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July 5, 2005

Off for the week

I'm off of blogging this week, in partial recognition of my nation's independence (or is it co-dependence?), and in full recognition that I could use the week off.

See you next week.

Posted by ataylor at 8:18 AM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2005

Trends that shape(d) 2005

I know we're already more than halfway through the year, but I just stumbled onto some useful predictions of the 10 trends that will shape 2005. There's still time to jump on the trendwagon, if we all hurry. Says the study's author:

''Manufacturers and retailers must face up to the fact that the days of conjuring up new products without basing them on these consumer mega-trends are numbered. Now, it is changing values and attitudes calling the shots. To be successful, a product or service will have to be founded on at least one and ideally several of these mega-trends.''

While the list isn't earth-shattering, and some of these trends have been simmering for decades (and boy, do I wish I'd seen evidence that number 8 was true...I'm still looking), it's always handy to have a checklist to hold against your marketing, your development, and your organization's voice. So, here they are:

  1. Age complexity
    Today's 12-year-old is more likely to think he or she is 17....adults are behaving more like teenagers.
  2. Gender complexity
    Traditional distinctions between men and women are becoming roles, behavior, and consumer preferences.
  3. Lifestage complexity
    There's been a sharp decline in the number of people with a family and rapid growth in people living alone, not getting married or not having children.
  4. Income complexity
    We are curbing our spending in one area so we can splurge in others.
  5. Individualism
    We want ever more personalisation, in the way we live and the marketing we receive.
  6. Homing
    Consumers are spending more money on (and time in) their homes.
  7. Connectivity
    We are now more connected through technology...but many also have an increased desire for belonging at the community, national and even global levels.
  8. Sensory experiences
    We are all becoming more tolerant of risk and change and are actively seeking out more intense experiences. In our everyday lives, consumers are more prepared to experiment with new products, discover authentic ethnic foods and try intense flavours.
  9. Convenience
    As the pace of life gets faster still, there will be more multi-tasking.
  10. Health
    People are putting greater value on healthiness.

Posted by ataylor at 6:12 AM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2005

Old growth vs. new sprouts in South Florida

The demise of a symphony is usually cause for gnashing of civic teeth over lost community status, lost performance experience, and lost infrastructure for working musicians. That was certainly the case with the collapse of the Florida Philharmonic in South Florida back in 2003. But Lawrence Johnson in the Sun-Sentinal suggests that the death may have led to a new life in the classical music scene.

In the music marketplace and creative/financial energy released by the Philharmonic's dissolution, several smaller ensembles have sprung up to serve the classical music community. Says Johnson:

It's not what former Philharmonic musicians want to hear, nor what those who prefer to experience the rich glory and volume of a large symphony orchestra desire. But the fact is that these smaller, less expensive orchestras and chamber ensembles may be more effectively serving the needs of local audiences than the Florida Philharmonic.

While the region is likely to be served by touring symphonies of larger scope and scale, these smaller ensembles serve a niche market but also carry a much lower overhead. Says Marshall Turkin, co-founder and executive director of new Boca Raton Philharmonic Symphonia:

''Each community is forming its own little orchestra, which will function as the image of its community,'' said Turkin, who sees the downsizing as a healthy response accommodating the needs of regional audiences. ''Boca can afford to maintain a chamber orchestra indefinitely. I don't think the Boca area can afford a full symphony for more than year or two.''

Certainly, South Florida is a strange and unique region of the world -- with seasonal audiences, retirees, a sprawling market area, and a radically shifting demographic. But the upside of downsizing the area's orchestral infrastructure offers a fascinating case worth watching.

Posted by ataylor at 8:41 AM | Comments (1)

July 13, 2005

Selling the schools

More evidence that our public/private balancing act is a little out of whack comes from surburban Detroit, where a school district has decided to sell naming rights to its buildings -- including a new elementary school -- to plug its faltering budget.

The Plymouth-Canton school board voted in June to consider naming rights, faced with drooping federal, state, and local support. But according to Susan Linn, co-founder of the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, the potential revenues from the idea aren't worth the cost:

“What this issue is, first of all, is the way we have abandoned public space and the notion of the public good....People don’t see the cost, and the cost is our values and the values we are passing onto children.”

