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October 1, 2004

To serve you better

One of my favorite public deceptions between businesses and consumers is any sign, placard, or web text that begins with the phrase: 'To serve you better...' Almost every time, the phrase is followed by an action that doesn't serve you better, at all, and in fact serves the organization that made the sign:

  • To serve you better, we've removed all humans from the bank lobby and replaced them with ATM machines.
  • To serve you better, we've added a surcharge to an on-line ticket transaction that actually costs us less to complete.
In the spirit of that socially accepted sham, I have reconfigured and shuffled the design and structure of this weblog...why? To serve you better.

Gone is the long and complex ArtsJournal navigation bar on the left side of the page (you can still get to the main ArtsJournal site by clicking the logo at the top of the page). I've also squished and shuffled elements on the right-side column. I hope it cleans up the look and feel. But at the end of the day, I did it because the site felt, to me, like it needed a sprucing. If it serves you better, it's a happy accident.

Posted by ataylor at 8:29 AM

October 4, 2004

Another false chasm?

This past Sunday New York Times Magazine was all about the perceived struggle between market mentality and bold art-making or meaningful cultural experience. Weaving through the mournful essay by James Traub about museum flash versus museum substance, and again through A.O. Scott's essay about Miramax and its rogue leader Harvey Weinstein, and especially through the institutional angst of 'Where Have You Gone, Impresarios?' -- a historical look at Joe Papp's Public Theater and its search for a new visionary or pencil-pusher -- is a sense that business and vision can't co-exist in the cultural world we've constructed, and that we have to choose one or the other. Says the Papp article:

In America, though there are plenty of talented directors and a number of exciting and savvy producers, and even a few who are both, it's hard to think of a single figure who could make art, make news and make his way in the various nontheatrical venues (boardrooms, donors' salons, City Council chambers) that a successful artistic leader would also have to master.

Traub sees the dark struggle of market and meaning in the Alexander Hamilton exhibition at the New-York Historical Society -- where flashy video displays with modern-day images stand alongside historical documents and artifacts. Says Traub:

Apparently it was unreasonable to expect visitors to actually read. I had the feeling that the curators who mounted the show and the donor/board members who brought it into being assumed that few people cared about the objects and the history the way they themselves did, and so in order to attract the big crowds that would justify the show's blockbuster status, they had to make it a user-friendly audiovisual experience.

Amid the tussle of the various authors and subjects in the magazine, however, there are a few inklings that the broadly accepted chasm between smart business and deep experience is a bit of a mirage -- that profound meaning can be good business, and that long relationships have a place in a short-term world.

One paragon of such virtues is the Nonesuch record label...which seems innovative, ecclectic, and solvent too. And even Traub suggests, amid his dismay about the lack of descriptive labels throughout the Hamilton exhibit, that depth and accessibility may not be mutually exclusive, after all:

It is, at bottom, a question of belief: museums must start with the premise that visitors treasure the experience of seeing unique objects in a setting that deepens our understanding of them and then exploit that enthusiasm for all its worth.

Posted by ataylor at 10:56 PM

October 6, 2004

Exploring the long tail

Chris Anderson of Wired magazine has a great piece on the new economics of entertainment, called 'The Long Tail.' In it, he explores the release of creative product from physical and local distribution models (movie theaters, record stores, and such), that tended to promote hits and blockbusters over breadth of content. Says Anderson:

Hit-driven economics is a creation of an age without enough room to carry everything for everybody. Not enough shelf space for all the CDs, DVDs, and games produced. Not enough screens to show all the available movies. Not enough channels to broadcast all the TV programs, not enough radio waves to play all the music created, and not enough hours in the day to squeeze everything out through either of those sets of slots.

This is the world of scarcity. Now, with online distribution and retail, we are entering a world of abundance. And the differences are profound.

That abundance and deep catalog come in many forms -- most of them on the Internet, but not all. Apple's iTunes music store now carries over 1 million recordings, from classical to indie to mainstream pop, and now even out of print recordings. Netflix, the movie mail-order system, offers over 25,000 titles to its members, with documentaries, old classics, odd favorites, and specials that would never find their way onto the Blockbuster shelves.

