Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Day One


I started a new job today as Executive Director of the Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, DC. It's inspiring, challenging, refreshing, daunting, and exciting, so I wanted to spend a little time talking about my first day.

That was almost three months ago.

When I was first approached about the job, I immediately began listening. On this blog I spend a lot of time talking (er - writing), but in reality, and particularly in my professional life, I have found that listening is the most underrated and useful skill.

I knew that if I succeeded in the interview process, I would want to begin with as much knowledge as possible. I listened to (interviewed) everyone I could - donors, singers, former singers, former donors, general audience, and non-audience. I already had in my mind a picture of the organization, but I knew that my perception alone wasn't enough. So, I observed to get the most complete picture possible.

With so many different stakeholders all saying potentially different things, it could be challenging to make sense of it all - especially when you're new! And that is where your gut comes in. Once you have collected a ton of data through listening; you filter, compare, throw out, and fill in the holes. At the end of the day you trust your observations, you trust your judgement, and you make that first crucial decision: pizza or Chinese for lunch?

Why is listening so important? Because it forces you to stay relevant. When you listen to donors, you know what's on their mind (inside and outside of your organization). When you listen to subscribers, you know if they're going to renew next year and why or why not. When you listen to new friends you meet in a bar, or listen the radio, you get an idea for the pulse of your community and you can better program to the rhythm of it. When you listen to why a singer is no longer with the group, it helps you prioritize your member efforts and win them back.

My official first day (today) was full of listening. After filling out some forms, I listened to the immediate needs of the week, listened to financial reports, what roles are assigned to whom, new partnership possibilities, what kinds of food staff members like, and how to take out the trash.

My first day also became about priorities. With a big picture view, I can pinpoint areas of inefficiency, stress points, successes that deserve more budget priority, and operations that are running smoothly as they are. It's thrilling to see the big picture, and be comfortable enough to get in the weeds to make positive changes from the ground up.

I look forward to doing more listening, and hope you will too!






Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Goin' Green

"I think the music reflects the state that the society is in. It doesn't suggest the state. I think the poets and musicians and artists are of the age - not only do they lead the age on, but they also reflect that age."

 -John Lennon


I was reluctant to begin this post with a John Lennon quote, because there is no way to top it. So, I'll just attempt to comment on it, and maybe give it some context in today's world.

If you're reading this, you probably already have a good sense that music and art are reflections and drivers of culture. I know, I know..."Do I really need to be reminded of this?"

Well...yes. Here's why:

We just fought two wars, we are digging ourselves out of a recession, we are publicly fighting over a woman's most personal decision, people who came to this country for a better life (even legally) are scared for that life everyday, we hear and see racial mockeries of our President and Commander in Chief, and there are plenty of people in the country who would throw a punch at me for wearing my favorite pink shirt.

One more thing: thanks to the recession, a lack of cultural prioritization from our government, and general malaise as innovators, we have fewer and fewer cultural institutions and community arts organizations through which to seek reflection, refuge, identity, solidarity, or whatever one is looking for among all the turmoil. This is a really sad State of the Arts.

I don't mean to be completely doom and gloom here. Plenty of orgs are thriving in my home city of Washington, DC and around the country. And the arts will never stop being a fabric of our social conscience.

But the typical headline these days involves an orchestra on the brink of closing, or a dance company losing its donors, NEA cuts, and the like. I've always been a believer that adversity breeds creativity, and tough times make me work really really hard.

There are so many things we can do to grow as arts orgs: add fundraising events, find that special something your audience doesn't have yet, go "lean" and try to do more with less, expand programming to try to reach every audience possible (not totally advisable), narrow programming to focus on a niche, or find an angel donor (yes please!). One tactic I would like to see more of is reaching the audience's heart through programming.

It can seem tough to think about reaching the social conscience of a community when you don't know if you can keep the lights on. This is exactly where adversity can be our friend. Today, there are lots of social issues that occupy our hearts on a daily basis. As arts managers, we have an opportunity, now more than ever, to reach those hearts through art, thereby re-introducing the importance need for art in our lives.

Take a look at the social/political issues impacting your org and/or your audience. Speak (or sing or play or paint) directly to those issues, bring other audiences in around similar social/political issues, and watch as more people want to get involved. It's a lot easier to sell underwriting to someone if the mission speaks to a personal interest. It's a lot easier to sell a ticket if you are rallying around an issue your audience faces every day. And, it's a lot easier to find artists who want to support and perform if you have a compelling mission in your program.

Mr. Lennon's philosophy has been exemplified by great artists time and again. Billie Holiday, Jean Jacques Rousseau (yes, he wrote Operas!), Bob Dylan, Hugh Masekela, Michael Jackson, The Sphinx Organization, Marian Anderson, Claude Debussy, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Astor Piazzolla, and even Kermit the Frog all participated in social movements with their art. I'm not saying we need to go full-blown Woodstock, but a couple flowers in our hair won't hurt anyone.





Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Turning Assets into Butts


Typically, when deciding whether or not to invest in a company, idea, or project, a key metric is ROI - return on investment. Essentially, how much the investor will get back if he/she supports the idea. We almost always think of ROI in terms of dollars, which doesn't make a lot of sense for the arts community, because we are largely not for profit and donors don't expect to get dollars back. I am of the belief that those who "invest" in the arts (donors) SHOULD expect a return. We simply need to redefine what we think of as "return."


ABC shoe company makes stylish-yet-comfortable heels for pregnant women (my sister is pregnant, so babies are on my mind lately). I have seen the prototype and I think women like my sister would love it, so I consider investing in the company to help them get off their feet. Before handing over the cash, I ask to look at their projected income statement. Since I will get a percentage of the profits, I want to know how profitable ABC plans to be.

I also ask to look at ABC's balance sheet to see what assets and obligations they have. Assets could be cash, machinery, staff expertise, patents, and anything else with a positive economic value. Obligations (liabilities) would be debts, unpaid rent, employment contracts (salaries) and anything that would deplete the assets.

This all helps me ask the big question - how will ABC best utilize its assets (my investment money, machinery, office space, etc) to achieve its mission (sell great shoes) at a profit (my return). If I am convinced that ABC will optimally use its assets, then I'll invest.

Investing in the arts should be no different. Let's say I am approached to fund a new musical project. I will go through the same process, and define my "return" as butts in seats. If I am going to be a part of something, I want people to see it, and I want the presenting organization to get more exposure as a result.

So, what does ABC Arts Company's income statement look like? Are they relying solely on me for revenue, or will ticket sales and merchandise help fund their work as well? Where will they spend their (my) money? Will enough be spent on marketing? Will too much be spent on parties? Will they price tickets well enough to cover the remaining expenses after my donation (without pricing out their target audience)?