It's a struggle that cultural nonprofits are more than familiar with, although our struggle is a bit less incendiary. Philanthropists and corporations have become an essential part of the revenue mix, and naming rights are an important lure for their cash.

We certainly can't ignore the revenue opportunity -- in our cultural facilities or in other public endeavors. But somewhere in here is a useful conversation about financing and funding public goods, and the waning role of the 'public' in that effort.

Posted by ataylor at 6:23 AM | Comments (0)

July 14, 2005

Happy anniversary

It was two years ago today that I posted my very first entry to The Artful Manager, with the wonderful support, vision, and advice of ArtsJournal editor Doug McLennan. Here's what I said I would be talking about:

This blog is intended to be an on-line extension of the conversations I've been having throughout my work with arts managers, foundation leaders, students, academics, friends, colleagues, and unwitting strangers on airplanes....The world doesn't work the way we thought it did, the way our common knowledge thinks it should, or the way our training prepared us for. Either the world is broken, or our eyes and brains aren't seeing it right. One, I suggest, is easier to fix.

It's up to other people to determine if I've stuck to my topic, or made any headway. But for me, the two years of writing this weblog have been an extraordinary opportunity to think out loud about new ideas, nagging questions, and emerging trends. There's more on the way. I just thought it appropriate to mark the milestone.

Posted by ataylor at 6:58 AM | Comments (3)

July 15, 2005

Writing a collective story of place

There's a delicate tension in most creative work, between the personal and the universal. An author or artist or performer can explore the most personal of their perspectives, and the result resonates because it speaks for many. In the traditional arts, the audience is often witness to the personal expression...sitting in the dark and watching those in the light. In the emerging world, however, we can all write our personal perspectives in a public place, to mix and mingle with other stories, similarly conceived.

Case in point is 43 Places, a site that allows anyone to describe the places they've been (with photos and text and links) and to explore the places they'd like to go (through the photos and text and links of others who have been there).

If I'm longing to visit Iceland, for example, I can find photos and stories and tips and rants from a world of authors. Certainly, I won't find the authority, ratings, and research of Fodors, but I'm not always looking for that. Sometimes, it takes a personal perspective to know a place.

It will be extraordinary to watch a generation of audiences weened on this technology, on this personal story-telling, sit in the boxes we've built for witnessing other people's personal expression (the theaters, concert halls, and such). The experience for them will either be completely anachronistic, or intimately familiar, or something in between. I'm eager to find out which.

Posted by ataylor at 12:49 AM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2005

So where's distributed ticketing?

When I need to take an airline flight, or even resolve an issue with an airline ticket I already bought, there are any number of organizations or individuals I can contact for help. I can call the airline, of course, but I can also browse available fares on the web, I can call a travel agent, I can even subscribe to an automated e-mail system to let me know when my desired itinerary drops in price. And any of these individuals or systems can quote me a price, view available seats, and make the sale.

But when I want an enjoyable night out at some cultural event (one I know about, or a new experience I don't yet know I want), who do I contact? I read the newspaper for tiny event listings or hyperbolic advertisements. I sift through my various culture junk mail stacks. I ask my friends. I call a few larger venues on the off chance that they're presenting something I'd like to see. And even once I find an event or activity, I have to figure out who can sell me a ticket and when they're available to do so.

In an industry that, like the airlines, is all about perishable capacity (vacant seats or available exhibit times scattered around the city, that will become worthless at the moment the event or the flight takes off), it's odd that someone hasn't succeeded at distributed ticketing, or an agent-based approach to cultural experience.

I know some will claim Ticketmaster as one such service, with access to tons of ticketed events. But Ticketmaster is a transaction service, not a concierge, and many nonprofit events are not included among their inventory. Plus, a centralized system like Ticketmaster is quite different than a distributed system, where multiple players have access and authority to sell.

The beauty of a distributed ticketing system, such as the airlines constructed decades ago, is that anyone in the system can sell anyone else's product. If I want to go to New York, the airline database can offer me options on dozens of airlines, not just one. And if I'm stuck in New York, my travel agent can help get me out on the next available flight, regardless of carrier or airport.

Certainly, there are technological and cultural barriers to such a system for the arts. But at least the technological barriers are quickly dissolving as other industries build the necessary infrastructure.

