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Heck With Garage Bands, Rock The Porch!

Ever since I first heard them mentioned during our state arts council’s grant panel discussion, I have been keeping an eye on the PorchRokr Festival up near Akron.

The hook of the festival is that the artists apply perform on people’s front porches. The audience can wander throughout the neighborhood and decide which lawn to recline on.

Truly an event with deep roots and involvement in the community (unless you want those damn kids to stay off your front lawn.)

What is great is that there an investment and willingness to share what has been learned with others.

I came across a mention of a community panel discussion in a couple weeks where the festival organizers will teach others about their process in advance of the upcoming festival.

Since the Eventbrite link will expire in a couple weeks, here is a description:

Have you ever wondered what it takes to plan and execute a community arts and cultural festival? Join us on Tuesday, August 9th to hear from Katie Carver Reed, Jon Morschl, and Anita Marron of PorchRokr Festival. We’ll learn what it takes to create PorchRokr and the influence the festival has on the local community.

This year’s PorchRokr festival takes place on August 20, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. in Highland Square. Over 100 bands and performers, rocking 30 porches, on 12 streets, all in one day.

PorchRokr is planned by the Highland Square Neighborhood Association, a Knight Arts Challenge recipient.

In the process of looking for that event listing, I discovered a group is partnering with PorchRokr to offer workshops for the performers over the course of a month.

Again an excerpt since the Facebook event will expire:

A collaborative partnership between The Highland Square Neighborhood Association PorchRokr Festival and Wandering Aesthetics, it is a way for performers – of all genres and all experience levels – to enhance their onstage presence, work through stage fright, brush up on invaluable performance skills and practice in front of an audience.

Each session is designed as a “one-off” workshop geared to nurture onstage success.

1) Making Contact: Overcoming Stage Fright & Forming a Genuine Connection (JULY 23)
2) Do Not Be Dismissed: Presence and Energy in Performance (JULY 30)
3) Seen, but Not Heard: Voice for the Performer (AUGUST 6)
4) From Vamping to Banter: Improv for the Unexpected (AUGUST 13)

*Participants are encouraged, but not required, to attend all four (4) sessions

I am encouraged and inspired by programs like these that recognize the value of helping artists help the festival help the audience to have a more enjoyable and memorable experience.

Even if you didn’t run a festival, the topics they cover would make for a good workshop series for any arts organization that was looking to make or strengthen connections with the community.

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Overhead By Any Other Name

FastCoExist recently continued its discussion about how a poor view of non-profit overhead cost is limiting the good such organizations can do by offering some “rebranding” suggestions in order to help change perceptions.

As an illustration of how the concept that non-profits must restrict their overhead cost is a severe impediment toward doing good, they cite a lawsuit against Architecture for Humanity.  The group was experiencing huge program growth, but was limited by donors to only devoting 10% to overhead costs. Because they dipped into program money to fund their growth, they have been taken to court accused of looting the funds.

Many company donations, the suit alleges, were earmarked for project costs. As overhead rose and things got more desperate, those got tapped to cover broader expenses. The plaintiff is calling that looting. The suit shows pretty clearly how groups—even if their rapid growth is woefully mismanaged—can be trapped by antiquated views on things like “overhead” and “indirect costs.”

[Update: Issues like this are why it is good to have Directors and Officers Insurance]

FastCoExist spoke to two brand naming experts who mulled over various concepts for changing how overhead costs are viewed by changing the terminology. The article go through various ideas they discarded to come up with the following suggestions.

From Margaret Wolfson of River + Wolf:

1: Circle funds
2: Encompass funds
3: Vessel funds
4: Core funds

Anthony Shore of Operative Words suggested:

1: Operations costs
2: Operational costs
3: Direct operations costs
4: General operational costs

The author of a Bridgespan report on paying overhead costs noted that this latter set of terms may not be appropriate because “not all operational costs are indirect, and not all indirect costs are operational.”

The naming experts made some additional suggestions that sounded a bit like arts organization donor categories so maybe we are already heading in the right direction and just need to find more sexy language:

Wolfson’s other idea is to award branded titles for budget line items, so folks who cover electrical costs could consider themselves “Illuminators” while those picking up the hardware and software tab would be “Digital Drivers.”