Again, I also want to see the balance sheet to determine where ABC Arts Company is right now. What assets do they have in place to make this musical amazing. What obligations might they still be paying off? What assets are missing, or are not funded well enough to make the most impact?

We come again to my big question. How will ABC Arts Company best utilize its assets (my money, its artistic designers, cast, board of directors, etc.) to achieve its mission (present a stellar new musical) with a healthy return (butts in seats).

Just as a shoe company for expecting moms can never know exactly how many shoes they will sell (pregnancy rates have dropped over the past 20 years), an arts company can never be sure exactly how many tickets they will sell (though attempts are being made). If I am comfortable with the general health of the organization, and I believe ABC Arts Company will turn assets into butts in seats, then I will support.

One question might remain: why butts? Besides lending itself to a catchy blog title, maximizing butts in seats is the optimal metric for defining and projecting success in an arts org. The more butts you have, the more eyes will see your product and mouths will talk about it with their friends. More butts also means more potential donors if you have the right messaging and a good show to put on. More butts means that current donors will see you have been successful and are therefore likely to donate again. More butts almost always means a better experience for the artists on stage, and increased ticket revenue for your organization. That increased revenue leads to your ability to create more shows, increase staff capacity, market more, etc.

If butts aren't your thing, that's cool. Just be sure to define your own "return," project and measure that return, and think of your org more like a business and less like a not for profit. Would you invest in you?

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Flip Phone Factor



When I was young, my first cell phone was a clunky box of a thing. Its screen was probably 1/8 its total surface area, and text messaging didn’t exist. A year later, with a couple months of allowance savings, I strutted into the Motorola store and purchased a shiny silver flip phone with a color screen. As I left the store, angels descended from heaven to bless me with instant coolness, and trumpets rang out across the mall. I belonged, and it was all thanks to Motorola.

Fast-forward 15 years. The Motorola website proudly displays an array of mobile phone options: the Photon, the Razr, the Razr HD, the Razr Maxx…but no flip phone, and nothing even close to the shiny silver patina of my youth. As I imagine myself purchasing one of these new devices, I actually scoff a little. Nothing could be as satisfying as the angels and the trumpets and the coolness I found 15 years ago.  In fact, if Motorola had asked me back then what to do to improve their products, I would have said, unequivocally, “nothing.”

It’s a good thing they never asked, or listened to me.  Motorola, and most other device manufacturers, saw that tastes were changing. Technology was, and still is, evolving to allow for bigger screens, more integration, increased access to media, etc. As a customer, my tastes would eventually change, or I would eventually die. When this happens, who will be left to buy the silver beacon of hope?

Arts organizations need to think more like Motorola (well…okay maybe Apple). If we want to increase our reach, we need to make an effort to increase our offering. This offering could (should) be in the form or programming. It could also be in the form of ticket prices, member benefits, and venue options.

Let’s make a really dumb assumption for the moment: artistic preferences won’t change from generation to generation. Were this the case, an organization, which attracts 15% of the available audience in a city, will attract 15% of the available audience when the next generation of arts lovers and patrons come about. Since the population is growing, the audience would grow with it, but probably not enough to account for the financial burdens of inflation and increased competition. Still, this isn’t a horrible scenario. The arts org keeps making a flip phone, and its audience keeps buying it – decade after decade.

Okay, back to reality. Tastes change. And even if they only change slightly, mediums change, and the amount of arts players change, and venues have moved from the concert hall to the backyard or computer screen. It is technology, especially, that has changed the form and mediums of art. We, as arts orgs, have to change with it. If you’ve ever met me, you won’t be surprised to hear that programming is the first thing that must adjust to ever-changing culture.

Lets get out of the hypothetical and start talking about you and your org. Now if you don't want to augment your programming because of a particular mission, or your obstinance, or that of your donors, all is not lost.You can still innovate by changing your fundraising strategy. Add an employee, or a part time role, to reach young donors. Change your member perks to better speak to the next generation of arts patrons (at my age I care less about having my name in a program than I do about meeting influencers from around the city at special events). Even try new mediums of fundraising like Kickstarter. Or simply, try asking newer and younger donors to join your family. Literally, pick up the phone and have a conversation with a young ticket buyer about their connection to the arts. Let them know how they can get more involved, and follow up next time they come to a concert.

Let’s not limit ourselves to fundraising and programming. Ticket prices often create empty seats in concert halls, so figure out a way to offer pricing to the next generation of arts enthusiasts (more on this in another post). If you can’t change your ticket prices just yet, change your marketing strategy. Try online advertisements, test a guerrilla plan on a local campus, or simply change the colors in your logo.

The point here is: change is necessary. It doesn’t mean that you abandon what works, however. Motorola didn’t stop using the numbers 1-10 on the keypad, and they didn’t suddenly start making mobiles phones larger than your pocket. They innovated and tested and innovated and tested – keeping what works and augmenting what could be better based on customer feedback and the changing environment.

Us arts folks need to do this too. If you have a concert that sells out out every year, don’t scrap it! Add to it. Introduce a unique opening act, or cross-promote your other presentations at the sold out shows. If your major donor base loves folk music, keep it! And then add in some folk/rock crossover concerts to expand your audience without alienating your base. Your org doesn’t have to be on the cutting edge all the time. But if you still look like a flip phone, then it may be time to try something new.



                                                   

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Who Run the World? Arts


I live in DC, a very politically-minded town with a relatively high brow art scene (ballet, symphony, opera). Frequently I'll be at a party, bar, event, etc., and I'll get the question:

"What do you do?" 

"I work in the arts," is my typical response. I like to be a little vague at first to see how interested/interesting the other person is. The responses usually follow one of four templates:

  • "Oh, I used to play the trumpet." 
  • "Oh cool, tell me more." 
  • "...." (blank stare) 
  • "My senator is really supportive of the arts.  I used his seats last week at the ballet."

With these varied responses, the one consistency is a notion of outsiderness (me being the outsider in a sea of hill staffers and consultants). Sometimes this works to my advantage and the "tell me more" people are genuinely interested. Other times it leads in a different direction because people think they have no relation to the arts.

After all, most people don't regularly go to the ballet, symphony or opera. And this is precisely where I challenge everyone to define what "the arts" actually are.

The Hill Staffer says to me, "I don't know much about the arts, but that's cool."  I reply, "do you have iTunes?" Of course he does and I ask him who his favorite artist is, and...(see where I'm going here?).

