're likely to favor candidates that interview well -- which may or may not translate into actual fit with the job. In a behavior-based interview, the goal is to encourage story-telling rather than skills listings. Within those stories lies all sorts of depth about how they think, how they adapt, how they measure success, and how they really work. Of course, you could be favoring good story-tellers, but in the arts, that may not be a bad thing.

There are lots of resources on behavior-based interviews (here's one quick article on how to run one). The process, however, does not resolve one of the key problems of hiring management -- actually defining clearly what it is they are expected to do. Without this clear and cogent description, no process will find you the right person, except by complete accident. According to this article on the process:

The key to success in using behavior-based interviewing is preparing beforehand a list of what skills and behaviors are relevant to the position, she says. If a position does not require teamwork, for example, there's no point in asking a question about the applicant's experiences with teamwork. Another important piece to the technique's success: the qualities identified as necessary for the job must be included in the advertising for the position to attract the right candidates.

According to several articles, those job descriptions should focus on three general types of abilities, skills, or aptitudes:

  • Technical: comprising job skills and related knowledge
  • Functional: skills that are transferable across jobs, including managing and organizing people or information
  • Adaptive: personal characteristics, such as dependability, flexibility, or a strong work ethic
As I learned first-hand from my recent search and selection experiences, the hiring process is fertile ground for all the cognitive biases of any individual decision process, with the added fun of a group of people, mixing their biases into a glorious mess.

Your best bet for reigning in that chaos is to structure the process in the most productive way. The list of skills questions turns out to be several steps better than the other common alternative: the ''lets bring 'em in and talk to 'em about stuff'' approach. But the behavior-based interview process seems to be one interesting attempt to go a few steps further.

Posted by ataylor at 8:34 AM

February 16, 2005

Public Art and 'Piles of Sheet'

Arts managers who don't watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central (could there be any?) missed a particularly sarcastic perspective on public art, as this Monday's show focused one its fake news segments on Christo's new installation in New York, The Gates.

The fact that the segment was titled 'Piles of Sheet,' and reported by the show's 'Senior Conceptual Art Correspondent' might give you a flavor for their take on the installation (which has received glowing praise elsewhere). It's a comedic view on a common public struggle around public art...where conceptual expressions smack up against the daily world. Here, as always, there's lots of friction between beauty and utility, academic posturing and real-world concerns, revelation and relevance.

In one particularly sharp jab, the mock reporter admits that The Gates is, indeed, a work of great art:

''...because, like all great art, it challenges what we thought we knew about the world. For instance, I used to think that $21 million dollars could be used to achieve something noble, like build a hospital. But The Gates has forced me to recontectualize my notion of what $21 million dollars can be used this case, to redecorate a bike path.''


Posted by ataylor at 8:41 AM

February 17, 2005

Gifts of the Muse

In February 2005, the Wallace Foundation released its long-awaited report (at least, long-awaited by me), Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate About the Benefits of the Arts. The 100-plus page study takes a hard look at all the benefits we claim for the arts -- economic, social, educational, therapeutic, etc. -- and works to inform those claims with actual studies, evidence, and causality.

In a nutshell, the report finds most of the 'instrumental' arguments for arts in communities (arguments that claim positive, measurable outcome of arts activity) to be thin on solid research and fairly oversold. Specific problems with much existing research, the study suggests, include:

  • Weaknesses in empirical methods -- often, existing studies show only correlation between arts and desired effect, not direct causality.
  • Absense of specificity -- 'the arts' tend to be clustered as a single thing in many studies, which doesn't shed much light on which specific arts activities most impact the benefit under review. Without specifics, policy can only be vague in its attempts to encourage the system.
  • Failure to consider opportunity costs -- the elephant in the room for any conversation about instrumental benefits is this: if those specific benefits are our goal (economic growth, pro-social behavior, better academic scores, etc.), are the arts the most effective means to get us there? The trap for arts advocates is that many of these benefits can be achieved in other ways. Without including those other ways in the analysis, it's a bit like picking only weaker competitors for a prize fight to ensure your guy will win (which I think was the plot of Rocky III or IV, or whichever one had 'Mr. T').
The report isn't saying that the arts don't have instrumental benefits to the larger community. It's just saying our existing research doesn't clearly and compellingly define to what degree they do, or how specifically they accomplish those benefits.

