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September 1, 2006

The promise of portable video

If you've had your tech antennae up lately, you'd have noticed that Internet and portable video is popping up everywhere. The video sharing site YouTube has seen massive growth in web visitors and visit duration, drawing some 724 million web site views in June. Major networks are starting to offer full-length episodes of their programs on-line. The Apple iTunes music store now holds thousands of videos for download to its iPod Video device. And now, Google has added a specialized video search to its standard palette.

The folks at think there's critical mass for a mobile video explosion (but then again, they're enthusiasts, so reduce every breathless prediction by a power of 10).

I'm not exactly sure what arts and culture organizations should be doing about it right now. But I know we should be paying attention.

Posted by ataylor at 8:49 AM | Comments (4)

September 5, 2006

A weblog-worthy quote

Eco-advocate Anna Lappé suggested the vital and organic role we all play in forming the world around us when she said:

"Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want."

An interesting exploration of this idea comes from Design Stream and their Emissary Credit Card, a forward-looking concept design that makes buyers aware of the impacts of every purchase...encouraging more sustainable choices over time.

The card is likely a decade from reality, but the perspective it promotes is possible right now. Before you sign any check or credit card receipt, for yourself or your organization, consider what vote your casting for the world.

Posted by ataylor at 12:26 AM | Comments (0)

September 7, 2006

Anticipation and memory

Recent studies in brain function have reinforced the idea that anticipation of an event plays a powerful role in the clarity of memories of that event. Says this report summary:

The UW-Madison scientists found that two key regions of the brain -- the amygdala and the hippocampus -- become activated when a person is anticipating a difficult situation. Scientists think the amygdala is associated with the formation of emotional memories, while the hippocampus helps the brain form long-term recollections....

This particular study used real-time images of brain function while showing two groups of people gruesome pictures (boy, I hope they were paid). One group got advanced warning that they were about to see a gruesome picture. The other group received no such warning. The warning seemed to activate the memory-forming areas of the brain in advance of the actual experience, leading to a more vivid memory even weeks after the testing.

While the study focuses on negative experiences in an effort to inform work with victims of trauma or emotional distress, the findings suggest how powerful anticipation and preparation can be in the construction of remembered experience -- positive or negative. In the arts, this only reinforces the importance of framing and encouraging anticipation among audience members -- whether through advanced information or insight, or by encouraging audiences to draw forward relevant parts of their life experience before an event begins.

If we're in the business of forging vital and memorable experiences, it's always handy to know whatever we can about how that process works.

Posted by ataylor at 8:55 AM | Comments (4)

September 8, 2006

Managing the magic list

There is perhaps nothing more essential to the earned revenue of most arts organizations than a clean, current, and accurate customer list. The names, contact information, and transaction profile of anyone who has donated, visited, bought, or registered in some other way are the key to the large majority of your future revenue. Not a revelation, I hope.

But even assuming you have a clean, current, and accurate list (which most organizations do not), what do you do with it? There's much to be learned from the world of direct marketing, and here's at least one place to begin. Jim Novo describes three primary analysis models for exploring and exploiting your transaction list. According to him:

If you have long sales cycles, (durable goods like cars, appliances), sell very expensive products (enterprise software), or are a service business with ongoing billing which doesn't vary much month to month (utilities, phone, ISP) then you will probably want to start with the Latency Model.

If you have tons of low value transactions with your customers - page views being a prime example - say in publishing / ad-supported / content oriented web sites, or are in retail with a low and narrow price range (books, CD's), you should start out with the Recency Model.

If you are a general retailer with a wide spread of price points, either B2C [business to consumer] or B2B [business to business], then you want to go with the RFM Model.

Of course, each organization will likely benefit from a combination of these approaches, and some others from the direct marketing and customer management world. If you don't even know if you have a clean list, go find out. Once you know, talk with your colleagues (and your friends in direct marketing) about what to do with it.