Way too often people think they don't have a connection to the arts beyond 5th grade band or an aunt who is a dance teacher. That's just not true. The arts is mammoth-sized industry that touches every single person in America at least 20 times a day (my very unscientific guess). Here are just a few:

  • Radio blaring from the car in the next lane
  • The street performers outside the subway
  • The color choices for a new housing development (even bland arts are arts)
  • The movie score that can bring you to tears long after the movie ends
  • The karoke tracks at the dive bar every Monday night
  • The iconic Apple ads on the side of a bus that make you feel cooler just looking at them
  • The design itself of the iPod in your pocket
  • The singing in your shower (even out-of-tune arts are arts)

So there it is - arts advocacy in a nutshell.

But it's so much more than just advocacy. It's how we should be marketing ourselves to ticket buyers, to donors, to non-ticket buyers, to each other. We are all connected, and what is it that historically connects us more than anything? The arts.

  • For the person who has ever cried at a movie, chances are there is a dance piece, or a play, or a violin sonata that could also touch their heart
  • For any dance professional that trains for years perfecting their Fouettes for the New York City Ballet, there's a Beyoncé dance move than will blow them away
  • For anyone that has ever spent an hour on the treadmill with Gaga in their headphones (guilty), there is a tap number that will get them off their feet  
  • And for anyone that thinks pole dancing is not art, here is a video for you: 




The point here is that we are ALL artists (see pole dancer above) or arts enthusiasts (see every frat house in America).  Period. No questions. No qualifiers. We are all involved in the arts.

If we, as arts managers and fundraisers, act on this assumption more often, it will make our lives so much easier. We will more easily connect with new donors, we will see new and potentially groundbreaking opportunities in programming, and we will see a much better connection between arts marketers and arts patrons. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Art of Focus

I had a conversation recently with a long-time friend who runs a software company.  As we often do, we talked about challenges and exciting things going on at work, and one of the keywords that came out of our conversation was "focus."

As we talked about all different scenarios, we realized how much this word can apply to every aspect of your day, or career, or organization.  When you have time and energy to focus on a task, it tends to get done quickly and thoughtfully.  When you have a clear direction in your career, you will likely achieve your definition of success.

Today, I want to highlight more of the benefits of organizational focus.  We all know the company that tries to be everything to everyone.  AOL is a good example.  They started off with a very narrow focus - internet access.  As the "walled garden model" that AOL used to provide access became less relevant, they made a crucial mistake.  They didn't ask themselves - "how can we keep our focused mission of providing internet access?"  Instead they said, "how else can we make money?" They got into film media, mapping, music, news.  15 years ago, if you asked me to describe AOL's brand, I could easily do it.  Today - I honestly can't.

That's a problem.  When people don't know your brand, they will be less inclined to engage with you.  The same thing goes for arts orgs.  If you try to be all things to all people, it can be hard tell your audience exactly who you are.

This is especially true of small-mid arts orgs.  As more money is becoming available, and more back alley arts orgs are popping up all over the country, competition for audience is getting even harder than it was before. Now you have to reach the demographic of left-handed, jazz loving (New Orleans, not Swing!), 28-37.5 year-olds, living within 6 square blocks of the outdoor music hall, who identify as non-traditionalists, but not hipsters. It gets tricky to brand yourself in the right way while discovering an audience big enough to keep you in the black.

The big arts orgs are lucky, in that they have the resources, space and trust of the community to appeal to almost any audience.  Look at Lincoln Center in NYC: today there are several films going on, a presentation on Flamenco, a Broadway show, an opera, a jazz orchestra, and the Ballet Spring Gala.  Wow...talk about a diverse audience!  But they can do it - they're big enough and they have established themselves as the arts center of NYC.  

We don't all have that luxury.  So until you do...stay focused.  Figure out your mission, be open to new ways to achieve that mission, and stick to it. 






Monday, April 22, 2013

Putting the $ in Mu$ic


Yo-Yo Ma gave a great speech recently in Washington, DC as a part of Arts Advocacy Day. The cornerstone of his message was "the edge effect" - the space where different things meet.

The term actually comes from science. The edge effect occurs in the transition zone between two ecological communities, and gives way to greater diversity in life forms. For instance, where the forest and the grasslands meet, there are more varieties of insect, animal, and plant life than in the forest alone. Similarly, on the borders of countries are often found more variety of languages, races, and cultures than in the middle of a country. The result in these spaces is increased ability to support life, flexibility and biodiversity.

Yo-Yo smartly related this to the arts by discussing the intersections between the arts and what are more commonly thought of as the pillars of our society: economics, politics and culture. In today's blog, I want to focus on economics, because as artists and arts managers I think we have the most to gain by making a strong economic case for the arts.

Thankfully, I have help. No, not from other artists or arts enthusiasts, but from the economic community! This week the Bureau of Economics is implementing new changes to the way our GDP is calculated. GDP is the total dollar value of all goods and services produced in the US. One of the changes comes in the form of Artistic Originals - long-lasting art such as TV shows, books, movies and music. 

How big is this change in representing the US economy? Creative works will add 0.5% to our GDP. Or $75 Billion.

Wow, that's a lot. Like, a whole lot.

So - by simply acknowledging that the arts brings in money (royalties, ticket sales, related merch, what have you), we can increase the bleak economic outlook of the US by $75 Billion. Mind you, this doesn't change anything, or increase transactions that are occurring. It just lifts the veil on what had previously been ignored.  It also allows for more confidence in artistic investment and involvement by non-artists. It's a huge step in saying the arts could very well be a huge export for the US.

We're not just talking about theories and formulas when we discuss economics of the arts. These are real jobs, real people, real incomes that are created by the arts. I go to a lot of concerts - it's my job. It's not my job, however, to go out to eat with my friends or colleagues before the shows. Yet, I do about 50% of the time. People who go to concerts/shows less frequently might go out to eat 90% of the time before a show. So what does this amount to? Income for restaurants, tips for waiters, valet parking revenue, and maybe some high bar tabs if they're going out with me! Plain and simple - it's increased economic activity that is directly tied to the arts.

We shouldn't stop at food and drink though.When you drive into New York City, you will see countless billboards with concert, theatre and movie advertisements. Someone was paid to design these ads. Another company was paid to print them. Contract laborers were paid to hang them and the company that owns the ad space was paid to rent it out. With year-round advertising in just one square mile outside of New York City, imagine how many salaries along that chain are paid for directly because of arts activity.

Now we're on a roll. The travel industry is a huge beneficiary of the arts. How many people do you know that have taken a plane, train or bus to NYC to see a Broadway show? How many hotel rooms do you think get filled by musicians when the Philadelphia Orchestra goes on tour through the Midwest? How many people take taxis and subways/metro to the local performing arts center each night when Beyoncé is in town? The amount of transportation revenue from the arts is pretty incredible to think about.

