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Diego Rivera and the Paintbrush of Destiny

As part of our website revamp, I am in the process of adding content about the various murals located around the building. One of the best pieces is a little removed from the lobby and spans a couple floors so I have made a video and map to help guide people to it.

So it was with great interest that I read a recent piece on NPR about the rights visual artists, especially muralists, can exert to determine the disposition of the buildings in/on which they are painted.

As I started reading, I began to worry that more people might refuse to allow murals to appear on the sides of their buildings if they were aware of these issues. However, the story notes that Philadelphia, which has a robust, formal mural program, has found ways to strike a balance and work with both the artist and building owner to find some sort of accommodation. They are likely a good source for advice on these matters.

Only works created after 1990 enjoy this protection under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA). So Diego Rivera’s paintbrush technically hasn’t altered the destiny of any buildings as far as the Act is concerned.

This piece from the National Endowment for the Arts and this one from the Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia do a pretty good job of explaining various aspects of the law.

One thing I think bears emphasizing since many of the commenters on the NPR story get it wrong is that while works for hire are not covered under the VARA, that does not mean that only works created for free are covered. If you are commissioned to create a work as an independent contractor and get paid for it, your work is covered. This is clearly stated in the Arts and Business Council flyer, but I wanted to reinforce that.

The reason I think it is particularly important to be aware of this law is because so many communities are utilizing murals to help spruce up the neighborhood. Often these murals are on abandoned buildings that are good candidates for destruction should those murals generate the the desired positive ambiance and attract new residents and businesses.

Since the rights are retained until the death of the last surviving creator, it might be good to form a general agreement that the work is being created with the expectation (and perhaps hope) that someone will eventually destroy it.

The other thing to note is that the VARA deals with the artist’s moral rights to the work which can never be given away. The artist can transfer ownership, but can’t give up their moral rights. Per the NEA Office of General Counsel article:

“VARA restricts the exercise of the rights of attribution and integrity to the author or joint authors of the artwork, regardless of whether he/they hold title either to the copyright or the artwork itself. Thus while both copyright and physical ownership are property rights which may be transferred, moral rights may not be transferred. Moral rights may, however, be waived. The waiver instrument must be very specific: the creator must consent in a written and signed instrument specifically identifying the artwork, the uses of that work, and with a clause limiting the waiver to both aspects.”

So even if a mural was presented as a birthday present to someone, the next owner of the building can’t immediately bulldoze it as the new owner of the mural. Notice of 90 days must provided to the artist(s) during which period of time they can take whatever action they decide is necessary from a final visit to take pictures before it is destroyed to seeking a court injunction against the demolition.

The one issue that isn’t really addressed is what protections exist for art that someone produces uninvited. People go out and paint over unwanted graffiti everyday….unless it is a Banksy in which case they may chisel out the section of the wall and sell it at auction.

If someone cares enough to chisel it out and keep it, aren’t they admitting it is valuable and not a nuance? So if Banksy (or Banksy’s lawyer) shows up and says the art is site specific (which many clearly are) and may not be moved/destroyed/defaced per VARA, who has the right to determine what happens with the work?

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Corralling The Wild Volunteer

The Wall Street Journal had a story entitled Docents Gone Wild sharing some stories about museum docents going off script, treating visitors rudely or diverting people away from works of art they didn’t approve of.

The take away for me wasn’t so much that you have to keep an eye on those crotchety senior citizens as much as the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation provides an opportunity to mobilize a large cohort of people on behalf of the arts. Only it will require some effort to effectively engage and train them.

In some respects this idea is a complement to the series on arts and aging/healing that Barry Hessenius hosted last month. That series dealt with the idea that there is an unmet need that the arts can respond to that is only going to grow as the Baby Boomer generation ages. However, currently most arts organizations lack the capacity to do so.

In terms of enlisting retirees as volunteer or in a type of semi-retired/second career role, arts organizations’ ability is a little more developed, but can still be improved. These retirees are people who are transitioning out of careers as highly skilled professionals and will likely enjoy a longer, healthier post-retirement lifestyle than their parents had.

They may want to contribute more than just ushering, envelop stuffing and phone answering during their retirement. If they can’t find an activity to hold their interest, they may choose another activity that they feel is better suited to the energy and ambition they feel they have.

Arts organizations may be wary about involving additional older folks on their boards of directors when they are desperately seeking younger voices, but it wouldn’t surprise me if some organizations managed to create special task groups that mobilized to advocate and lobby for them with government entities.

For all the foibles their docents may exhibit, I am pretty impressed by the rigor of the training program these museums have instituted for their docents. Not that I would increase the training we give our volunteers for its own sake, but it makes me wonder if we are investing enough attention to our training as well as care and feeding of our current volunteers even before addressing the issue of being prepared for new arrivals.