Anderson's article title, 'The Long Tail,' is a reference to the less popular side of the purchasing curve. If you map sales of compact discs, for example, there's a huge spike at the top...where around 20 percent of all releases earn around 80 percent of all sales (aka, the 80/20 rule, I've written about this power-law relationship before). Distributors limited by geography (like movie theaters) or physical space (like Wal-Mart) must focus on the high-volume portion of that curve to maximize their earnings. A compact disc that sells less than 100,000 units isn't worth the six cubic inches it would occupy on Wal-Mart's shelf.

The 'long tail,' on the other hand, is the slowly downsloping portion of the curve that moves away from these top 20 percent -- the remaining compact discs that sell less than 100,000 but more than zero. The new distribution models, unfettered by traditional space constraints, make even these less popular offerings profitable. And, as it turns out, people want to hear and see this stuff more often than you think. Says the article:

Unlimited selection is revealing truths about what consumers want and how they want to get it in service after service, from DVDs at Netflix to music videos on Yahoo! Launch to songs in the iTunes Music Store and Rhapsody. People are going deep into the catalog, down the long, long list of available titles, far past what's available at Blockbuster Video, Tower Records, and Barnes & Noble. And the more they find, the more they like. As they wander further from the beaten path, they discover their taste is not as mainstream as they thought (or as they had been led to believe by marketing, a lack of alternatives, and a hit-driven culture).

Is this useful for cultural managers or arts organizations? Yes and no. It's certainly useful as background and context on the world they are working in, and the nature of cultural consumer transactions. But so many arts organizations face the very same structural challenges of record stores or movie theaters -- they are local, drawing from a fixed population within around 30 miles, and they operate in the physical world (theater, museum, gallery, festival) that allows only limited selection of what to present, perform, or produce. Unless they exist in an extremely dense market (a major metropolitan area), the laws of economics will confound them, and lure them toward the popular spike rather than the 'long tail.'

Anderson's article smacks a bit of utopianism, as many technology articles that live in the long tail still have fixed costs to cover and on-going bills to pay. But, still, it's nice to know that obscure songs and niche films have a place in this new world, and have an audience, no matter how small. Perhaps part of our job in the nonprofit world is to make sure those odd and unpopular choices are available to be discovered.

Posted by ataylor at 9:03 AM

October 7, 2004

Gaining ground by giving it away

Berklee College of Music in Boston has set up a fabulous web site and public resource in BerkleeShares, a collection of free music lessons in MP3 audio, Quicktime video, or PDF printed form. Given its contemporary slant, Berklee's lessons are connected to jazz, pop, and rock in performance, including lessons in music production and technology.

In its whitepaper on the site, Berklee says they are following the lead of MIT, which made a huge volume of their course content available to the public online through its Open Courseware initiative, now hosting more than 900 courses by MIT faculty.

Why would a college give away its content for free? Wouldn't it undermine their enrollment, their special educational edge, or their cachet of mystery in the community? Just the opposite, actually.

Smart institutions of higher learning have discovered that their customers don't buy just curriculum, but curriculum in context...learning not just from, but with exceptional faculty, in a social environment with others of similar interest and abilities. Public access to lessons and instructional resources by Berklee faculty only underscores the powerful collection of talent they have there, and the potential for learning they can provide in context. Plus, as a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of contemporary music and musicians, it's the right thing to do...a mission-driven bonus, if you will.

The exceptionally cool thing about Berklee's lessons is that they are available under a Creative Commons license, meaning you can download them, transfer them to your iPod, print them out, burn them on a CD, share them with your friends, and the like, without fear of copyright litigation (as long as you follow the simple rules of the commons license).

By releasing their creative content to the world in a clear, open, and free way, Berklee is positioning itself as the heart of contemporary music instruction, and the place where really smart and talented people want to be. That can't be bad for business, and it's certainly good for the world.

Posted by ataylor at 9:14 AM

October 8, 2004

What's it worth?

I'll be consumed today and this weekend with an alumni/student conference at the Center I direct. Called 'What's it Worth?' the event will work to 'honestly explore the value of arts and culture to people, places, and the public purpose.'

I'm hoping that 'honestly' will be the key word, since so many public discussions of the value of art seem to play to the funding audience...aka, it's all good news, art does everything better than anything else, and we are traitors to question the underlying assumptions behind the math.

Perhaps something will come of our conversation, perhaps not. But I'm a sucker for conversations, so I'll be in academic nirvana either way. More later...