I strive to remind people that we are not only a feel-good industry that makes the world a more inspired place. True, a lot of people like the arts and the good feelings that come with them. Those people also spend money that helps put a waiter through college and keeps a taxi in business on an otherwise slow night. The arts is a huge economic engine that can turn around a neighborhood, a city, and maybe even a whole economy.

If you want to watch (or read) Yo-Yo's speech, here it is:











Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Space Race (con't)

There are a few things I have come to believe are true: Justin Bieber’s monkey is more famous than I will ever be; there are more self-proclaimed artists in the world than at any time in history; and the arts are the next big export—both here in Washington, D.C., and abroad.

All three of these truths lead to a problem we have in our cultural communities. We need more space.

With YouTube, an iPad, and Kickstarter, anyone can create and distribute art while sitting in front of the computer in their underwear (no…not THAT kind of art). Some artists can even launch careers from the keyboard. But it is not enough to think of art as an activity performed in isolation, behind the curtain of technology.

I have learned that many people in my community feel the same way. Sure, it’s easy to rehearse and perform a play in your living room, read chamber music in a basement, and labor over paintings in the garage for hours—but if no one sees your art, does it have any real impact?

While finding performance space is often the key stumbling block, locating adequate rehearsal (or studio) space is an equally important challenge. Without an appropriate place to cultivate art, there is no true quality control of the product. Don’t believe me? Ask a dancer.


One way to overcome this problem is to throw money at it. Michael Kaiser of The Kennedy Center, along with Chairman David Rubenstein and host of other donors are doing just that. They have an ambitious expansion program in mind to create more space for Kennedy Center education programs, alternative performance space, and even public windows into rehearsal rooms!

For those of us who don’t have $100 million lying around, there are other great ideas.

The folks at AS220 in Providence, RI, have created an amazing space (and they started with just $800). The history is simple and wonderfully energizing.

A few artists lived, more or less, as squatters. They scraped together money to officially rent a small studio. More artists were added for nominal fees. The city caught wind of this and, luckily, worked with the artists to create permanent space in a bad neighborhood.

The block started to clean itself up thanks to influx of young, hip inhabitants. And now, AS220 encompasses several city blocks, runs a restaurant to pay for the adjoining performance space, presents unjuried/uncensored art year-round, and rents out retail space to pay for community artist housing and studios. Could someone please light my candle?

If turning an entire tent city into Avenue A seems a little ambitious, there are ways to start small.

I have seen success with restaurant space doubling as performance space—especially for late night crowds. Many restaurants (outside of New York) won’t make money after 10 p.m. If you can bring a show, concert, or event after normal operating hours, and your audience will eat or drink, the restaurant would be foolish not to stay open.

At my organization, Washington Performing Arts Society, our education team does a great job of finding what sometimes seems impossible. We partner with other existing summer programs to share space and students at camp. We turn a museum full of kids into a concert hall on the weekends in August. We even use churches as rehearsal space for our choirs.

It’s not that we’re just looking for free space—the partnerships we form with other organizations create more enriching programming by sharing resources such as instruments, faculty, students, and knowledge.

One key ingredient in finding adequate space for your organization or project seems to be sharing. Collaboration is a hot topic in the arts lately, both on the programming and funding side of things. Find partners, friends, or anybody with complimentary needs, and work together. This will help you better utilize space, encourage new ideas, and get funding.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Partnership is the New Black

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last 5 years (I just saw that show at Signature Theatre with the amazing James Gardiner, go see it), you are aware that financial times are tough in most parts of the world.  Indeed, these trying times have affected the arts to no small degree.  Going on strike seems to be contagious among major orchestras, performance companies are folding, and public funding for the arts has declined.

People say that adversity breeds creativity, and this is especially true in the arts.  Besides taking the obvious steps to cut unnecessary expenses, renegotiate artist fees and innovate programming, many surviving organizations have turned to each other for help.  Partnership is the new black in a sea of red balance sheets.

So what defines a partnership? It varies. My organization, WPAS, was managing the box office for a smaller performing arts org here in DC for a while because they didn't have the existing infrastructure or capital to invest in it.

No Rules Theatre Company, a small but growing group, recently partnered with  Signature Theatre, who you read about above, to use their space and present new and dynamic themes to the Signature audience.

A few years ago, the Washington National Opera was in a deep struggle, so they teamed up (i.e. were acquired by) with the Kennedy Center.  It turned into a great partnership - Opera stayed alive, singers stayed employed, and the Kennedy Center can now present and help curate major operatic works.  Win-win.

A unique partnership seems to be emerging in DC at the moment.  The Corcoran Gallery of Art, who has been running deficits of about $7 million yearly, is in talks to join forces with - no not another gallery - the University of Maryland.  In addition to being an art gallery, the Corcoran is a fine arts school.  This intriguing partnership gives UMD the ability to expand its artistic offerings, and create deeper connections between the arts and some of its academic strengths like architecture, engineering and journalism, and have a physical presence right next to the White House. The Corcoran gets access to UMD donors, sharing of some operational costs, and may help enhance its own curriculum.  This partnership literally saved the Corcoran, one of America's oldest art institutions, which was very close to simply shutting down and moving to a cheaper spot outside of DC.  That would have been a huge loss.

So what we have, in DC and all over the country, is a bunch of arts organizations working together, sharing ideas, audiences, resources and creating new art together.  Can someone tell me why it took a financial crisis to make this happen?  Whatever the impetus, I'm glad to see it!


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pop-star programming that kinda works

Earlier this week, I heard a relatively new, and wildly popular choral group - The Eric Whitacre Singers.  Eric (I have to assume he prefers being called by his first name) has Brad Pitt's looks, Ryan Seacrest's cheaky charm, a silicon valley left of centeredness, the swagger of a used car salesman, and great voices in his choir.  I don't mean for this blog to be a forum of concert reviews, so I will attempt to focus on the programmatic elements of the concert and Eric himself.  Because, surprise, it's all about the programming.

So let's start with Eric himself.  He writes some cool compositions, and I love his use of tone clusters to create chords that are "arresting" as one friend put it. It's refreshing to have crazy tone clusters in the midst of well-done melodic lines!  It's kinda new, kinda not, but for a modernist with a slight preference for tonality like me, it's beautiful.  More interesting is the text he chooses.  He picks some really interesting and not too popular poems for his compositions.

As I was looking around the audience, which was mainly between the ages of 15-30, I was struck at the accomplishments of this man:  Eric has been able to introduce obscure poetry, through relatively obscure choral music, and make it really accessible and popular.  How popular is he?  He has more than 5.5 million views on his youtube channel. Reminder - this is a choral conductor who writes modern classical music set to less than popular poetry.  He's doing something right!