The point is, words definitely do matter. The final expression might end up being a bit unsexy, but only metaphorically. As Shore puts it: “What could be more sexy than dramatically influencing how much money pours into the critical, staying-afloat initiatives within an organization?”

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Every Musician Is Important To A Symphony

In a move that I like to see as reinforcing the importance of orchestra musicians in a time where their value is being diminished during contract negotiations, a long time supporter of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO), Marjorie Fisher, recently left $5,000 to every one of the 78 current full-time musicians.

If supporters of other orchestras being to follow her example, we may see musicians fighting a lot harder to maintain the number of permanent positions during contract negotiations.

When I first scanned the story on the Non Profit Quarterly, I initially wondered if this bequest might be in response to the poor treatment symphony musicians have received during contract negotiations. However, given that the Fisher family has made donations to support the DSO in every way possible, (and just illuminated a new possibility), it would be difficult to make that assumption.

That said, between the prevalence of crowd funding campaigns and indications of a shift toward direct support of those in need, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that people were investing greater effort into ensuring support was going specifically where they intend.

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What Many Of Us Have Learned

Awhile back Barry Hessenius asked me to write a “What I Have Learned” essay for his blog. He noted that in the past he often featured similar pieces written by people who were approaching the end of their career. This time around he wanted to feature the voices of people who were on the upward arc of their careers.

This past Sunday he posted the collection of essays. I should warn you, the post is L-O-O-O-N-N-G. I wasn’t given a word limit and I would guess none of the other 17 people whose contributions appear were either.

True to Barry’s purpose of providing a forum to some lesser known people, there were names a recognized but many I didn’t and ended up Googling. I had originally intended to provide a list of the contributors with links to bios or websites as a reference, but after opening 10 tabs in my web browers, I realized my entire post was going to end up being a list of names.

So read the post and if you see someone you like, Google them to learn more.

There is a lot to read but there is a lot worth reading. Over a couple days I made note of the next person on the list and performed a Find on the page when I came back to continue reading.

To give a small sample of what people submitted, I was really struck by this advice from EMC Arts’ Karina Mangu-Ward:

Accept offers of support, even if it makes you feel vulnerable:  Early in my work at EmcArts, a more experienced colleague of mine approached me and said that if I was ever interested in developing my practice as a facilitator he’d be willing to mentor me.  I brushed it off at the time, unsure of how to accept the support.  But I kept in the back of my mind.  Four years I later, when I was in a difficult moment of growth, I called him up and asked him if he’d be willing to to set aside two hours a month to talk with me about the big questions I was wrestling with.  Now, he’s one of the most important people in my professional life.

A few contributors mentioned issues of Power, but Ian David Moss from Factured Atlas & Createquity made it his central topic. After a lengthy admonition about abuse of power which included the first sentence below, he suggests people are often unaware of the power they possess and the effective, if seemingly mundane ways, in which it can be exercised.

Power is like a precious, poisonous metal: it requires care and professionalism in handling or people are going to get hurt.


Know that speaking up is always, always an exercise of power – no matter who you are. Know that asking uncomfortable questions is a way to change the course of a meeting, a policy discussion, a decision. Know that sharing your experience in a forum where it will be heard is an exercise of power. Know that doing so again and again is more powerful than doing so once, as tedious as that may seem to you.

Know that doing your job well, maybe even better than anyone else, is an exercise of power. Know that understanding what you’re good at is an exercise of power. Know that vacuums of leadership mean more power for you. You never need to let your title and salary have the final say on what you’re capable of.


Know that charging yourself to gain more knowledge, particularly knowledge that most people around you don’t have, is one of the most valuable and impressive forms of power you can exercise. And absolutely no one is stopping you from exercising that particular power starting right now.

Taken out of context, any one paragraph might come off as advice for ruthless ambition, but he figuratively starts and literally ends his contribution with the reminder that “…with power comes responsibility.”

Each of the contributors comes from a different place with their “lessons learned” essay, but generally offer insight of a similarly high quality. Bookmark it and allow yourself to read through it over time.

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