Posted by ataylor at 12:23 AM

October 12, 2004

Process over product

I'm still recovering from our fabulous alumni/student conference here in Madison. There's lots to talk about emerging from the event -- from the extended discussions of 'valuing culture' to the common theme that the nonprofit arts are 'overbuilt.' But those will have to settle in my brain a bit before I explain...perhaps tomorrow.

In the meantime, there's a temporary weblog in the world worth a little notice. Choreographer Doug Varone is working with the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland on a new commission. But instead of just working in isolation and presenting the piece as a final work, he's agreed to write a weblog about the commission, and its progress.

Even a quick read shows the power of exposing a wider audience to the process of creative expression and collaborative construction. Take a look at this entry segment, for example:

With this dance, I know that the ending has something to do with the beginning re-imagined, so I have been looking at various alliances that stand out. Natalie and John dance a terrific duet in the opening of the work and my intuition tells me that this is the key to the end. Tomorrow I'll immediately set out to explore that possibility.

Transitions were a priority this past week. As I've been saying all along, I want to make a work that does not feel sectional. Blurring the lines (visually and musically) between sections is essential to achieving that goal. I want to keep the energy of the work moving forward for as long as possible so when a shift does occur, I can manipulate that to my creative advantage.

Not all artists can write so clearly about what they're up to. But when they can, it's utterly engaging. Further, it should make experiencing the final performance piece that much more meaningful for those who have followed its growth.

Posted by ataylor at 12:34 AM

October 13, 2004

Value and the arts

The MBA degree program I direct recently held an alumni/student conference focusing on how we 'value' culture in the public realm...or how we attach value to creative expression and experience when confronted with the question: 'why should you be supported as an industry, as an organization, as an endeavor, when there are so many other needy causes for the public purse?'

One of our two keynote speakers, Adrian Ellis (of AEA Consulting), framed these 'public arguments for the arts' wonderfully in his speech, building from his work in the United Kingdom on the subject (his essay on valuing culture is available in PDF format). As in his essay, Adrian identified four broad categories of arguments for the arts, among them (this text is copied from his essay, but was mirrored in his speech):

  • Economic -- investment in certain arts has a high 'multiplier effect,' generating direct and indirect expenditure, through the first round of construction or other investment related activity and subsequently by attracting inward investment and tourism, and thereby creating jobs;
  • Social -- investment in the arts can ease social divisions by creating a context in which otherwise socially disempowered groups can participate in society on a more equal basis; and it creates 'social capital' -- to use the concept developed by Pierre Bordieu but catapulted into popular currency by the political sociologist Robert Putnam -- which increases social cohesion and therefore ameliorates the anomic, morally corrosive and socially divisive impact of the unfettered marketplace.
  • Psychological and personal -- participation in the arts can accelerate intellectual and motor skills. The Mozart effect ­your capacity for solving quadratic equations will be improved if your mother listened to Mozart intensively during the later stages of pregnancy -- is probably the best-known variant.
  • Civic -- the civic argument, an amalgam of the above, is that a city with a vibrant cultural infrastructure, in which a range of different forms of public and private sector investment in the arts are undertaken, can create a virtuous circle of high economic performance, high inward investment, high educational attainment and high levels of civic engagement. The most powerful current incarnation of the argument is that promoted by the ubiquitous urbanist Richard Florida in his recent book The Rise of the Creative Class.
Both Adrian and our other keynoter, former NEA chair Bill Ivey (now running a policy and research center at Vanderbilt University), agreed that while these four areas of arguments had some limited merit or truth, they had been woefully under-researched, and chronically oversold.

Bill Ivey suggested that one weakness of our arguments for culture was their myopia. So often, he suggested, we focus so exclusively on the nonprofit and public arts, we miss the full spectrum of creative experience and heritage available to us. Bill is working at Vanderbilt and in Washington to bridge this nonprofit/commercial gap in policy-making and analysis. As an example, he offered a perspective on our collective efforts to rebuild the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts in the 1990s by a few million dollars, all while massive changes in copyright, media ownership, and other policy matters were radically changing the cultural landscape. In a sense, he said, our celebrations over the NEA increases were a bit like fiddling while Rome burned.

Adrian offered two perspectives on the struggle to assign public value: First, that any effort to discover and reframe the public value of arts and culture will take decades...but is essential work. Second, that we can move forward even in that vacuum of common values by recognizing the broader good of a 'vital cultural ecology' and finding ways to support one.