So why, in the next five years, couldn't my local performing arts center become my personal agent of cultural experience -- offering me not just events in their venues but also experiences scattered around town, on other ticketing systems? Or, why couldn't my local professional theater sell me tickets during intermission to a comparable event at another theater? Why couldn't there be cultural agents there or elsewhere that can recommend and sell cultural events that match my purchase or preference patterns -- in clubs, or bars, or concert halls, or black box theaters, or museums, or community centers?

A distributed information and sales capacity could enable entrepreneurs, cultural mavens, and even individuals with a love for connecting people and art to change the way we find, consider, and purchase cultural experience. So, what's holding us back?

Someone must be attempting this somewhere (or tending the wounds of their past attempt). If you know, tell me.

Posted by ataylor at 8:50 AM | Comments (7)

July 19, 2005

A fresh look for arts research

The folks over at CPANDA (Cultural Policy & the Arts National Data Archive...when you discuss it at cocktail parties, the acronym is pronounced 'see'-'panda') have redesigned their web site in an effort to make arts and cultural research more engaging for a wider world.

The site still primarily serves as a warehouse for research datasets of previous studies, made available to researchers interested in running their own queries on the numbers. Not a practice for the faint of heart.

But CPANDA also seeks to make research findings accessible and useful to practitioners, policy makers, and supporters, with overviews of available studies in various categories, guides to evaluating research, and 'quick facts' sifted from the data.

So, if you ever wanted to know how many people participate in arts and cultural activities, or who attends classical music concerts, or how many artists there are in the U.S., or how supportive Americans are of arts education in the public schools, you've found your resource.

It's worth a browse. And it might just be the incentive you need to purchase that statistical analysis software you've had your eye on.

Posted by ataylor at 8:40 AM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2005

The rebirth of amateur culture

An interesting BBC News interview/overview with copyright activitist Larry Lessig suggests that the 21st century is bringing a burst of amateur culture and creativity. Says Lessig:

''Digital tools are inspiring creativity in a way that I do not think we have seen in a very long time....If you think of the 20th Century as this period of professionalising creativity -- you've got the film and recording industries which become the professional creators, separating and stifling in many ways the popular culture.

''I do not think you are going to see the elimination of the professional creators but you are going to see it complemented by a much wider range of amateur culture in the original sense of the word amateur -- in that people do it purely for the love of creating.''

The article points to the boom in weblogs, personal web sites, audio remixes, digital photos, and podcasting. And it also suggests the inherent tension between this newfound personal creativity and the established creative industries (film, radio, and dare we say, the arts). Says Lessig:

''Many of the professional creators don't get it -- they can't imagine a world where creativity is not controlled....But they should recognise this amateur creativity has extraordinary potential for them too.''

This issue of personal participation in the creative process has come up before (here too) on this weblog, and will come up again, and again, and again. It's likely one of the fundamental dynamic shifts in the way creative work will be conceived, created, distributed, and received in the coming decade.

Posted by ataylor at 8:49 AM | Comments (3)

July 21, 2005

Alanis Morissette on cultural nonprofit finance structure

There's too much fun to be had with the Alanis Morissette Lyric Generator, a virtual 'Mad Libs' for the adult-contemporary crowd. Here's just one generated lyric from my suggested nouns and names:

"Will to Live"

I feel miserable
I feel miserable
GRANT GUIDELINES tear at my foundations
I feel miserable
INFLUENTIAL DONORS are dragging me down to the depths of misery
I want to die

Is it because of FIXED OVERHEAD EXPENSES that I feel this way?
With the GOLDENROD rays of misery pounding on my brain?
Or am I lost in tale of BECKETT, adrift far from home
I don't think so, I don't think so.

I was getting better but then

I feel miserable
OPERATING GRANT APPLICATIONS rot the flesh from my bones
I feel miserable
OUTCOME EVALUATIONS defeat my purpose
I feel miserable
AVERSIONS TO RISK are doing their best to impale my soul
I want to die

Is it because of FIXED OVERHEAD EXPENSES that I feel this way?
With the GOLDENROD rays of misery pounding on my brain?
Am I lost in tale of BECKETT, adrift far from home
I don't think so, I don't think so.

I was getting better but then

Now, if only someone would come up with an automatic grant application generator, we'd be getting somewhere.