Posted by ataylor at 8:31 AM | Comments (2)

September 11, 2006

Witness and Response

The events of five years ago today, and the world that followed, demand I write only a short post today, pointing us all to the absolute power and passion of creative expression in times of grief and confusion. A few thousand cases in point are available through the Library of Congress and their Witness & Response exhibit.

One worthy example is the Exit Art collection, which asked for creative responses to the attacks, confined to 8-1/2 x 11 pieces of paper. They received over 2400 from all over the world.

Art is clearly not a frill. It is a force.

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

September 12, 2006

Live vs. mediated

Those interested in brain science and its value in exploring the cultural experience probably already know Daniel Levitin and his work at the Levitin Laboratory for Music, Perception, Cognition, and Expertise (there's a Boston Globe article on him here). But those with a specific curiosity about the difference between live performance experience and mediated experience (through film, television, and such), should be tracking his latest project.

This year, he and his colleagues attached electrophysiological sensors to conductor Keith Lockhart, five members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and 15 audience members, to measure their brain activity and emotional reactions during a live concert in Boston's Symphony Hall. They then planned to use the same devices to measure an audience of a high-quality audio/video presentation of the same performance. The goals of the study are:

  1. To track the communication of emotion over time from the conductor, to the musicians, and finally to the audience.
  2. To quantify differences in arousal and impact between being at a live concert and seeing a broadcast of one.
  3. To characterize and quantify any differences in emotional levels and type of emotion experienced from the conductor to the musicians and the musicians to the audience.

It will be fun and fascinating to see the results. (Thanks, Jenn, for the link.)

Posted by ataylor at 9:02 AM | Comments (2)

September 14, 2006

Fan Taylor's code of excellence

Through my work here in Madison, I've had the great honor and pleasure of getting to know Fan Taylor -- a formative force in the creation of the master's program in Arts Administration I direct in the School of Business, and in defining and developing the professional field of arts presenting. She's an icon among professional performing arts managers. And at 93, she could still book, contract, and market circles around most managers without even working up a sweat.

When she read through my position piece for Inside Arts magazine, she offered her own code of conduct, developed over decades of work in the arts. Like most pearls of wisdom, her code is much cleaner, simpler, and more direct than my longer-winded list. It's simply this:

  • Be honest.
  • Book to your audience, but better.

Short and sweet.

Posted by ataylor at 8:31 AM | Comments (0)

September 15, 2006

Off to Alaska

I'm off to Anchorage next week to speak to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies Leadership Institute, a collection of some 100+ board members, executive directors, and deputy directors of state arts agencies. I'll try to post my keynote address shortly after I deliver it on Tuesday (okay, give me until Wednesday). I'm also leading two workshops considering the next generation of leadership (or lack thereof) for public arts agencies.

Should be a lively crowd in a glorious setting. And as with many other areas of arts and culture, public agencies are in a particularly interesting and challenging place at the moment -- defining what, exactly, they do, and by what means they should do it.

More to come. Hope to see some of you there.

Posted by ataylor at 8:37 AM | Comments (1)

September 18, 2006

A connector's connector

My friend and colleague, Doug McLennan, is celebrating the seventh anniversary of today. In a move I've come to expect from him, he's celebrating that milestone by reaching even farther and working even more. Beyond his daily filtering of hundreds of articles on arts and culture, he's now writing his own blog, Diacritical.

In my own work, I've found that the individuals most able to spot trends and make visionary connections are those with two qualities: a voracious curiosity and a disciplined but malleable mind. Doug has shown both of these qualities in spades through his thorough and insightful work on ArtsJournal. I'm thrilled beyond measure that he's now sharing his insights with a wider world. Says Doug:

We have traditionally depended on critics to define their territory, walk the perimeter and report back about what's new, what's interesting and how they connect. As the amount of culture we have access to becomes ever more overwhelming we're going to need people to help us make sense of it. There are some awfully smart people out there trying to do exactly that. One thing I hope to do with this blog is to point you in the direction of some of them.