He programs a decent concert.  He got some Bach and Monteverdi in to establish his credentials (although, I think many people would argue with the success of these two pieces).  He got some Corigliano in as a tribute to his mentor and a nod to the modern establishment.  And not surprisingly he put a lot of his own compositions in the mix.  Some were dark and brooding, some were horribly silly, one was just bad in my opinion - but it was all there.  He laid out himself in front of an audience and the authenticity in his music was there, even if it was missing in him (see used car salesman reference above).

It's easy to find a virtuoso to get up and play the great standards in a large concert hall, and I do really enjoy that! But it's not easy to find someone pushing genres (check out Eric's youtube chorus) and writing modernist music with pop-star flair.  He is pushing limits, making some mistakes, and all around creating new and interesting programming for a new audience.  Check him out if you haven't already.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Stick to Your Guns

I have been in conversations recently about the relationship between development and programming. From what I can tell, there seem to be two opposing perspectives and a middle ground betwixt.

The idealist perspective is that all programming should be determined by the organization / staff, and then fundraisers should be sought out to fund those specific programs. This ensures that the mission of your org is central to all programming, and makes sure the wealthy people don't start using arts orgs as their personal gig service.

The Mr. Burns perspective is that arts orgs should approach potential funders with the question "what kind of work do you want to support?" and then implement that work. This ensures that an organization can stay financially healthy, and meet the needs of its biggest supporters.

Neither model is perfect. One is lofty, the other is fiscally practical. As with many things, my preference exists in the middle. I'm a believer that arts orgs should stick to their mission. If they have a clear mission statement and target audience, then programming must address both of those things.

It's important also for arts orgs to listen to their audience. After all, should art not reflect society? I have to remind myself that our donors are also our audience. Just because they write a check doesn't mean we should listen to them any less than we would a general admission audience member.

If a board member or major donor has a new idea for a work, listen! These are people who spend their free time and money in the arts, so they likely have a good perspective. If that new idea indeed meets your mission, is able to reach your target audience, and has funding, it's a great candidate for new programming. That's not to say that the major donors will drive your programming - remember it is your mission that drives programming - but they can be great assets in educating your org and audience, in addition to writing a check.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"Did you see Katy Perry's Tweet about Strauss?"...said no one ever

A problem that almost all arts organizations will face at one point (or many) is the perception that they are stodgy, elitist, high-brow entertainers for the wealthy and highly educated.  This actually wasn't a problem for a long time.  Organizations were happy to be associated with inaccessible artists, flirting with the wealthy elite, collecting large fundraising checks, throwing galas and balls and receptions and masquerades and jamborees and affairs.  But in a time when an 8 year old can become a household name through her youtube channel, when CD quality recording is possible with your phone, when the definition of art is decided by the people and not told to them, when fundraising is turning into crowdfunding, when the President of the United States rebuffs high society balls in his own inauguration celebration - the idea that arts organizations exist in a golden circle of culture is almost laughable.  

So what do we do?  We turn to Downton Abbey, of course.  Adaptation in changing times is a key theme of the show, and indeed will be the linchpin of survival for the great family.  In a remarkable resemblance of real life and art, PBS has adapted itself from a boring, professorial, high-brow network into one of the most talked (and tweeted) about forms of entertainment.  Think about it: five years ago PBS was synonymous with antiques, kid's puppets, a droll (yet informative) hour of news, nature shows, and the like.  Now, it's on DVRs all across the world.  Pirated seasons that are only available overseas are coveted, and the online streaming audience that PBS has garnered is huge.  PBS understands a few things that we all should learn.

First - it's all about the programming.  PBS didn't suddenly change it's brand, or it's logo or its mission statement.  PBS still uses classical music and awkward actors to introduce the Masterpiece shows.  The PBS logo is a bit shined up, but more or less the same.  What they have changed, or augmented, is their programming.  That's why people tune in - to watch awesome stuff.  If you want to have successful fundraising, successful marketing, and generally a successful organization, you need to have great programming.

The amazing thing about Downton Abbey is that it has caused viewership to spike for PBS's other programs.  People who didn't know, or forgot, about PBS are sticking around on the TV or the website to watch other things.  This is the power of good programming - if you have a few home run acts, your audience will trust you to give them other great programs they may not have thought of.

Another thing PBS does well is they make their programming really accessible.  They live stream on their website, which helps them keep their brand in front of consumers.  They also let cable providers use their content for on-demand programming.  PBS, the stuffy old public broadcasting service, has embraced new content delivery like a pro - and it's working!

The cool thing about programming and program delivery, is it makes everything else easier.  It makes marketing easier (Downton practically sells itself now), it gives a huge boost to cross-promotion, it gives funders a great reason to give, and it attracts other artists/shows to your organization for future seasons.  Not all arts orgs will become the cool new thing.  But there's no reason not to try a little new programming to bring in a new audience.  



This blog post has been brought to you by the letter P - for programming.









Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What Gets Measured Gets Done!

The phrase above is the most important thing I learned from my years in the corporate world.  So it's worth repeating:

What gets measured gets done!

The tested theory behind this phrase is that when you have data, you can take action.  If you take the time to measure something, that implicitly says that the outcome of whatever you are doing is important.  So, if something that is important is accompanied by data that can lead to next steps, then next steps will likely occur.  For instance, if your organization tries a new marketing campaign (online, tv, radio, grassroots, whatever) and you can measure the effectiveness of the campaign against your goals, then you will have a really good starting place to improve or expand the campaign.

The problem often lies in not measuring.  Sometimes you have such a brilliant idea that you don't even need to measure to know it will be effective.  You are usually also so convinced of your brilliance that you forget to spell your name correctly, or you overlook similarly obvious flaws in your plan.



Other times you might pretend to measure - you put a tiny bit of energy into measuring a project that took weeks or months of work.  If you ask 10 of your friends what they think of your new hairdo, most will give you a polite answer that they know you want to hear.  The result?  You will remain convinced that neon green curls are totally in this season (and you thought I couldn't fit Nicki Minaj into this post).  However, if you snap a photo of yourself and somehow find 200 strangers that don't really know or care about your feelings, you will get a much more honest response.  The same thing goes for your projects at work.  If you are going to invest a lot of time into something, please, for the sake of all of us who have to look at your hair (or your ads, or your new art installations, or your new website), spend the energy to actually measure your project against your goals.  This way, when you are deciding how or if you should do this project again, you will have hard data to lead you in the right direction.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Zen Approach to Fundraising

I hear frequently that fundraising is scary, or that asking people for money must be a horrible job. I have some advice for losing the fear factor and being at peace with your job as a fundraiser.