More importantly, the report suggests that in our zeal to craft instrumental arguments for public funding and support of arts activity, we've downplayed or ignored the vital power of creative engagement -- the 'intrinsic' benefits of enjoyment, connection, absorption, and such. Says the report author in this LA Times article:

''People get involved because they think the arts are fulfilling; they don't do it to get better grades and increase their income,'' Kevin F. McCarthy, a Rand sociologist and the report's lead author, said in an interview. ''But the arts community is afraid to talk about this because they think it won't convince the skeptics.''

It will be fascinating to watch how this report and its findings ripple through the arts advocacy community. For a fairly long time, the weakness of empirical research on our claimed benefits of the arts has been a bit of a family secret -- something we don't discuss out loud. The arts build strong cities. The arts build strong schools. The arts build strong communities. Give us cash.

In the LA Times piece, Robert Lynch, the president of Americans for the Arts (the country's largest arts advocacy group, and champion of the instrumental benefits of the arts) is showing one likely reaction to such a calling out -- to question the motivation of the questioner:

"It's confusing. I'm not exactly sure what the motivation is for this."

In my head, here's the larger point: The arts are essential to vibrant cities, dynamic and balanced schools, connected communities, and engaged citizenry. If we believe it, we should make every effort to understand the complexity and depth of those connections. That means asking tough questions, and not being afraid of discouraging answers. If we need to rig the research to be sure that we win the argument, we're not crafting the right argument. And we're only buying time, not credibility.

There will be much more discussion coming about this particular report, and lots of wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth (or just a healthy dose of denial and suppression). There are large chunks in the document that I will question and dispute -- particularly surrounding its conclusions and recommendations -- but that spirited conversation is likely its intent.

In the meantime, I extend a hearty thanks to the Wallace Foundation, Kevin McCarthy, his co-authors, and all those involved for calling the question with such deliberate and reasoned effort.

Go read it.

Posted by ataylor at 8:59 AM

February 18, 2005

Midway between cool and creepy

Mobile communications have a strange way of connecting us and isolating us at the same time. We're constantly in contact range of friends and co-workers thanks to mobile phones and wireless PDAs and such. And yet by using these devices, we detach from our immediate environment.

A next generation of devices and services is working to push the energy the other way, and to enable mobile communications technology to locate the opportunities for personal contact that surround us all the time. Says Charles Ribaudo, co-founder and co-CEO of one such project (Jambo Networks):

''Every day, people who could make a difference to each other pass each other by. They are strangers and their connections remain invisible opportunities. Maybe they both attended the same school, or one needs what the other sells or one person needs a job and the other is looking for a great employee. But, if people can't see these opportunities, then they can't catch them.''

These new services use various combinations of wireless technology, mobile phones, and even the global positioning systems (GPS) found in more and more devices, and tack on social networking software that can make the connections. So, for example, if you were an alumnus of a major university that had subscribed to the Jambo Network, you might be in a Manhattan coffee shop checking your e-mail and get a notice that a fellow alumnus was right nearby...perhaps even next to you. Or, if you were checking your PDA at a conference to find other attendees struggling with a particular professional challenge, the software would connect you to others in your immediate area with the very same issue.

Jambo is targeting airports, university campuses, trade shows, and existing social network providers such as LinkedIn, Tribe, and Friendster as first clients. Other services are focusing on active users of mobile phones, who might want to find a friend nearby.

While I often say the arts managers are in the metaphor business, we are also in the connection business. It's worth watching advances in both worlds.

UPDATE: You can catch a glimpse of the next next generation of these environmental contact scanning devices in CrowdSurfer, a new software and networking system designed to work with certain wireless phones. Through the system, you can figure out if that guy standing near you at the bus stop is a friend of a friend of a friend.

Posted by ataylor at 8:34 AM

February 21, 2005

The imported local symphony

Florida's orchestral buffs are in a bunch about a rumored deal between the ever-under-construction Greater Miami Performing Arts Center and the Cleveland Orchestra. Rumor has it that, because South Florida lacks a resident symphony since theirs went belly up, the new PAC is planning to outsource that job to Cleveland.

The deal might include an annual series of extended residencies in Miami by the orchestra, which excites some major donors and music lovers, but outrages boosters of rebuilding the local symphony. Says one musician:

''Every city has the responsibility of supporting its own culture,'' writes Philharmonic cellist Robert Moore. ''Lack of cultural support leads to the end of civilizations. It's ironic that Baghdad has a symphony of its own and we do not.''