Congratulations, Doug, on the transformative force you've constructed through ArtsJournal. And best of luck on your new blog. Rest assured, you're at the top of my feed list.

Posted by ataylor at 6:25 AM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2006

Three (short) detours back to public value

Download this speech
in PDF format

(requires free Acrobat reader)

a keynote by Andrew Taylor, Director
Bolz Center for Arts Administration
University of Wisconsin-Madison

delivered to the
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
Leadership Institute
Anchorage, Alaska
September 19, 2006

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:

It is such an honor to be with you today. I know many of you as friends and colleagues. I hope to add to that roster before we end this convening. But whether we're friends or strangers, I need to share with you right up front what respect and admiration I have for the work you do. You are all stewards and champions of the expressive lives of your states. It is a public service in the most noble and valiant sense. And on behalf of myself, my family, my community, and anyone else that is enriched by the currents of your work, I thank you.

[We did an opening exercise, where participants wrote their name and address, and then did the same thing using their OTHER hand. Lots of valuable learning was had by all.]

My topic today, ostensibly, is public value. But, before the color drains from your face and the air wheezes out of your lungs, let me assure you I'm here to attempt another tack on the subject.

I know many of you have been swimming in the question of the public value of arts and culture over the past years. Separately and together, you have put quality time and attention to the task. And the evidence of your work has been wonderful. For my own part in the challenge, it has been fascinating but exhausting. I've quite frequently felt like I do when I write with my non-dominant hand – even with a clear mental model or framework, I can't seem to successfully put pen to paper, to apply the theories of public value to daily work.

You have all seen models of the public value of the arts – how it's created, how you optimize it in your role as public servants. You've seen the strategic triangle from Mark Moore, the instrumental and intrinsic value grid from RAND, and perhaps the reinterpretation of RAND's model by Alan Brown. Fabulous and fascinating stuff, especially for the academics and wonks among us. But still I struggle with what do you DO with these maps and models. How do you put them to paper so others can read them? In other words,

How can or does a state arts agency create public value?

And how do you align your governance, leadership, staff, and constituents to maximize that value over time?

Today, we're not going to hit that question directly at first. Rather, I'd like to take a series of detours and roundabouts. More specifically, I'd like to take three detours in the time we have, to see where we end up. I draw my inspiration for this circuitous route from the poet T.S. Eliot, and that fabulous stanza in his poem The Four Quartets:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

So, my theme today is this:

Three (short) detours back to public value.

As with all detours, it might feel like we're heading in a wrong or unproductive direction. But since I have the wheel for the next little while, you'll have to come along for the ride. Just don't ask me if we're there yet. And don't MAKE me turn this keynote around.

DETOUR ONE: Writing with your non-dominant hand.

The anxious among you might be pleased to know that we have already taken the first detour, when you wrote with your non-dominant hand. There was something in there about feeling awkward and disconnected; something about working outside of your habits or dominant strengths; something about the difference between knowing a thing in your head and applying it toward some tangible goal. Again, hold those thoughts and feelings. They'll come in handy later.

The next detour is about structure and behavior. More specifically:

DETOUR TWO: Structure influences behavior.

I'm sure we all can recognize that physical structures influence our actions. The shape and layout of a building will lead people to use it in a certain way. We have bottlenecks in our kitchen during parties. We have lobbies or performance spaces that seem particularly suited to positive social interaction. We have airports we love and airports we hate – either for how they facilitate the productive flow of people and of planes...or how they don't.

Winston Churchill had a particularly powerful quote on the subject (as Churchill inevitably does), when he said:

"We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us."

We build these structures – whether by accident or intent – and they shape our behavior, our experience, our interaction, and our perspective.

But today, I'm talking about structure from a broader definition than bricks and mortar. I mean anything that encourages or discourages individual or collective action. Anything that blocks your path to one action or attitude – like a wall – or encourages and rewards you toward another – like an inviting hallway, or the cheese at the end of a maze.