I don't approach fundraising thinking about "the ask." Instead, I simply try to make friends. If I encounter people who are passionate about the same things I am, I will likely want to be their friend anyway. I will want to share musical and arts experiences with them, argue over who writes the best sonatas and learn about other mediums that I don't get exposed to as much.

We all know that to enjoy the arts we have to pay. Some of us can only afford discounted tickets and others can afford to underwrite. Each person on the financial spectrum should become a friend. Through the course of the friendship, opportunities will arise for people to spend money, and they will gravitate to the level appropriate for their means. There could very well be outside factors that move the conversation along, like the end of the fiscal year or a looming membership deadline. The key is to not let those factors pull focus away from the friendship you have developed with this person surrounding your shared interests (presumably it is a shared interest for which you are fundraising).

This friendship philosophy creates a new kind of "ask." You are no longer asking a wealthy person to give you money; you are now asking a friend to help make your shared passions/interests available to more people.

Friday, January 25, 2013

the power of YES

The one word you should avoid when working in an arts organization is "no."  There's no touchy-feely altruistic reason for this.  The reason is very practical.  When your staff hears the word "no," there becomes a reluctance to share new ideas.  This is an easy trap to fall into - especially when you're in a creative setting with lots of opinions and people who see things very differently.  Or, when you think you are smarter than everyone else (Note - no one is smarter than everyone else.  We all bring different skills to the table).  A great suggestion from my colleague Helen is to say "yes, and..."  Even if you think an idea should be modified, scrapped, ignored, whatever - do your part to keep creative juices flowing by saying something like "yes, and this is how that could apply to our organization if we changed x y and z.  The key here is to avoid shooting down creativity...keep it going and see what happens.

Art in Response to Tragedy

This is a really cool exhibit, and a thought-provoking and inspiring exhibit on the role of the arts in terms or communal discussion and healing. 




Thursday, January 24, 2013

The 2 Most Important Skills for a Career in Arts Management

I've been involved in many conversations about what arts organizations are looking for in new employees, and there are two areas of expertise that come up the most: Fundraising and Marketing - in that order.

If you are trying to start a career in the arts, or you want to build on your current career, then get experience in fundraising and marketing - in that order.

Fundraisers are invaluable for obvious reasons - but don't think that you have to be a smooth talking muckety-muck to do it (in fact, if that's you then you should probably get some additional practical skills). There are many functions within a development department that you can perform.  You could become a sleuth with Tessitura and this will make you appealing to almost all mid-large size arts orgs. You could plan the most fabulous events in town, or be a numbers whiz with data. In both roles, organizations of all sizes will want you. If you have the right personality, you can be the social ambassador to an organization. This is much more than just going out to lunch! You have to know and remember everything that happens with everyone who is someone. You have to know how to talk to billionaires and how to make them feel important without being a lap dog.  And you have to know how and when to ask people for what.  This skill is particularly useful for larger orgs.  If you have a reasonable understanding of all of these skills, and you've got some management experience then you can run a department. Also a job that is much easier said than done.

On the marketing side, you similarly have options. Online marketing and social media have become their own niche. Graphic design for print and web is a skill all organizations need now. Brand development is something that all arts organizations will face at least twice in their life. And of course, traditional advertising (print, newspaper, snail mail, etc) is still relevant and has its own set of skills and logic.

Of course there are lots of other roles in arts orgs, and I don't want to discount any of them.  But if you are looking for a job, or a career move, then having development and marketing skills on your resume is a sure way to make the short list.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

#InaugurationFail #NothingToDoWithBeyonce

What a great inauguration!  President Obama stood in front of the country for a second time pledging his oath to serve.  I genuinely believe he is a person who wants to do the right thing, and be fair to everyone.  He touched on nearly every citizen and non-citizen in this country in his speech, providing hope for a more inclusive tomorrow.

The big fail I refer to in my title, however, comes with what Obama did not say.  He did not mention the words "music" or "art" once in his speech.  Not once. I'm still surprised to write those words, because in a time when Obama, and indeed all of us, are looking for things that connect and unite us, aren't the arts at (or at least near) the top of the list?

Obama is an academic, with a lot of things on his plate right now.  That's all he gets - 14 words worth of excuses.  He comes from a city thriving with artists, he currently lives in a city where the Nation's Performing Arts Center is showing great work everyday.  He invites artists to nearly every event he has, and I have seen him get teary eyed after stirring vocal and music performances.  But his acknowledgement of the arts stops about there...artists are entertainers, but not serious enough to bring into policy talk apparently.

This is a conversation we need to change.  We need data, hard facts that the arts produces jobs, better educated workers, and adds to our GDP as well as making us feel good.  What are some resources you use to show the hard facts of the arts industry?  I'll compile a list and post it later this week!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Fundraising Step 1: Programming

Through a couple conversations with colleagues and friends this week, I have been reminded that the first rule of fundraising is programming.  I actually believe that the first rule of most things in an arts org is programming.  Here are some questions that all lead to programming:

How do you get high dollar donors?  Success is greater when you make the ask of people who are already giving, so you cultivate the big donors from your pool of average donors.  The people that are most likely to give more are a) those with money and b) those that love your product.

How do you get average donors?  Same philosophy, with a twist.  You have an audience that is paying you money for your product.  Work to develop a relationship with your repeat audience members and ask them for a little more than just the ticket price in exchange for whatever your member benefits are.  The repeat audience are the ones that show an appreciation for your product, so they're more likely to want to be a part of your organizational family.

How do you get an audience?  You program, and you do it really well.  You can bring in celebrity artists like Joshua Bell (I can't believe I haven't mentioned JBell on this blog until today) and you'll know that people will want to come and hopefully underwrite. Or, you can program something relevant to current events to generate press buzz and curiosity - like the Smithsonian Folklife festival did after the earthquake in Haiti, or like the Process Art House is doing in Texas with their show on gun violence running this month.

Every organizational activity (fundraising, marketing, educating, advocating, ticket-selling) will rely on the strength of your organization's programming.  That's not to say you have to only present sexy or celebrity-ridden work!  You gotta work to develop trust from your audience so that when you present a new art form, artist or genre, it's received with an open (if not excited) mind.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Arts Lobby - Let's Get Sleazy.

We all have a perception of lobbyists as, more or less, big spending smooth talking salesmen for oil, farms, cars, pharmaceuticals, aerospace, etc.  Arts organizations, on the other hand are supposed to be "of the people," morally above the corrupt fray embodied by large multinational organizations, and serving the community, not "the man."  After all, the arts exist in spite of the establishment, not as a slave to it - right?  

