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 ΓΌber-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 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!