If anything, the conversation was refreshing in that we all recognized the elephant in the room and talked about it...the elephant of thin and distracting value arguments for the arts (arguments that draw us from mission rather than toward it). While effective for gaining public attention and public funds, these arguments will eventually run their course. The smart manager will be ready with the next set of arguments when they do.

Posted by ataylor at 9:28 AM

October 14, 2004


There was a strange consensus among the many arts professionals and keynote speakers at my recent alumni/student conference in Madison. The consensus surrounded this point: the nonprofit arts industry is overbuilt. Speakers pointed to the massive growth in the nonprofit arts over the past 30 years...due in part perhaps to the leveraging power of matching grants. They pointed to the general contraction in most revenue streams and economic indicators over the past five to ten years. They pointed to symptoms of thin capitalization and organizational stress that often accompany an overbuilt marketplace: risk-averse management, strains on wages, lack of investment in existing infrastructure or staff training, and so on.

I even felt my own head nodding in agreement at the idea. Perhaps what we have built together has outstripped the capacity of all combined sources to support it. Perhaps we are entering an era of contraction, merger, bankruptcy, and market adjustment.

But the question still festers in my head: 'overbuilt' by what measure? Are there too many nonprofit arts organizations? Do they generate too much product? Are the organizations too large or rigid in their construction? Or is it an imbalance in the various sizes, types, styles, and structures of creative production, preservation, and engagement (nonprofit, for-profit, amateur, government, etc.)?

Adrian Ellis has framed the issue this way:

There is a structural imbalance between the number and scale of non-profit cultural organizations that there is the available cash to support and the number and scale of organizations that exist. Because the sector is, for compelling reasons, protected from the full force of the market, supply and demand are not brought into balance in the same way as in a free market. The adjustments back to some sort of equilibrium between supply and demand are slower, more awkward and more politicized than in a situation where there is a market in capital resources. The non-profit cultural market can sustain prolonged periods of adjustment in which relatively inefficient and, perhaps more important, artistically questionable organizations continue to absorb resources that might be better deployed elsewhere in the sector, despite their inability to serve their missions effectively.

Any industry driven by passion, vision, and the compulsion to create will necessarily be insulated from traditional market forces. The producers will produce regardless of demand, and sometimes because there is no demand. Such a production incentive will necessarily lead to an industry with more organizations, more productions, more creations than can be supported by all markets (commercial, philanthropic, human subsidy, etc.). But that's, in part, the point of it. How else can you create complex creative works that may take decades to connect to an audience? How can we know now what will be the seminal works of our century, and how can we leave such selection to the whims of the commercial market?

And even if it's true that we are now chronically overbuilt, what's to be done? No doubt, many artists and arts organization would support the dissolution of other competitive organizations in their market, but few would support the dissolution of their own. There's no 'cultural high court' to determine which organizations should remain and which should return their assets to the ecology. And even if there were, I can't imagine an organization or policy body with the stomache to try.

So, I'm left with this thought: perhaps 'overbuilt' is another word for 'mis-aligned.' Perhaps it's not that we have too many organizations or artists or creative works or available experiences. Perhaps it's that we've created a system with inelegant options and incentives for those who create and those who consume. Perhaps too many have chosen an overly structured and insulated nonprofit corporate form, because they have few other functional options. And perhaps if we provided better choices outside the full-blown 501c3 corporate form -- fiscal sponsorships, collaboratives, cooperatives, etc. -- the system could find its way to a better balance.

What do you all think? Tell me.

Posted by ataylor at 9:57 AM

October 15, 2004

Some Friday diversions and fluff

Are you jealous of corporate America that seems to have all the good business-speak? Are you longing to take a break from the earnest board and staff meetings focusing on mission, vision, and the new cookbook fundraiser project? Are you looking for new lingo to pad your latest grant application? Then go ye forth to these sites, and let the jargon begin:

Sometimes, life is too short for a long weblog post!

Posted by ataylor at 12:15 AM

October 18, 2004

Corporate myopia

I've been blabbing a lot about the ecology of arts and cultural activity in communities -- whether it's overbuilt or imbalanced, how we can juggle established nonprofits and small, often unincorporated, initiatives.