While dirty lobbyists have fancy lunches with congressmen and throw lavish parties to woo policymakers to their side of an issue, arts organizations...plan fancy lunches and throw lavish parties to woo policymakers (I'm going to one this weekend, and several more this year).  

The problem with the way many arts organizations "lobby" is that they don't like to admit it - it's considered a dirty trade by some people.  We're halfway there by making connections, throwing galas, and getting people in the room when we can.  But I say let's get in the mud and get dirty!  Lobbying works.  And I'm not talking about inviting a congressman to a concert of 7th graders singing their hearts out (though that's a step).  I'm talking about lunches, dinners, paying for studies, and paying people real money to walk onto Capitol Hill every day of the year to meet with lawmakers, bang on their doors, play a harmonica outside of their offices, and do whatever it takes to increase congressional spending on the arts. 

Here's a staggering fact:  If every arts org in the country spend 1/2 of 1% of their income on arts lobbying, then we would spend a collective $150 million per year advocating directly to congress the importance of the arts. Were this to happen, the conversation would change from how do we pay for the arts to how do we implement.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why NOT to fundraise like Lord Grantham



The new season of Downton Abby has presented Lord Grantham with a problem that arts organizations can easily face.  Lord Grantham invested nearly all of his money in a Canadian railroad, which he was told would be a sure thing.  Of course we all know by now that it wasn't a sure thing, and Lord Grantham lost his fortune, including his beloved Downton Abby.  Fortunately, Matthew Crawley came into some money through a distant dead acquaintance and decided to invest in Downton, thereby saving it for the family.

First of all, I want to put forth how excited I am to relate Downton to arts admin! Okay, now that I got that out of my system...

I have seen and read about a common problem, whereby an arts organization will rely on one or two major donors (usually board members) for a large portion of their financial support.  It's great to have a supportive patron, who is committed to your mission and willing to fund your work!  However, it is NOT okay to rely solely on one person, or a small group, for your programs.  What happens when there is a change in that person's life that affects their ability to give to your organization?  There are various life events that could come up which might suddenly stop the money flow.  When that happens, you will have to cut things out of your budget, possibly reduce payroll, and at worst pause operations.  If you put all your eggs in one basket, you're doing a horrible disservice to the programs and artists you present.  It's hard to say no to a giant check, and I'm not advocating that.  Perhaps take the check and use some of it to cultivate more patrons to become friends and supporters of your programs.  Create a broad consensus for the importance of your work and invite a variety of people/personalities to your table.  This will keep your programming interesting and your budget safe.  After all, no one wants to live in Downton Place.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Space Race

As a performer and an administrator, one of the most frequent challenges I come across is finding space - both for rehearsal and performance.  You might think - well can't you just play anywhere?  Yes, and no...usually no.  As a lone violinist, or with other portable instruments, artists can play almost anywhere - even metro stations! But if you want to add in a piano (which is most of the time), things get tricky.

First, there's the challenge of finding reliable rehearsal space.  There is plenty of space out there, for a price.  But what small music or theatre group has the budget to pay for space every week? Since regular practice is vital to most performance, this becomes a huge problem.  Even $10 per hour adds up when you are rehearsing for a show.

Performance space is also no easy task.  If you can't find a space with a piano, you could rent a piano for about $1,000.  Then you have to add that much more to the ticket prices. Even if you are lucky and get a place with the right equipment, the space fees are often so high that you barely clear a profit, if at all.

Where it gets fun and creative is the artistic element.  You don't want to play a chamber concert in a loud bar, but a cabaret would do fine there.  (Actually...maybe a string trio would be a cool experiment in a bar?).  See what I mean - it can be fun to get creative with space.  I have seen theatre groups that have performed in comedy halls, aerial dancers in art galleries, a gospel choir that performed in a children's museum, a NY-style cabaret in a sushi restaurant. 

My wish for Washington, DC, and the world in general is to share space.  Partner up with each other, find ways to help each other out to create more art.  It doesn't have to be about profit ALL the time.  But that's a topic for another day =)

Monday, January 14, 2013

The 5 Year Plan

Hi, I'm Chase...and I'm a planner. 

Yes, I'm addicted and I'm not sorry about that.  Sometimes I plan a little too much (I already know what socks I'll wear on Thursday), but let's not talk about that.  Right now I want to focus on the benefits of planning for arts organizations as a whole, and arts managers as individuals.

One of the organizations I work with is a small and über-talented chamber ensemble.  They have been self-producing concerts for several years and are ready to go to the next level with management, tours and more prestigious venues.  When the founder first approached me for advice, I asked "where do you want to be in 5 years?" We managed to define some specific goals, and are now in the process of working backwards from year 5 to today to create a plan.  And their 5 year goal is totally doable.

It is an easy trap to only focus on today, on this year, and on the current problems/goals that you are facing.  Naturally, you have to address those things or you will have problems.  But you shouldn't do so in isolation.  Today's challenge/goal does not stand alone - it is a part of a domino effect that will influence next quarter, next year, and year 5.  Some of the most cherished advice I receive is from the head of a major performing arts center who begins programming seasons 5 years out. That's a long time, considering some employees may not even be around in 5 years.  But it's absolutely necessary to give yourself time to garner support, raise funds, market, assemble artists and develop the relationships necessary to execute big goals. If you are planning year to year, you are probably staying afloat but not reaching the full potential of your organization.  Take time every quarter to think about your 5 year goals and determine how today's decisions will lead you to achieving them.


Friday, January 11, 2013

The Perks

As Arts administrators, we often work our tails off and then stand in the background.  But it can be a lot of fun to stand in the background when you get to meet and interact with amazing artists!

Here are some of the perks of the arts admin life:
Free tickets to a lot of shows
Meeting world famous artists
Working with local arts professionals everyday
Getting to 'make art happen.'  It's a little altruistic but a lot of fun, really
Listening to Bach everyday and being able to call it work!
Meeting other interesting, zany, fun arts administrators

Someone said to me lately "you must be living the dream."  I actually laughed out loud...every job is a job and comes with good and bad days, benefits and perks.  Arts administrators often don't make what they deserve and only a few are lucky to be in positions of making substantial change in the field.  That being said, we get to have quite a bit of fun along the way.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Freelance Biz

I've talked a lot about the business of arts admin, but I'm also a violinist so I'll talk a little about the business of freelancing.

First of all, if you want work you have to network.  Just like any business, it's all about who you know.  You don't have to be an amazing player, but you have to be a solidly good player.  And you should be nice (especially if you want me to hire you for anything).  And join the union, that helps a lot.

You may play all kinds of gigs: sitting in for a traveling Broadway show, playing in a part-time regional symphony, weddings, private corporate events, churches churches and churches.  The nice thing about freelancing is you can pick and choose what/when/where you want to play.  The tough thing about freelancing is that it's not super reliable.