Once you start looking for such invisible barriers and incentives, you'll find them everywhere. Let me give you a few examples of what I mean.

Financial Structures

The shape, distribution, and flow of financial resources have a dramatic influence on behavior by individuals, by organizations, and by communities. If you have a mortgage, consider how your own perspective and even behavior changed when you signed the paperwork. Did you become a little more cautious, a little more risk averse? If you've work with or for an organization with persistent, cyclical cash flow problems, you know the physical and emotional impacts it can have on staff and leadership. Choices become panicked. Vision becomes narrow and short term.

On the incentive side, you also know the drawing power of focused, contractual philanthropy – where the promise of resources can draw an organization off its original course, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. Consider the kind of contribution my colleagues and I have come to call “the gift that keeps on taking,” for the toll it extracts from the life and breath of the organization it sought to support.

In your own states and home cities, consider the financial mix of your cultural ecology – how much cash is flowing through and from what sources, how much energy is invested in physical structures, and how much is pooled in pockets of frozen resources like endowments or trusts. Then consider how that structure influences the behavior of the arts organizations around you, the artists, the audiences, the donors.

Statements of financial position or cash flows do very little to suggest the real and visceral impact of financial structure on behavior. But enough of financial matters, consider another structure that influences behavior:

Organizational Structures

In hierarchies, governance, reporting, and authority structures we can find another complex architecture of barriers and incentives to behavior. How we select, promote, recognize, and reward staff and volunteers, for example – whether through intent or tradition – often defines the boundaries and hallways of behavior. Do we chastise for bold mistakes, or encourage them? Do we foster honesty and learning, or do we reward frenzy and excess hours?

Many have found the structure required by nonprofit tax status to be particularly confusing and complex – with a governing board unsure of their allegiance to the organization or the community, and an executive leadership with more knowledge of the work to be done than those who hire and evaluate them. In your own work in the public sector, you all know the particularly complex barriers and incentives of representative government. These walls and hallways can lead even insightful and intelligent individuals to behave in odd and unpredictable ways.

Mental Structures

I'll also suggest to you that there are structures in your own head and among the professional and social groups you align with that influence your choices and behavior. We all have models or theories that shape our interaction with the world – some are obvious to us and accepted with intent, others are embedded so deeply we don't even see them. When you wrote your name with your non-dominant hand you felt the tension of working against these habits and propensities.

These mental structures are formed and informed by the structures around us, and the barriers and incentives we've experienced over a lifetime.


Finally – although we could follow this thread for a long, long time – policy, itself, defines structures that discourage or encourage collective behavior. We block and discourage certain behaviors as illegal, and attach punishments to make those barriers real. We encourage other behaviors – like philanthropic gifts – through incentives in our tax laws and fiscal privileges for our nonprofit organizations.

Policy, broadly defined, is constraint on behavior. Policy is an on-going effort to influence the flow and direction of human action, and to define a space where a productive society can function.

To be clear here, I'm not saying that structure determines behavior. All of us have choice and accountability. Despite our environments, we have free will. Furthermore, we all respond differently to the structures around us. I'm just saying that structure influences behavior. That, over time, these structures can encourage individuals and groups to make one choice more likely than another. It's in the aggregation of these millions of choices that communities and ecologies take their shape and tone.

So, structure influences behavior. That's our second detour. Now we can round the curve, and wander off on detour number three. This particular detour has become particularly important to me, and has come to define and challenge my own work as an educator and as an analyst of arts and cultural management:

DETOUR THREE: All value is co-constructed.

As our arts and cultural industries have evolved over the past decades, we have come to speak in a language of production and consumption. We build the supply side of the arts, or we focus on the demand side. We present, we educate, we produce, we develop outreach programs. All of these verbs imply a directional flow of value from one side that creates it to another side that receives it.