UPDATE OF 7/22/05: A commenter to this post referenced a research-paper generator that had created a controversy when one of its fake papers was accepted for a conference presentation. This may be the generator and the results she was talking about. Fairly funny stuff if you watch the videos or read the computer-generated research papers.

Posted by ataylor at 8:52 AM | Comments (3)

July 22, 2005

Connection as competition

An associate forwarded a link to this AOL feature that lets you measure your social network against anyone else on the system...and determine the ''winner.'' Says the FAQ:

Using a complicated algorithm, AIM Fight crawls through the depths of the Internet to answer the all-important question that plagues us all: How popular am I right this second?.... Your score is the sum of the current number of people online who have you listed as a buddy, out to three degrees. This means the score is constantly changing, and the winner of the battle will constantly change with it.

Admittedly, the AOL feature is more for smirks than for smack-downs, but it exposes a bit of the desperation or narcissism that's enabled by a global bucket of isolated individuals. (Okay, I'll admit that I check my Technorati profile frequently to see who's talking about me.) Where status was once determined by who your ancestors were or how many expensive possessions you accrued, a new measure has become how connected you are at any given moment of your day.

Asks my associate:

''How are cultural organizations supposed to provide meaning and/or entertainment to people who:
  1. Care about these kinds of questions, and
  2. Expect to get instantaneous and constantly-changing feedback in response...
  3. For free?''

To which I answered, ''I have no idea.'' Can someone out there help us out? If so, post a comment.

Posted by ataylor at 8:39 AM | Comments (4)

July 25, 2005

Trust and Consumer Generated Media

''Consumer Generated Media'' (or CGM) is the buzzword these days for companies seeking trust, attention, and repeat sales, especially through the Internet. Intelliseek, one service company that's mining the trend, defines it this way:

''Consumer-Generated Media'' (CGM) encompasses the millions of consumer-generated comments, opinions and personal experiences posted in publicly available online sources on a wide range of issues, topics, products and brands. CGM is also referred to as Online Consumer Word-of-Mouth or Online Consumer Buzz.

Essentially CGM is just word-of-mouth on steroids, where those words are now multicast in media form on weblogs, chat rooms, web forums, consumer review sites, and the like. But according to Intelliseek and Forrester Research, the trust and power of consumer and peer opinion is still as powerful on-line.

In one study, consumers asked to signify their ''overall level of trust'' in various forms of advertising ranked among the top four: recommendations from consumers, brand web sites, e-mail they signed up for, and consumer opinions posted online.

The question then comes: So what do you do about it. You could cross your fingers and hope the world says nice things. You could foster consumer feedback on your site or elsewhere (and either filter the results, or not). You could buy nice words, as some corporations have, by hiring seemingly independent bloggers to rave about your work. But odds are you don't have the cash, and smart consumers see right through it.

Ultimately, the on-line quest for positive buzz is just a faster and higher-stakes version of the off-line game: finding thought-leaders, mavens, and connectors; working to engage them in your work and mission; and giving them the tools or information to say nice things when they're ready to do so.

Is anyone out there working this turf? If so, post a comment.

Posted by ataylor at 9:05 AM | Comments (3)

July 26, 2005

On the fungibility of experience

I've had some interesting comments and e-mail feedback on my rant about distributed ticketing. Some had attempted some version of the idea before, but had been flummoxed by distrust or neglect by the community's arts organizations, or inelegance of the technology available.

I continue to think there's a way to hack the system to make this idea allow a broader and more distributed group of players access and authority to sell tickets to cultural events. With your help, I hope to continue to think it through, and find relevant examples...even of efforts labeled as 'failures.'

Among the comments was a thoughtful post by Frank Chiachiere from an arts collective in Seattle, who suggested one snag with my airline analogy:

Airlines are a hard analogy, too, because the services are interchangable: most people don't care which airline they get booked on, as long as it gets them there cheaply. Not true of cultural events. You'd want your ''cultural concierge'' to have a high degree of knowledge of each event, to help guide people to the right one. That's harder than it is in the travel industry.

I completely agree about the difference between air travel and cultural experience, and about the need for responsive and even omniscient agents to suggest possible ticket purchases for each patron. In fact, that's the kind of broad view that a distributed ticket system would allow (''You know, it sounds like our current theater work isn't what you're looking for, but there's an experimental jazz combo playing at the King Club that would knock you out...can I book that for you?'').