There's good stuff on this perspective from an older report by the Center for and Urban Future. Author Mark Stern celebrates the transformative power of small, community-based arts organizations in the mix...and raises concerns about the on-going efforts of funders, board members, and others to make them grow. Says Stern:

When small community cultural providers are pushed onto the treadmill, however, they quickly deplete any resources they have for other activities, and inevitably must run harder. As they spend more time worrying about their fiscal health, they are frequently forced to spend less time responding to the needs of their neighborhoods.

If you're a community artist who has spent his or her life working in a church basement, for example, the lure of a new space can be overwhelming. But once in the new space, you're less likely to give an unknown playwright a chance to stage her play; better to put on a crowd-pleaser that will fill the seats. And if you're worried about making your mortgage payments, you're less willing to provide free space to a youth group or town watch that needs performance or meeting space.

He also suggests that the measures we use for these small organizations need to be different than the norm:

Second, recognize that the major way in which small community cultural providers contribute to the economic development of neighborhoods and cities has nothing to do with them as businesses. Community arts organizations are "successes" when they stimulate broader civic engagement, expand residents' sense of collective efficacy, and strengthen the bridges between neighborhoods. These activities are not only good in themselves, but they lay the groundwork for community revitalization.

More grist for the mill.

Posted by ataylor at 8:22 AM

October 19, 2004

Returns on investment

'Valuing culture' can be an abstract exercise, full of theory and pontification about instrumental and intrinsic worth. But the topic is getting a real-world workout in Colorado, where Denver's sales-tax-supported Scientific and Cultural Facilities District is coming up for renewal.

Does a public investment in culture return public benefits from the taxpayers' perspective? In this case, the taxpayers themselves will decide through a public referendum to renew and extend the initiative.

The Rocky Mountain News has one perspective on the 'returns on investment' in terms of the public access to art, subsidized admission prices, and stability/growth of the arts organizations afforded by the $400 million already raised.

It will be interesting see whether the public sees the values as equal to the costs.

Posted by ataylor at 9:53 AM

October 21, 2004

Learning about art and audience from designers

Commercial and industrial design is a fascinating subset of creative endeavor, raising all sorts of relevant issues to the arts and cultural manager. Designers develop complex aesthetic and functional responses to real-world problems, often seeking to engage an audience in their solutions (design is what makes you want a VW Bug over a Honda Civic, or an iPod over another MP3 player).

On-line design magazines like Core 77 offer a great window on the conflicts and solutions of the design world. Like this essay on emotion versus intelligence, where the author states:

Designers may look artistic, but our process is logical. Good design is an objective art -- it's not magic or mystical; designers make real things that actually do things. We solve problems, design stuff for clients, or make our own things to sell to other people. In order to make these things for people, of course, we need a reliable foundation -- a shared perception of reality. Our work is based on experiment, hypothesis and testing, and since we are using our talents to make people's lives easier, more comfortable, richer or more beautiful, we need to inhabit the rational world of physics.

Or this essay exploring 'why we want things,' and how we decide which things to obviously important understanding for anyone engaging an audience.

Beyond that, forward-thinking commercial and industrial design offers a wonderful view of how people might think, or work, or play, or behave in the distant future, and how the 'tools' of our lives might need to change in response.

Just take a look at, a site that explores the ideas/inventions of science fiction writers that are finding a real place in the world. How can you not question your efforts to meaningfully connect your organization to the lives of your audience when you know they may soon be wearing electronic underwear that monitors their heart, or checking the time through a display embedded in their contact lenses, or building their own virtual alter-egos through on-line games.

While we're all building strategy models on how audiences used to connect to our art and our work, industrial and commercial designers are quietly changing that world in profound ways. And all the while, they're working at the intersection of utility, perception, aesthetics, and human experience. I'd suggest that's the same intersection where the cultural manager does his or her work.

In a sense, arts and cultural managers are 'using our talents to make people's lives easier, more comfortable, richer or more beautiful,' too (as long as 'richer' includes 'uneasy,' 'challenged,' and 'disturbed').

Posted by ataylor at 8:53 AM

October 22, 2004

Catching a clue from The Cluetrain Manifesto

Back in April 1999 (eons ago by weblog standards, I know), a list of 95 theorems written by three techno-leaders caused quite a stir. The Cluetrain Manifesto was an attempt to define the new model for business-consumer interaction, given the invasive, conversational style of the Internet.