Yet, even the tiniest tug on this production/consumption metaphor leads it to unravel beyond repair.

Consider any powerful, transformative moment you've had with an act or artifact of creative expression. That moment required at least TWO lifetimes to form its value – your lifetime to that moment and the artist's. There was a resonance between your experiences or emotions and the expressive voice. The moment required them both. The value was co-constructed.

Of course, this idea isn't mine and it isn't new. A rather clever fellow named John Dewey went on and on about it to an audience at Harvard back in the 1930s – in a set of speeches that would become the class Art as Experience. And well before him, other cultures understood the invocational and communal qualities of expression.

To carry this concept of co-construction outside of the arts, consider another pervasive indicator of value – our currency. A dollar bill is worth a dollar only because we all believe it to be. It is a collaborative construction of value around a rectangular piece of paper. This is why “consumer confidence” is such an essential measure of our nation's economic health. Confidence about the future influences the perceived value of a dollar, and provides a positive structure for transactions, for investment, and for creative risk.

To some, this idea may seem a matter of semantics – creation/co-construction, tomAYto/tomAHto. But consider the application of one metaphor as compared to the other. In a production and consumption metaphor of value, I choose to invest in one side or another. I can develop incentives to build a production capacity in arts and culture, or I can develop incentives to build a participatory capacity. But if all value is co-constructed, than BOTH sides are producers. Both are required for the final product to be achieved. And, in fact, they are not sides at all, but collaborators toward a common end.

Or, consider the different metaphors as they relate to the isolation or interconnection of separate arts organizations. If a theater work, sculpture, symphony performance, blues concert, or heritage craft class makes a meaningful impact on a visitor, who created the value? Certainly not the arts organization – although they were a catalyst and co-creator in that moment. But also worthy of credit is the individual, along with their family, their cultural heritage, their public and social education, their prior experiences with other arts organizations, the love and connection they held for the partner they came with, or the emotional memories from earlier in the day.

Don't get me wrong, the creative expression itself is crucial to the moment. But the expression didn't CREATE the value.

When I was wandering through the Museum of Modern Art years ago, I came across an expression that proved particularly valuable to me. It was a stone etched with the following phrase:

"All moments stop here and together we become every memory that has ever been."

In that phrase is the architecture of value. Together we become every memory that has ever been. We construct the moment together. We are all required to make it real.

All value is co-constructed. That's detour number three, which brings us back to where we started. Let's see if we can know the place for the first time, or at least a little differently. We've written with our non-dominant hand. We've explored how structure – in all of its visible and invisible forms – influences behavior. And we've touched on the idea that ALL value – public or otherwise – is co-constructed. So, back to our first question:

How can or does a state arts agency create public value?

Given our journey, I have two answers that you probably won't like:

  1. It doesn't, and;
  2. It can't.

If all value is co-constructed, state arts agencies can't create it. Neither can arts organizations, cultural facilities, or even artists alone. You can be party and partner to the creation of value. You can form and frame the many structures that make value more likely, and you can work to diminish the structures that discourage it. But, at best, you can only be half of the equation. More than likely, you are less than half.

Does this mean that all the tools and maps and models for creating public value are useless to you? Of course not. It just implies that you might consider using them in a different way. If value is co-constructed, and structure influences behavior, then perhaps your larger role, while you're being advocates, funders, advisors, researchers, and connectors, is to be architects – defining and refining the structures that foster the rich and textured expressive life of your state.

This idea goes to the second question that began our journey:

How do you align your governance, leadership, staff, and constituents to maximize that value over time?

I suggest that alignment comes from many parts, several of which you have constructed during your focused engagement with public value.

First, every architect needs a blueprint. For you, it would be a clear vision of success. If you were standing in the center of a state with a vibrant, inclusive, and rich expressive life, what would you expect to see? What mix of professional and amateur arts? What distribution of physical resources, put to what use? What level of artist participation would you expect to see in civic life? What interaction would you expect between the various sectors beyond the arts? Many of you have written these visions in clear and compelling prose. I've seen them, and they're great. Others could speak them aloud if they took some time to do so.