I've played gigs for all kinds of rates.  A nice perk of being in the union is that you have the ability to play in union orchestras and events, so you get good rates for those. When I am asked to form my own groups, I charge (per person) $150 for the first hour, and $50 per each additional hour or part thereof.  So if you have a wedding, we will usually be on site for more than 1 hour so you're looking at $800 for a quartet.  I don't keep any extra for myself, cause I'm not running a gigging service.  Maybe that will change some day.  These prices are more than some of my friends charge, and less than I want to charge.  Think of if this way: how much would it cost you to get four plumbers to show up to your house for two hours on a Sunday?  I'd say you're getting a pretty good deal with four musicians who have 80 years of combined training and experience.

If you have any questions, just ask!


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Is Everyone a Fundraiser?

I often hear in the non-profit world that "everyone is a fundraiser." As an arts administrator whose primary responsibility is arts education, I sometimes struggle with this notion.  I am paid to come to work everyday and fulfill a mission: To provide educational opportunities in the performing arts for children, adults and seniors that enrich their lives.  Usually this means producing free concerts in schools and community centers, coordinating logistics for summer arts camps, finding opportunities for our student artists to perform at high profile events, and similar things like that.  My official job isn't to fundraise, but to fulfill a mission with the funds that are raised by my friends over in the development department.

That doesn't mean I shouldn't help when I can.  After all, "Millionaire X" is paying my salary - shouldn't I help the fundraisers as much as I can?  Yes and no.  This is a tricky balance, because without education, successful marketing efforts and programming, the fundraisers would have nothing upon which to make the ask.  Without the money, everyone else is out of a job.

The point here is that a healthy non-profit is an ecosystem not a hierarchy.  Each "animal" has its role in the kingdom and when they all fulfill their roles, a healthy balance is achieved.  If the honeybee decides to do the lion's job and hunt meerkats, then who will pollinate the plants which create oxygen for everyone else?  It's my job as an arts administrator to overachieve in my role in the ecosystem. Then, when I know there is enough oxygen, I'll go after the occasional millionaire meerkat.









Tuesday, January 8, 2013

One reason the Arts DON'T need Government funds

In the 1920's and 30's, for many reasons that were pressing at the time, the US Government started what would become a mammoth policy of farm subsidies.  The policies were designed to give farmers support in times when their crops were in less demand.  Through many iterations, these well-intentioned laws eventually created a "get big or get out" mandate for family farms, strict government oversight, and less nutrient-rich food being served at our dinner tables.  Farmers, in the face of changing economics and diet patterns over the decades, were asked not to innovate their businesses but to dumb down their products for mass consumption. 

I have a point here...so bear with me!  There are countless examples of government funding resulting in lower standards, poor innovation, and negative or dangerous results: No Child Left behind, section 8 housing, Social Security, and more.  The "decency amendment" of 1990 is where us artists come in.  As a result of this amendment, the NEA can only distribute government funds to support art that meets the "general standards of decency and respect...of the American public."  Congress, backed by the Supreme Court, maintains that artists must not innovate, but must dumb down their presentations to the taste and sensitivity of the lowest common denominator.

This isn't art.

Government arts funding does a lot of good, don't get me wrong.  It provides money for arts education, intercultural arts exchanges, museum exhibit creation and more.  What it doesn't do is push boundaries.  It maintains art, which is great, and keeps it relatively safe and accessible to the general public.  But to achieve what many think is the purpose of art - to expand culture and push us forward - we should continue looking to private and foundational sources of support. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Intern Dilemma

Our first interns of 2013 arrived at WPAS today, and even though I'm not that far past my own intern days, their presence makes me reflect on that experience.

In early 2012, like many people looking for a stable job in the arts, I wasn't finding one. Either I didn't have the right experience, or more commonly, I didn't have a master's degree in arts management.  I was advised by many people not to spend the money, and instead spend those two years working.  Even working for free for two years could cost less than a master's!  So, figured the only way to convince an organization that I'm qualified is to show them.  It's a horrible thing to have to do - working for nothing, or close to nothing as some internships come with a stipend - but with so many people wanting these jobs and so few openings in the current environment, you gotta show your stuff before you see the paycheck.

My advice for anyone starting out (or changing careers like me): find an organization you want to be with long-term.  Do whatever you can to get your foot in the door.  This includes offering to file music for free, volunteer in the mail room, apply for an internship and figure out how to pay the rent or live with your folks.  Meet and get to know everyone, offer to help everyone, and show the organization that they need you.  This will help them justify a salary.

In most arts orgs, it all comes down to budget.  So, start off cheap and then put your best skills forward.  If you are lucky, someone will recognize your abilities and move some money around for you.  But don't count on luck.  If you really want to be there full-time, tell them you'll keep volunteering until they make room in the budget or another organization hires you.  Whatever happens, you will get great experience and make a great impression on a lot of people with your commitment.


Mozart just tweeted me

Thank you for reading my inaugural post.  Let's get to it:

This week, the Pew Research Center released it's findings about Arts Organizations and Digital Technology, surveying how 1,244 arts organization of all sizes, genres and budgets use technology.  After reading (all 65 pages), I got REALLY excited about applying new media techniques, mobile apps, intuitive website design, location-based mobile video performances, text message fundraising campaigns, and california-cool hoodies to the arts world.

Then I remembered - it's the arts world.

Don't get me wrong, there is creative desire abounding in arts orgs. However, according to Pew, 97% of arts orgs say they have a social media presence.  But only 25% post more than once per day on facebook.  So let's rephrase: 25% of arts orgs have a social media presence.  C'mon arts people, get with the times.

How many arts websites do you see that are testing the limits of technology? (no really....comment and tell us the arts orgs that are doing it well!)  Lots of orgs have a facebook page, many have a twitter account.  Do you know any that are utilizing them in a cool/unique way?  I'm talking tweeting live concert notes, creating their own mobile app, crowdsourcing their next programming decision.  I wonder, are the people promoting Mozart, Dylan, Cage, Stravinsky, Pavlova, et all, afraid to test their own boundaries? Why can a bunch of techies in Palo Alto do things that are cooler and more hip than a bunch of self-proclaimed artists?

Pew tells us that 77% of arts orgs strongly or somewhat agree that digital technology has played a major role in broadening the boundaries of what is considered art.  Yet only 52% use social media to crowdsource ideas for their own programming.  Half isn't bad.  But considering the importance digital technology plays in redefining art, why aren't more arts orgs making this a huge priority?  If you're out there, reading my first post ever, I challenge you to read some of the examples in the Pew survey, try one out, and write to tell me what happens!