As I was I writing this post, I had a vague recollection of some futurist like John Nasbitt (Megatrends 2000), Faith Popcorn (Popcorn Report) or Alvin Toffler (Future Shock) coming out with a book in the last 10-15 years that said retirees would gather into fairly insular communities termed something like Yogurt Communities because they would value “active cultures” or cultural activity. I wonder if anyone can remember it because I can’t find it. I was curious to do a check back to see if predictions were coming to pass.

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Marketing Begins At Home

I do a lot of talking about how marketing is the business of everyone in the organization, not just the department bearing that name. Everybody needs to be invested in the organization and its goals. I often use the example of telling your organization’s story while you are in line at the supermarket.

A lot of what I and others write about in this vein stresses the importance of relating your story to external audiences. But I have slowly come to recognize the success of those efforts really depends on your success in relating that story to internal audiences first.

Even if the whole organization is supposed to be responsible for telling the story, its likely that the story may only remain fresh and alive for the people in the marketing department who deal with it everyday. They are the ones that have to take the full page press release and compress the information and concepts for consumption on webpages, social media, 30 second PSAs, posters and print ads. They are constantly having to distill information in order to maintain its essence.

Something I have noticed in my own experience is that staff and board members who helped with the programming and writing of brochure descriptions don’t seem to know as much about the performances as I do. Then I realized it was because I am interacting with marketing materials and having conversations about opportunities for interesting education services on a weekly basis.

Despite being deeply involved with the process for a fair amount of time, other board and staff members end up months removed from their efforts.

Arts organizations advertise and send out emails to remind the general public about events we previously announced in an effort to engage them as the time approaches. There probably needs to be a corresponding internal effort as well. You can send staff emails, briefing sheets and talk about events in board and staff meetings, but emails get deleted and people often just want to get out of those meetings.

However, people often have a tendency to avoid work, right? Water cooler type conversations about why upcoming events are going to be interesting can make a deeper, more lasting impression on people and help to make them better advocates. Especially because instead of receiving a general announcement, they are getting the message customized for them.

Even if other employees are insiders to a degree, they can often serve as the initial sounding board/guinea pigs for approaches you will use with the general public. Volunteers may especially be valuable in this regard since they are probably invested enough in the organization to provide feedback, but may be disconnected enough from the inner workings that they are only slightly more aware of the organization’s activities than the average attendee.

In many respects, marketing definitely begins at home. Even if everyone is working together to make every event a success and are clearly invested in seeing everything come off well, it is far too easy to assume everyone is equally as knowledgeable about the value of the event.

Marketing may be the business of everyone in the organization, but there are always going to be people who know more and are more passionate about events than others. Whether they are officially part of the marketing or artistic team or not, it is always going to be incumbent on them to pass on the knowledge and instill the passion in the other employees to enable them to be effective representatives.

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Donor Achievement Unlocked- Screaming Fan

I had made a suggestion to the community board we partner with on our presenting season that they think about changing the names of their giving categories. My rationale was that the current categories are strongly oriented toward classical music, but that genre only compromises 10%-20% of the programming in any season.

They asked me to provide some suggestions at the board meeting in August. Since I want to have names that give a broader, more diverse sense of the type of programming we partner on, I have been jotting ideas down in a pretty stream of consciousness manner.

At one point, I realized some of the terms were likely unfamiliar and might require explanation. I considered that could be a good thing. If positioned correctly, it might help donors to more closely identify with the work we do.

By this point, I was thinking that what I working on might make for a good blog post so when I say, “help donors to more closely identify with the work we do,” I mean all of us.

That is when it occurred to me that a revamp in donor categories to include a description might be another area that could contribute to the effort of shifting focus toward the donor/audience that Trevor O’Donnell advocates for with arts marketing.

To a degree, this idea partially resembles the “Achievement Unlocked” motif of video games and some of the categories and stretch goals on Kickstarter. I am also pretty sure I have seen some arts organizations who employ this basic concept.

In no particular order, here is some of what popped into my head for a handful of the terms on the list I have assembled. Some or none of these may get used as inspiration strikes me.

Green Room – This is where all the energy gathers before exploding on to stage
Screaming Fan – With you cheering us on, we never run out of energy.
Stage Manager – Though you are behind the scenes, nothing runs smoothly without you
Running Crew – You do the heavy lifting and make sure the spotlight focuses on everything great on stage.
Comedy Team – Like Abbot and Costello, Stiller and Meara, Key and Peele, we do our best work when we have a great partner supporting us.

It occurs to me that if fund raising efforts were approached with a sense of the next level of giving being an “achievement” to unlock, it might encourage giving from younger people and lead to increased giving over time.

What that would look like is a lot of categories at the lower end of the scale at very small intervals ($1-$25, $26-$50, $50-$100, $100-$200) so that people felt they were progressing quickly through (or skipping) levels early in their giving history. At the higher end of the scale, the intervals between levels of giving would be much greater ($2500-$5000, $5000-$10000) which pretty much reflects the process of advancement in games.

If anyone has ideas for category names, descriptions, etc, I would love to hear them.

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