In the forward to the inevitable book based on the manifesto (available for free on-line), The Wall Street Journal's Thomas Petzinger, Jr., described his first reaction to the work:

I was dumbstruck. There, in a few pages, I read a startlingly concise summary of everything Iıd seen in twenty-one years as a reporter, editor, bureau chief, and columnist for my newspaper. The idea that business, at bottom, is fundamentally human. That engineering remains second-rate without aesthetics. That natural, human conversation is the true language of commerce. That corporations work best when the people on the inside have the fullest contact possible with the people on the outside.

All hype and hyperbole aside, there are some great mini-messages within the 95 points for the nonprofit (dare I say 'corporate') arts. Following are a few choice bits:

1.Markets are conversations.
2.Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
3.Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
4.Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
11.People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products.
12.There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone.
13.What's happening to markets is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called 'The Company' is the only thing standing between the two.
15.In just a few more years, the current homogenized 'voice' of business -- the sound of mission statements and brochures -- will seem as contrived and artificial as the language of the 18th century French court.
21.Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor.
22.Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view.
23.Companies attempting to 'position' themselves need to take a position. Optimally, it should relate to something their market actually cares about.
74.We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.
75.If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.
84.We know some people from your company. They're pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you're hiding? Can they come out and play?
85.When we have questions we turn to each other for answers. If you didn't have such a tight rein on 'your people' maybe they'd be among the people we'd turn to.
94.To traditional corporations, networked conversations may appear confused, may sound confusing. But we are organizing faster than they are. We have better tools, more new ideas, no rules to slow us down.
95.We are waking up and linking to each other. We are watching. But we are not waiting.
For a present-day example of the power of conversation, the boundary-busting between corporation, staff, and public, and the truth that there really are 'no secrets' anymore, just take a look at Tyler Green's current thread in his weblog about the Getty and its current personnel/morale troubles.

Arts organizations should be about open, honest, engaging, and transparent conversations. What are we, if not champions of the human voice, present and past? And how could so many of us have fallen into the same traps that the Cluetrain Manifesto rails against?

Posted by ataylor at 9:11 AM

October 25, 2004

Overbuilt: The Sequel

There was a healthy spike in readership and comment related to my recent post about how the nonprofit arts might be 'overbuilt'. Interestingly, many comments agreed with the general feeling of an overbuilt and overstretched industry, but quickly focused on the individual organization's size and scope:

I have to agree that we are overbuilt, but on a micro level as organizations. I've always called it the Bigger Better Mentality. And though I hate it, it's always my job for a board - ''make us bigger and better.''
In a similar vein, another comment suggested that individual nonprofits face many forces leading them to be bigger than they need to be:

Perhaps we are overbuilt not in the arts and culture industry in general, but rather in the professionaly structured sector of the industry through the emphasis on incorporatating amateur organizations that may not need incorporation. More generally, it seems to me, anecdotally, that our industry has pushed professionalism (by which I mean professionally structured non-profit orgs) as an indicator of quality and sustainability, leading amateur (some community theatres for example) organizations to professionalize without need, causing undo strain on the organizations, and diverting and spreading thin available arts and culture funding that feels compelled to support professional level organizations. These organizations get saddled with structures that are needlessly cumbersome and often too much for the participants to navigate. This grows the industry on the lower rungs, making the fight for funding by organizations on the lower rungs even more difficult.

Another reader explored one way to balance an imbalanced market, by merger and consolidation:

For the past few years, I have been speculating that the next 'trend' in arts non-profits will be mergers or strategic partnerships. I have not seen much evidence of this yet, and the examples I have seen 'break both ways' -- that is, some have worked well and some have failed. It appears situational, and based on factors I don't fully understand and therefore cannot evaluate or 'track'. But there does appear to be opportunities out there. The ego investment each organization has in developing its unique identity seems to inhibit most organizations from even considering such opportunities. Certainly the very sense of 'cause' that develops an organization's mission and 'culture' would be brought into question if it was to consider merging with another organization -- even, and especially, one with a similar mission. Often, the organizations that have the most promising opportunity to merger see each other as competitors. Complicating this a bit (I'm speculating now) is the structure of non-profits with boards and staff. As an ideal, it really requires getting both the board and staff of each of the two (or more!) organizations to agree for the need to merger for it to really work. That's an enormous task and, unfortunately, one most likely to be brought on by the advent of dire financial circumstances rather than through thoughtful, dispassionate planning -- not a recipe for success regardless of the consensus to merger.