Once you have a blueprint, you need schematics and construction plans. Where are the walls and hallways that will encourage a thousand disparate individuals toward the success you described? What walls or hallways are already in place, and what influence do they have toward your goal? Are they moving your state, its artists, its audiences, its citizens in productive directions, or dispersing them in a thousand different ways? These walls and hallways may be constructed by policies under your control – grant guidelines, giving policies, incentive programs, technical assistance. But most of them will be structures constructed by other architects with other goals – other actors in state government, counties, cities, foundations, corporations, donors, major cultural institutions, physical infrastructure, or federal law. How could you inform and align these other actors?

Finally, with blueprints and schematics in hand, you need a full and nuanced toolset. Every tool you have available will be required: convening, analysis, advocacy, policy, legitimacy, grass roots efforts, strategic partnerships, and on and on.

To make these ideas more tangible, let's take one specific structural challenge of the nonprofit world. It may be on your minds in many ways already. Most blueprints of a vibrant and inclusive expressive life would describe a wide range of organizations and collectives dedicated to creative expression. Such diversity makes for rich and interactive ecosystems. You would expect a vital and varied professional nonprofit cultural infrastructure, of course, but also a dense network of unincorporated, independent, commercial, temporary, and even highly informal groups driven to observe, preserve, support, interpret, and create expressive works.

And yet, for the past forty years, our schematics and our toolsets have been a bit less nuanced and diverse. While we all recognize the value of richness and variation, every structure in our system seems to nudge organizations toward a single form – the 501c3 nonprofit. Our granting guidelines require it. Our reporting requirements presume a level of stability and professionalism suggesting growth. And our partners and colleagues among foundations drive it home through similar policies.

I'm not suggesting that the 501c3 nonprofit is the wrong model. It's just not the RIGHT model for every endeavor. A vibrant and sustainable ecology would encourage a range of structures and types – permanent and temporary, corporate and informal, large and small, professional and amateur.

Paul DiMaggio once noted that the primary goal of cultural policy over the past generation has been stability, ''encouraging small organizations to become larger and large organizations to seek immortality.” These policies have distorted our system. And our structures need an architect's eye to set things right.

In wrapping things up, the good folks on the NASAA staff encouraged me to include some questions or charges that might inform the rest of our time together. I suggest four questions that might be useful in your formal sessions and social time:

  1. What is your blueprint?
    Have you defined and described what success would look like for your state? If your state had a rich and textured expressive life, what evidence would you expect to see? Is that vision widely shared?
  2. How do the structures under your control serve the blueprint, or sabotage it?
    What barriers and incentives within your direct control seem most powerful and productive toward your goal? What well-intentioned structures might be working against you?
  3. What larger structures might be supporting or distorting your vision?
    What activities or policies of other governmental agencies – from transportation to zoning to tax law to tourism – are resonant or dissonant with your blueprint? How can you inform and align their work to yours, and your work to theirs?
  4. Finally, how do you foster a culture of architects?
    How can you encourage your agency's board, executive leadership, and staff to become collaborative architects in the endeavor? How do you know you are all working toward the same world, and learn together how that world behaves?

As you talk about your work in the sessions at this conference, and in the social moments between sessions, consider the architecture or the ecology of the challenge you seek to solve. It may feel like writing with your non-dominant hand. But you may find it to be another path toward becoming an even more effective co-constructor – with all the citizens of your state – of public value through the arts.

I'd like to close with a quote from the late Donella Meadows, an avid and eloquent advocate for an ecological view of the world, and a sustainable interaction with it. To me, she phrased the challenge and opportunity ahead better than I ever could. She said this:

The future can't be predicted, but it can be envisioned and brought lovingly into being. Systems can't be controlled, but they can be designed and redesigned. We can't surge forward with certainty into a world of no surprises, but we can expect surprises and learn from them and even profit from them. We can't impose our will upon a system. We can listen to what the system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone.