While we could argue whether the lack of a local symphony is a prelude to the apocalypse, this 'shared' orchestra may well be a sign of things to come. And even the New York Times is starting to wonder out loud if every community really needs a symphony (or a hocky team).

Posted by ataylor at 8:32 AM

February 22, 2005

The no-overhead organization

Fixed costs can the bane of the nonprofit arts organization's existence. Overhead expenses like rent or facility heat/light/security chew away at the bottom line, and are often the most difficult to support with contributed income (who wants to donate to keep a light bulb glowing in the basement?). So, I've often wondered how lean and mean an arts organization can be and still accomplish its mission. Do they need an office at all? Do they have to own their own capital -- like office equipment, computers, theaters, museum space, etc? Or does this stuff just bog them down, make them bigger than they can effectively be, and burden them with mundane management tasks that bury any inspiration they might have had?

For example: I'm on one board where we rarely talk about the cultural activity we're governing. It's all about landscaping contracts, elevator repair, security systems, HVAC bids, and computer use policy. We might as well be running a warehouse.

Mostly, this is just a mental exercise. Of course, arts organizations need control of many assets to do what they do...since often what they do requires lots of physical space. But there are signs in the world that new options are available, if an organization is really serious about rethinking its fixed costs, its overhead, and the 'stuff' it thinks it needs to do its work.

One case in point: Delicious Monster, a rather strangely named software company (it's a reference to a jungle flower species, if you must know) whose primary office isn't an office at all, but a Seattle coffee shop with wireless network access. There's no rent expense, no lighting bill, no heating or air conditioning or security to worry about, just the cost of coffee and snacks (and a few wireless laptops).

Another case in point: CafePress, a web-based service company that lets you set up your own on-line merchandise shop without any inventory, any warehousing, and even without any products of your own. You just upload some logos and/or photos, tell them how to put them on any number of available products (T-shirts, mugs, calendars, magnets, journals, calendars, etc.), and open the virtual doors to your shop. They take the order, make the item, ship the item, run the phone bank, and cover the product guarantee. Then they send you a check for the small margin you earn on each item sold. They don't even charge you a set-up or hosting fee.

So, an organization without an office...and an on-line shop without a warehouse, a shipping staff, a production staff, or a design team. Perhaps the 'no-overhead' arts enterprise is not a fantasy after all.

AND NOW YOU CAN BUY ARTFUL MANAGER CRAP: To test out the CafePress system, I actually set up my own shop with T-shirts, mugs, and such. It cost nothing, and it took me about 30 minutes. Now the world can finally purchase the Artful Manager merchandise its been longing for...or not. And yes, it's really a shop. You can buy this stuff if the mood strikes you. Makes a great gift!

Posted by ataylor at 8:41 AM

February 23, 2005

The future of philanthropy

There's a world of wonderful things in this new website and its corresponding report on The Future of Philanthropy. Thanks to the good folks at the Monitor Institute and their über-think-tank, the Global Business Network, we've got a full-fledged exploration of the dynamic forces shaping philanthropic efforts over the next decades.

Better yet, the extraordinarily deep background on these forces are translated into specific action steps and tools for philanthropists to explore what they do, and how they might do it differently. There's no way to summarize the work here...I'd encourage you to wander through the various sections yourself. However, as a teaser, here are the report's 'Four Principles for Philanthropists in the New Ecology,' which I think apply to many elements of the nonprofit arts ecosystem:

  • Exploit Philanthropy's Strategic Advantage
    Philanthropy supports social benefit along with governments and businesses, but it is profoundly different from either of them. Its capital is entirely discretionary, free from quarterly profit projections or regular election cycles. As a result, it is money that has the most ability to take risks and to be patient, or to move quickly in response to something unexpected.
  • Seek Cooperative Advantage
    Rather than seek competitive advantage, philanthropists should develop their cooperative advantage -- the advantage that comes uniquely from working in concert with others, developing the capacities to harness resources beyond any single institution, and applying them to complex problems. In the new ecology, it may make as much sense to identify a useful network and join or incubate it as to seek a distinctive niche and occupy it.
  • Embrace Complexity
    The problem-solving institutions of the last century thrived on cultivating clarity. The problems facing philanthropy today, however, are not as amenable to reduction and clarification. They require us to experiment with responses that see complexity as part of the nature of the problem, not simply a failure to clarify it. Therefore, philanthropists seeking greater impact will have to develop more sophisticated strategies.
  • Invite Meaningful Scrutiny
    As philanthropy has grown in size and ambition, it has attracted more attention from the outside and generated more reflection on the inside. Outsiders and insiders are both asking harder questions, a new form of scrutiny that, while not always comfortable, is here to stay and perhaps even grow. Donors and funders can use this growing pressure as a source for learning, rather than a source of distraction.

