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November 1, 2007

Digging into arts administration education

I generally don't talk a lot in this blog about my direct work in higher education -- finding, fostering, teaching, and connecting cultural managers through a two-year, resident, MBA degree in Arts Administration. I figure that I serve a wider audience by talking about the industry itself, rather than that tiny, tiny subset of the industry that teaches and trains cultural managers.

But if you've been longing for that conversation, Barry Hessenius was kind enough to let me drone on and on about it in this in-depth interview on his weblog.

We touch on how degree programs fit into the larger world of professional development, how curriculum is changing, how the industry is responding to radical shifts in how it works, and how our current conversations on the leadership crisis in the arts may be slightly misdirected.

It was a fun and wide-ranging conversation with a respected colleague. And I thank Barry for the opportunity. I hope you join the discussion with a comment or two. Give it a read!

Posted by ataylor at 8:17 AM | Comments (0)

November 5, 2007

Who gives the gift, and who gets the gift?

American Public Media's ''Marketplace'' radio program took time off from its usual coverage of commerce and finance to explore philanthropy, as advanced by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts President Reynold Levy. Rather than a chore and a burden, Levy describes the philanthropic process as a joy and a gift, in itself:

It's an extraordinary amount of fun to find the intersection between the interests and background of a donor, and the needs of the institution. If you find that intersection, that's the sweet spot. And my personal attitude is that we are really doing the prospective donor an enormous favor by asking for support. Because their gift will provide a meaning and a consequence in their lives that will otherwise not exist.

The short interview is full of the kind of quotes and convictions we hope to get from our board members. It's also useful in reminding us that gaining donations to our organizations isn't only about ''making the sale,'' but also about making meaning and value in people's lives.

Posted by ataylor at 8:35 AM | Comments (0)

November 6, 2007

Pre-natal brand preference?

UPDATE: The folks at Trendwatching revealed that their entire series of trends posted in November were fakes, were jokes, were intentionally fraud -- including the 'Generation Z' trend I posted on below. What can I say, they got me...perhaps because even the bizarre seems reasonable these days. I leave the original post as evidence that I fell for it. One slice of humble pie, please.

If you didn't feel entirely jaded by a market-driven society, this trend will likely push you over the top. While arts organizations are working to build market awareness among teenagers and young professionals, the rest of the commercial world is aiming a little bit further upstream.

Generation Z explores the promise and potential of building brand awareness and even brand preference in unborn children. Says the overview:

Consider this research nugget: a Swiss study has found that when sufficiently exposed to child-friendly brand jingles, tunes and spoken messages during pregnancy, up to 77% of all newborns not only recognize these brand markers, but develop a brand preference that could last until puberty, and probably into adulthood (final results are not yet available as the project only started two years ago).

I suppose brand strategy targeting unfertilized eggs or core DNA sequences isn't far behind.

Posted by ataylor at 9:44 AM | Comments (0)

November 8, 2007

Where law meets creative expression

It's a bit of a thicket to untangle the impact of law on the expressive life of a nation. Law is dry and detached. Expression is explosive and personal. And yet the laws that govern ownership and property do define the context and quality of expression. That makes them the direct business of arts and cultural managers.

Larry Lessig has long been helping define the power and the peril of copyright laws in the emerging on-line expressive world. And he does so clearly and compellingly in this TED talk, recently posted online.

Worth a look and a listen.

Posted by ataylor at 8:48 AM | Comments (1)

November 9, 2007

Talk about transparent!

Neighbor blogger Tyler Green switched me onto this new feature on the Indianapolis Museum of Art website: the Dashboard. It's a user-friendly view into all sorts of operational data from the museum -- electrical consumption, percentage of membership attendance, current expenses against budget, percentage attendance from the museum's Metropolitan Statistical Area.

IMA DashboardFor arts administration nerds like me, it's info nirvana. And while it may be well beyond the depth and detail desired by visitors, supporters, and even staff, it's an extraordinary service to provide such data on-line for the world to see (even if the world doesn't care to look).

I've mentioned the fun and promise of such dashboards before, and also discussed the need to be clear and public about what your organization values, and provide metrics to help others keep you honest. But to see an organization actually diving into the deep end helps bring the idea into sharper focus.

I'm going to need to annoy the good folks in Indianapolis to see how they did this, and how others might, as well.

Posted by ataylor at 12:32 AM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2007

For those about to rock

In an interesting twist on more traditional arts education, Bruce Springsteen sidekick ''Little Steven'' Van Zandt is pushing for new emphasis on the classics in middle and high school -- that is, classic rock 'n' roll. Van Zandt's foundation is announcing a new curriculum resource today. Says the USA Today article:

The plan is to distribute a 40-chapter curriculum, including teachers' guide, lesson plans, DVDs, CDs and Web-based resources, free, beginning with the 2008-09 academic year, to the nation's 30,000 or so middle and high schools.

Van Zandt is concerned that classic rock 'n' roll is less relevant and resonant with with a new generation of teens, which is partly why he's pushing the curriculum. Says he:

''We're trying to reach everybody, whether a musician, a rock 'n' roll fan or not. We're going to make a case that this art form is so interesting that you will be absolutely compelled to listen to it, and maybe even learn how to play it.''