I thank you for your time and attention, and I look forward to our conversation.

Posted by ataylor at 2:52 AM | Comments (3)

Wish I were here

I had an engaging but exhausting day here in Anchorage, chatting with the leadership members of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA), an association of state arts agency executive directors, board members, and deputy directors. I delivered the keynote to the group yesterday morning, and facilitated a workshop in the afternoon on the ''next generation of leadership'' for their field. I repeat the workshop today and then hop on the loooooooonnnnnggg flight back to home.

Lots of fascinating people. Lots of juicy challenges to attack. But for now, you'll have to be satisfied with the text of my keynote address. It's a first public effort for me in framing my most essential bits of knowledge about cultural policy. Please comment and criticize. I air these things to see whether or not they make any sense at all.

Happy reading!

Posted by ataylor at 2:59 AM | Comments (0)

September 26, 2006

Only half an argument

During my time in Anchorage with the leaders of state arts agencies, the issue of ''public value'' was still very much in play. Many state arts agencies had done extensive rethinking and planning around the public values they promote. And new communications strategies and publications were spreading this new word to legislators and constituents.

But it occurred to a few of us there that defining and exclaming the public value of arts and cultural activity (ie, the value to a broad public, even those who do not participate) was really only one half of an argument for public sector support of the arts. The logical progression we seem to assume is that once a public value is proposed and supported, the next obvious step is to sustain or increase public money to the cause.

That last step is no longer an obvious one to all.

Pretend for a moment that everyone agreed there was deep, rich, and enduring value in the availability of cultural opportunity -- production, presentation, preservation, expression. There would still be plenty of reasons to reduce or eliminate public sector support. Many believe that it's not government's role to promote a great society, or to ensure equity and access to a better world. Rather, government is there to do as little as it can, to stay out of the way of the market and social-sector enterprise which are much better suited to the task (not my belief, but a common one).

From this perspective, we could easily see large groups of legislators say, ''Yes, we believe the arts are a powerful part of our community. So important, in fact, that we shouldn't entrust them to the least effective and efficient sector. Best leave them to the private and social sector, where their health is better served.''

My point here is that even the best expression of the public value of arts and culture won't, necessarily, improve the state of public funding for the arts. Rather, we also need to emphasize the next part of the argument -- when and why public sector action is truly the best way to support that value.

UPDATE OF 9/29/06: A thoughtful and frustrated reader forwarded a link to this editorial, exposing the challenge of the ''second half'' of the argument above. Even if you convince government officials and taxpayers that the arts are great, essential, and valuable to all, you might easily get this response:

The framers of the Constitution never intended for local governments to act as charities. If officials give to 501c(3) organizations, they are choosing not to give that amount to schools, law enforcement or any other necessary function of government.

Local government should raise only enough money to fund its own services. If it has money to donate to charitable enterprises, then it has overtaxed its people by at least that amount. Allowing people to keep more of their own money would enable them to donate of their own free will.

So, how do you respond to that?

Posted by ataylor at 8:30 AM | Comments (6)

September 27, 2006

One more way to map your world

Subway Smell MapIf you were looking for another perspective on Manhattan, the folks at Gawker have just the map for you. Their new subway map tracks the various smells visitors are finding in each subway stop -- from the sublime to the stinky.

Why, exactly, would you want to know that the 14th Street and 6th/7th Avenue stop smells of food and urine? I suppose it's best to be prepared.

On the useful side, the new mapping capacities of the web make all kinds of views of our environment possible -- like maps of stressful or emotional places drawn from biometric sensors and global positioning technology.

So much of cultural management is about place, and about individual and group experiences of that place. The new mapping -- silly or serious -- can make those hidden elements visible to all. The Emotion Map site cuts right to the question:

"Will seeing other people's experiences allow us to engage differently with our environment?"