Posted by ataylor at 8:48 AM

February 25, 2005

God saves the queen, but HSE saves everyone else

In many arts organizations, stress and exhaustion are worn like badges of honor...public evidence that you're giving your all to the cause. Of course, the downside is that once you've given everything, the cause is out of luck.

So, it's great when individual organizations recognize the value of balancing stressors in the workplace where they can. And it's even nicer when entire countries decide to encourage their businesses to do that, too.

Case in point: Britain's Health & Safety Executive (HSE), a project supported by the Department of Work and Pensions, which was burning the midnight oil last year to develop management standards for dealing with stress in the workplace. All the goodies live on their stress issues homepage, if you're a closet human resources wonk.

For the rest of us, the standards have distilled work-related stress management into six key areas that seem to drive stress levels on the job, which are:

  • Demands -- Includes issues like workload, work patterns and the work environment.
  • Control -- How much say the person has in the way they do their work.
  • Support -- Includes the encouragement, sponsorship and resources provided by the organisation, line management and colleagues.
  • Relationships -- Includes promoting positive working to avoid conflict and dealing with unacceptable behaviour.
  • Role -- Whether people understand their role within the organisation and whether the organisation ensures that they do not have conflicting roles.
  • Change ­ How organisational change (large or small) is managed and communicated in the organisation.
The first three areas relate to the content of the job, and the standards recommend that 85 percent of employees respond positively to questions about these elements of their work (there's an 'indicator tool' -- ie, survey -- on the site, along with instructions on how to use it). The second three areas relate to the context of the job, and the standards recommend that 65 percent of employees respond positively to questions about these (since the research isn't quite as compelling as the first batch).

There's even a handy seven-page overview of the standards, with definitions and goals for each of the six areas above (available in pdf format).

Of course, no organization will ever be stress free, and nonprofit arts organizations do thrive on the mad dash to opening night, the adrenaline of working with sparse resources, and the buzz of making something new and connecting it with a community. But there's a difference between necessary intensity and flat-out, unproductive, passion-crushing stress.

It's an artful manager that understands the balance. Thanks to the HSE for providing some tools to do so.

NOTE: Also a special thanks to Nora Spinks, President of Work-Life Harmony Enterprises in Toronto, who mentioned these standards in her recent keynote speech at the same conference I spoke to earlier this month.

Posted by ataylor at 12:28 AM

February 28, 2005

How much do you want the money?

A strange story out of Lodi, Wisconsin, raises a question of how flexible a nonprofit should be when faced with prospective donor demands. Such is the case of Raymond Brown and the Lodi Valley Historical Society, where $500,000 awaits the organization if they make one minor change...their entire board. From the AP Wire story:

When Raymond Brown, of Lodi, died last March 9, he left the balance of his estate to the Lodi Valley Historical Society, with one caveat: all the board's directors must resign within one year of his death.

''His (Brown's) big beef with the board was that they (board members) don't do a darn thing,'' said Brown's friend, Don Thistle. ''They have no mission, no purpose.''

With the one-year anniversary of Brown's death fast approaching, members of the board have decided to forgo the contribution, and to stay in their posts. Although, a few in the community are urging them to reconsider. The decision must have been difficult, since the organization is tiny to begin with (they haven't filed IRS tax forms, which suggests their total annual income is below $25,000).

This is just an extreme example of the draw and power of major gifts -- whether the donor is living or dead. More often, the gift will come with a specific project or purpose attached, that may or may not serve the longterm mission and health of the organization. Other times, the demands for recognition or public display prove too invasive or too restrictive for the organization.

Back in 2001, for example, our local symphony turned down a $1 million gift toward their concert organ, because the donor demanded specific text on a plaque on the organ, as well as in all programs in perpetuity (story available only in a Google cache).

And even when the demands and restrictions aren't so obvious, the subtle give and take between donor and mission can lead both off track. It's a delicate dance, to be sure, but one that requires a strong and confident lead.

(Thanks to eagle-eye Pete for sending this news pointer along!)

UPDATE ON 3/3/05: After much wrangling and legalizing, the entire board did eventually decide to resign in order for the organization to receive the bequest.

Posted by ataylor at 8:36 AM

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