It's official: I'm middle-aged.

Posted by ataylor at 6:10 AM | Comments (2)

November 14, 2007

Ben Cameron on ''financial masochism''

The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation's Ben Cameron had yet more productive, provocative, and insightful things to say about the present and future of the nonprofit arts in his keynote to the Southern Arts Federation in September [just posted in audio (mp3) and transcript (pdf) form, on the Federation's web site].

The bulk of the speech engages the challenge of relevancy and responsiveness of cultural organizations to a world that so desperately needs their content (although often in a different way than we've traditionally delivered it). But I found a particular perspective extraordinarily relevant to my current work with younger arts professionals and with seasoned leaders who are panicking about leadership succession. Ben described what his foundation had learned on the subject from a recent set of public conversations with the field:

We heard concern about an impending generational transfer of leadership, as a generation of founders retire or depart. And while much of the concern was around where we might find their successors -- especially given different expectations from young people around higher compensation, shorter hours, in essence less patience for the sacrificed lives of dignity and the financial masochism that were the givens for so many in my own generation -- this conversation brought to my ears, at least, a new strand: the unwillingness of emerging leaders to be mere custodians of organizations they inherit.

"There are plenty of us eager to give ourselves to the arts." they said, "But unless we are given the same authority to reinvent and reshape organizations as you yourselves were given, we are not interested." -- a point of view that raises far more questions about an organization's capacity for change than about the identity of an heir apparent.

Yet another indication that the future of our industry is only partly in the practices of our past.

Thanks to Anne Katz of Arts Wisconsin for the link!

Posted by ataylor at 8:16 AM | Comments (4)

November 16, 2007

Rethinking the audience chamber

It's always a kick to hang out with Elizabeth Streb, which I got to do last weekend during a special course at Carnegie Mellon's arts administration program. Course instructor Matt Dooley had invited me, Elizabeth, and theater scholar Lynne Conner to express and explore how the audience/art relationship might be changing (or not changing fast enough).

Lynne Conner (who I've blogged on before) has a fabulous overview on the history of audience/art interaction (at least in Western tradition) since the Greeks. And her overview makes one wonder if the ''sit quietly in the dark in assigned seats'' model isn't just a short-term anomaly of arts experience, rather than the standard form.

And while Lynne and I think, write, and talk about the subject a great deal, Elizabeth Streb is actually changing the game. Her company's studio/lab in Brooklyn challenges so many traditional expectations of professional creative space, that it's hard to know where to begin.

Elizabeth despises the constraint and construct of the traditional proscenium space. So her studio is a ''come as you are, come when you want, leave when you want, talk if you want'' free-for-all -- even during what we would usually call a performance. If your phone rings and you want to answer it, answer it. She figures you can decide if the work her dancers are doing is more worthy of your attention. The seats aren't fixed. There's popcorn (''the smell of popcorn just makes you happy,'' she says). And the building is open whenever any staff is working there (she even encourages public use of the restroom and water fountain, since the city stopped providing such amenities long ago).

Contrast this space to the rigid rules and expectations of our traditional cultural spaces -- building hours, strict behavior expectations, restrooms for patrons only, seating bolted to the floor, specific start and stop times.

It's not to say that all arts spaces should be like Streb's. Just that perhaps more could reconsider the rules they live by, and wonder if they all serve their stated goal.

Posted by ataylor at 8:50 AM | Comments (2)

November 19, 2007

Dancing at the edge of nonprofit

The New York Times has a story on the increasingly permeable boundary between nonprofit museums and for-profit galleries that represent the artists shown within them (also covered by my blog neighbor CultureGrrl). At issue is a series of recent museum exhibits, where the galleries representing the exhibited artists provided significant financial and logistical support. Asks the article:

Should nonprofit art museums accept money from commercial galleries with a clear financial stake in the artist's career, and in some cases in the artworks on display? More generally, can the willingness of galleries to pony up subtly influence what a museum sets out to exhibit?

The artistic leadership of these exhibits claim that requests for support followed their decision to mount the show, rather than preceded it. Others point to the rising costs and diminishing resources that make such support necessary to mounting a show at all. The tension only underscores the fact that for-profit and nonprofit cultural enterprise are (and have always been) entirely interrelated, and the influence across that invisible boundary is more a matter of degree and perception than absolute separation.

According to Bruce Altshuler, director of the museum studies program at New York University, the important questions regarding such gallery/museum relationships boil down to two:

''Was the decision to mount the exhibition made because of funding from someone with an economic interest in the show? And did that funding lead to the ceding of curatorial decision making or some influence on the choice of works in the exhibition?''

Let the rationalizations begin...

Posted by ataylor at 8:32 AM | Comments (3)

November 27, 2007

Easily distracted

Sorry to be missing my daily posts this week (and last). Other pressing projects are occupying my brain. I hope to be back in business next week.

Posted by ataylor at 8:54 AM | Comments (0)

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