Posted by ataylor at 8:55 AM | Comments (1)

September 28, 2006

Painting with a broader corporate palette

There's increasing evidence that the mission-driven world has focused a bit too obsessively (or myopically) on a single organizational form: the tax-exempt, 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. It was a logical place to go, after all -- if your goals are not defined by profit but by other motives, you should structure yourself as a nonprofit...right?

Problem is, the nonprofit corporation is an unusual beast to govern, to manage, to finance, and to connect with a dynamic environment. And the strings that come with that tax-exempt status can actually keep an organization from doing its best and most effective work in the world. Since it's rather difficult to create new legal corporate forms (which are complex bundles of federal tax law, state corporate statutes, and evolving litigation), the smart folks are left to mix and mingle different forms toward a single purpose. Hence, the hybrid organizations that seem to be popping up everywhere these days.

A particularly creative case in point is, the charitable arm of the world-dominating Google. Like its corporate parent, has big ideas for changing the world in a positive way -- attacking climate crisis, global public heath, and global poverty.

The issues are so big (and the money is too, about $1.15 billion) -- that the organization didn't want to be limited by tax-exempt status. Instead, as described by its honcho Larry Brilliant in this Wired interview, the initiative uses many organizational forms to advance its work. Says Brilliant:

We are not really a foundation. It's a bit of a 501(c)3, a bit of a C corp, and a bit of an academic environment. I can play more of the keys on the keyboard. A 501(c)3 can't lobby. A 501(c)3 can't invest in a company or build an industry. It may be that the only way to deal with climate change is to create an industry or build companies.

While not as large in scale, there are many examples in arts and culture of hybrid organizations. I'll touch on some soon.

As an aside, have you ever looked for the words "arts" or "culture" in the U.S. tax code? Take a look at the actual definition of a 501(c)3 under Title 26, Subtitle A, Chapter 1, Subchapter F, Part I, Section 501, Subsection (c), Paragraph 3. Amateur sports are in there, as well as children and animals, but no arts and culture. Hmmm.

Posted by ataylor at 9:08 AM | Comments (2)

September 29, 2006

Transformational, transactional, and tacit

Mega-consulting firm McKinsey & Company thinks a lot about trends in the workforce, and how to manage those trends. Their most recent obsession seems to be ''tacit interactions,'' and the shift of the U.S. job market in that direction. ''Tacit'' interactions are complex and ambigous, requiring high levels of judgment and problem-solving. Workers involved in tacit interactions must often draw on deep experience (called ''tacit knowledge'' by the economists among us). Tacit is one of McKinsey's three categories of work types, distinct from ''transformational'' (extraction or conversion of raw materials) and ''transactional'' (routine interactions that are the same over time).

The McKinsey wonks suggest that tacit interactions require a whole different organizational style and structure than transformational or transactional interactions. While you can improve transformational interactions through process design, and improve transactional interactions by providing scripts and structures, tacit interactions require loose boundaries, flat hierarchy, individual empowerment to innovate, and an emphasis on learning over time.

I'm not sure, exactly, where the creative artist fits into this scheme (they provide a transformation well beyond extracting raw materials). But it's clear that the arts organization could benefit from defining the difference among its various activity centers beyond the creation of art. For example, we've all seen ticketing staff and box offices that are considered "transactional" by their organization -- efficient and streamlined but also rigid and nonresponsive to individual customer needs. We've also experienced box offices that are run as ''tacit'' activities -- giving each staff member the power and incentive to understand and solve the customer's problems, not just sell a ticket.

I always take these large trend discussions with a bucket of salt, since they have a ''truthiness'' to them, but often fall flat in actual implementation. But this distinction seems useful enough to kick around in a staff meeting. If you're interested in the insight, there's more about it here.

Posted by ataylor at 8:41 AM | Comments (0)

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