Perhaps the strongest reaction came from fellow blogger Drew McManus, who took issue with the whole idea of 'market imbalance' and the other economics terms explored in the post:

I don't accept the false notion of structural deficits, lack of music in public education, or any other cock-and-bull comparison to supply and demand that some people like to trot out as the root of the evils that are plaguing this industry.

I believe this industry can be fixed; not just for the here and now, but for the long term. Orchestral classical music has no where to go but up, so why on earth would anyone suggest that it needs to go the other way?

Keep the thoughts and comments coming! Send me more...

Posted by ataylor at 9:07 AM

October 26, 2004

On-line goodies

Just a few quick pointers today to sites of particular interest:

  • Google has a grant program now for nonprofits who want to use their AdWords service at no cost for three months. AdWords is an exceptionally useful tool that allows you to set up keyword 'campaigns' within the Google search engine. When Google visitors type in your phrase as a search, your small ad appears on the right side of the results screen. The toolset is quite sophisticated and nuanced, allowing constant tracking of click-throughs and even action tracking (you can see if click-throughs from Google actually lead to a sales confirmation page, for example).
  • While I've tried to avoid any conversation of the upcoming election, The New York Times has an interactive that's just too intriguing to pass up. Their 2004 Election Guide let's you click the swing states to one party or the other, and see the resulting electoral college results. You can also run various scenarios to see how the election might spin out. Be sure to click on the 'electoral college' view of the map to see a unique perspective on our United States.
    Even if you're burned out on the election, this is a fabulous example of an interactive learning tool.

Posted by ataylor at 8:34 AM

October 27, 2004

Oozing back up

The Chronicle of Philanthropy notes a slightly happier fundraising machine in the nation's largest charitable organizations. Overall donations in their 'top 400' are up 2.3 percent. It's nothing like the glory days of the past decade, when annual increases in giving hit the double digits. But it's something.

As with all development news, this aggregate increase is tempered by the shaky environment still to come:

As charities head into the two busiest fund-raising months of the year, with the holidays and the end of the tax year motivating many donors, fund raisers say trends that are mostly out of their control could cause another slowdown in giving. Among them: the forthcoming presidential election, stock-market fluctuations, the war in Iraq, the possibility of a terrorist attack, and growing Congressional scrutiny of charities, which has already led to new legislative restrictions on certain types of donations.

And buried in the moderately good news for all charities was some rather stark statistics for arts and culture (including museums and libraries), where total private giving among the 17 organizations in the 'Philanthropy 400' actually dropped 24 percent from 2002 to 2003 (the 2.3 percent total gain was mostly due to international causes, health, and hospitals).

As I've said before, statistics are just one way of getting a sense of the world. But they're an important piece of the puzzle. These numbers suggest that even as the economy ticks up and the money starts flowing again, it may flow to other priorities than the arts.

Posted by ataylor at 9:12 AM

October 28, 2004

One sign of a maturing technology

Wired has an article on the changing patterns of Internet use. One of the key changes? Less sex searching:

''Twenty percent of all searching was sex-related back in 1997; now it's about 5 percent,'' said Amanda Spink, the University of Pittsburgh professor who co-authored Web Search: Public Searching of the Web with Penn State professor Bernard J. Jansen.

''It's a little bit more in Europe, 8 to 10 percent, but in comparison to everything else, it's a very small percent,'' Spink said. ''People are using (the web) more as an everyday tool rather than as just an entertainment medium.''

Folks might recall a similar trend as home video evolved from a gee whiz, slightly seedy enterprise, to a standard household appliance.

Now that Internet use has reached almost 70 percent of the U.S. population (according to these statistics), it has become a standard and increasingly invisibly integrated part of daily life for many. But among those money, the article also shows something hasn't changed much:

What hasn't changed much in seven years is how hard people are willing to work at searching. The answer: not very. Spink and Jansen found that people averaged about two words per query and two queries per search session.

''The searches are taking less than five minutes, and they're only looking at the first page of results,'' Spink said.

So, the good news for arts organizations is that on-line connections to audiences and donors can be cheaper and quicker. The bad news is that the truly valuable real estate (the first page of the search engine results) is exceptionally small.

Posted by ataylor at 11:35 PM

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