But Frank's comment also raises an interesting question: how interchangable are the services of cultural organizations? In other words, when we buy a ticket to a cultural event, are we paying for the means of travel, or for the place it takes us (the meaning, the connection, the new perspective, the escape, etc.)?

Certainly, the two are closely interconnected, but they're not the same. If I'm buying a specific show, there's only one place in town I can go. If I'm buying meaning, connection, discovery, or escape, I could travel any number of routes to get there.

The core economic term here is ''fungibility,'' which means ''the degree to which all instances of a given commodity are considered interchangeable'' (defined here). Specific grades of coal are fungible, since I don't care which chunk of coal I get, as long as it's of similar quality. Generic white rice is fungible. Cash is fungible. Is it possible that the core feeling of connection we get from a personally engaging cultural experience is somewhat fungible, as well?

I'm not suggesting that the arts are fungible, or that they are a commodity (many would smack me upside the head for saying such a thing). I'm just wondering if there is a common destination that meaningful experience takes us -- regardless of discipline, professional or amateur, nonprofit or commercial, formal or informal. In short, I'm wondering if meaningful connections through culture aren't a bit more fungible than we'd like to admit.

Posted by ataylor at 9:07 AM | Comments (2)

July 27, 2005

160 acres and a mule...or an arts district

Arts organizations and arts developments are often part of a community's effort to revitalize or re-animate areas of downtown that have stumbled into stasis. In fact, urban revitalization is often a key talking point in proposals to construct or refurbish cultural facilities (''If we build it...blah blah blah'').

All of us know, however, that a single arts building or initiative can't redirect the tidal forces of urban activity. Instead, it requires the synergistic efforts of government, for-profits, nonprofits, and citizens -- whether working collaboratively, or accidentally, toward a common goal.

For anyone in the business of reshaping downtowns, The Brookings Institution has a useful and thoughtful whitepaper on how it works. ''Turning Around Downtown: Twelve Steps to Revitalization'' focuses on how to build a ''walkable urbanity,'' since ''walkability'' turns out to be a key element of what makes such areas work. Says the author:

Since the rise of cities 8,000 years ago, humans have only wanted to walk about 1500 feet until they begin looking for an alternative means of transport: a horse, a trolley, a bicycle, or a car. This distance translates into about 160 acres -- about the size of a super regional mall, including its parking lot. It is also about the size, plus or minus 25 percent, of Lower Manhattan, downtown Albuquerque, the Rittenhouse Square section of Philadelphia, the financial district of San Francisco, downtown Atlanta, and most other major downtowns in the country.

Another interesting position of the paper is that it's not just what you do in your revitalization efforts that matters, it's in what sequence...certain steps (the establishment of a strong office market, for example) require other steps to be already in place (a strong rental and sales market in housing).

For those who can't wait to read the paper to know the twelve steps (and no, ''Let go, let God,'' isn't one of them), here they are, cryptic though they may be:

  1. Capture the Vision
  2. Develop a Strategic Plan
  3. Forge a Healthy Private/Public Partnership
  4. Make the Right Thing Easy
  5. Establish Business Improvement Districts and Other Non-Profits
  6. Create a Catalytic Development Company
  7. Create an Urban Entertainment District
  8. Develop a Rental Housing Market
  9. Pioneer an Affordability Strategy
  10. Focus on For-Sale Housing
  11. Develop a Local-Serving Retail Strategy
  12. Re-create a Strong Office Market

Posted by ataylor at 6:18 AM | Comments (1)

July 28, 2005

The laser-like focus of research

If you've wondered about the best day of the week for sending out mass e-mails to your patrons, eROI has done extensive tracking and research to find the answer: it's hard to say.

That's the gist of their most recent analysis of e-mail sending, reading, and clicking. Among their conclusions:

  • Fatigue sets in as the week wears on, people tend to read email less later in the week
  • Tuesday - Thursday are the highest volume days and marketers are staying away from the edges
  • There is minor variation in click-through rates, it all comes down to how compelling and relevant the offer is and little to do with day.

In a word: duh.

Posted by ataylor at 6:58 AM | Comments (1)

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