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Dabbling In The Revolution

This week we made our first foray into the Classical Revolution movement with the help of CutTime Simfonica. Mr. Cuttime, or Rick Robinson, as his friends call him, helped us coordinate this in conjunction with the formal concert by CutTime Simfonica we presented last night.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Classical Revolution (CR), it is an effort to remove the intimidation factor from classical music by taking it out of the formal concert hall setting and bringing it to bars, clubs, houses, etc. The idea being if you find classical music doesn’t make you uncomfortable in your local watering hole, it might be something you will enjoy in a more formal setting.

Formerly a bassist with Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Rick helped to found a CR chapter in that city. (And got a Knight Foundation grant to expand it.) He encouraged us to invite local musicians to essentially “jam” with CutTime Simfonica so I started reaching out to the local wind symphony last summer and followed up with flyers and contacts throughout the last month (as did Rick).

Unfortunately, a major Christmas concert got scheduled for the same night as our Classical Revolution session so we didn’t get many outside musicians participating. (Though that concert rescheduled in order not to conflict with our formal concert Tuesday night, so we can’t complain.)

However, we did have a 15 year old flutist show up to join in so he got a lot attention that night.

Click to view full album

(The poor guy was so nervous he couldn’t eat his hamburger during the three hours of the Classical Revolution. Thankfully, the pub brought out a fresh one.)

Being Christmas time, there was a little bit of audience participation required in order to create a “stereo surround sound” jingle bells experience for the audience.


I am not sure that the CR event generated any additional ticket sales for the concert hall performance the next night, but it did seem to change some perceptions. The morning after the CR concert, we went on the radio to promote the show. The radio show host said her boyfriend was a little reluctant about attending, but 2.5 hours later she was ready to leave and he wasn’t.

She admitted, she never really understood classic music but her boyfriend’s insight was that it is like reading a novel, there are different plots and stories being interwoven.

What crystallized the experience for me was at the end of a Brahms piece, Rick Robinson commented “man, that is one sexy piece of music.” I could see there was something about it he was discovering as he played. When I mentioned this to him, he said he often didn’t get to play the cello part. So to a degree there was a discovery element for him. I loved both the verbal and non-verbal expression of delight experienced in that moment.

The formal concert the next night had the same sort of light hearted element to it that the Classical Revolution performance did the night before. As I watched, I realized there was a lot of potential for resentment in linking Classical Revolution events to more formal concert hall experiences.

People attending a CR event where they have a great time interacting with the musicians might feel like they experienced a bait and switch if they were actively encouraged to show up to a full symphony orchestra concert where the musicians barely acknowledged their presence.

While the CR and formal concert were both essentially chamber music experiences, Rick Robinson took it a step further by polling the audience about their past interactions with classical music. He had extra seats set up on stage and invited a rotating group of audience members to come up and sit close enough to “see the musicians sweat.”

As each group left the stage, he asked them what they felt. One woman said she felt like she needed to get back to playing the violin. One man commented it was interesting watching the facial expressions and interactions, especially the percussionist anticipating where he would need to come in.

The diversity of the programming also helped, running from familiar pieces by Mozart and Beethoven to the Martin Luther King movement of Duke Ellington’s “Three Black Kings.” Rick also included three of his own compositions and explained the stories behind them.

His association of music with food generated vivid imagery for the audience. He spoke of his “Pork N’ Beans,” as; taking a bite of spicy pulled pork, then a mouthful of hot beans, the heat rising in our hero’s mouth until a forkful of cole slaw cools it down. At both the concert and the Classical Revolution event, people said they could tell when each mouthful came, especially the cole slaw.

Today, as I reflected back, I realized that there is a lot of attention and conversation on doing programming that will attract younger audiences. There isn’t much discussion about transitioning existing audiences toward acceptance of that programming.

When the subject comes up, it is usually to discuss the dichotomy between what new and existing audiences like. The perception is that existing audiences are alienated by the content that appeals to new audiences.  Seldom is there discussion of a long term vision to gradually segue existing audiences toward the programmatic point that may appeal to new audiences.

I am thinking about this because I am wondering what the conversation will be at the next board meeting. What feedback have they received about an event in which the transitions between high quality music performances by Columbus and West Virginia Symphony musicians were filled with some unconventional audience interactions?

The responses I received last night and today from members of the audience have been very positive. But many of those were the people who went to sit on stage.

It started to occur to me that despite a few rough edges here and there, Rick Robinson might be developing a format that bridges that gap – palatable to existing audiences and intriguing to those looking to experiment with a classical music experience.

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Info You Can Use: Minimalist Design and Slide Decks

I just finished teaching a public speaking course this semester. One of the pieces of advice I tried to emphasize for my students was not to fill your Powerpoint slides with tons of text.

It was difficult to accomplish this goal.  I must confess part of me was secretly pleased that members of the visually oriented Millennial generation were having the same struggles with simplifying their presentations as those who pioneered the use of Powerpoint.

This being said, the minimal look is definitely in.

Drew McManus has been advocating for flat and responsive web design for awhile. You can also see the increased use of a page spanning dominant image on sites like

ted example

and the Weather Channel

weather channel example


The SlideShare blog recently featured slide decks that Guy Kawasaki promotes for aspiring entrepreneurs that translates this minimalist approach to slide decks. The first has a lot of great examples of text heavy slides that were heavily trimmed down and had a single central concept set against a single dominant image. (requires Flash)

Slide number 5 provides a good example of how to transition from what might be your current practice to a more minimalist approach, taking an image of President Kennedy from the corner and making the slide all about the image and his “Ask not…” quote. Many of the other slides are an example of an entirely revamped approach to a topic.

The other slide deck that caught my eye was the third. It provides a template to help a marketer create a presentation about different customer personas.  It is created as something your organization or company can use immediately to present what you know about the different demographics that comprise your customer.

When I immediately, I mean it is pretty much designed so you can download it right now, delete the instructional and example slides, plug in the relevant data and images and use what remains as a basis for a presentation if you want. (requires Flash)

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Does Your Venue Policy Include Terrorism Insurance? Knowing Might Become Important Soon

We get a lot of alerts about Congressional actions that might impact arts organizations all the time. Something that wasn’t really on my radar at all was the (non) renewal of the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act. Basically, the federal government provides guarantees for insurance companies that end up having to pay out terrorism claims. If the act isn’t renewed by January 31, it is likely that terrorism coverage policies will be cancelled.

What is making this a big deal is the claim that the Super Bowl won’t happen if this isn’t renewed. This has been an issue before in 2006 with the World Cup when there was difficulty obtaining coverage that was not prohibitively expensive. (By the way, NBC says the game will go on regardless.)

I am not sure if this would impact performing arts centers or not, but I suspect larger stadium shows and outdoor summer festivals like those held in NYC Central Park and Chicago’s Grant park might be at risk.

According to an article on The Hill website, as of 11:00 am this morning, there was still some disagreement between the House and Senate on the details of the renewal.

This is one of those issues that can end up impacting you without you even being aware that it is looming. How many people know if they have terrorism insurance included in their commercial policy? When was the last time you read the updates to your policy?

I will confess, I don’t often read updates to my auto policy but recently did and discovered changes that are clearly aimed at keeping me from using my vehicle for ride sharing programs like Uber or Lyft.

Like it or not, the possibility of terrorism is calculated into so much of what we do. It’s issues like the renewal of this bill that comprise the thousand little things we aren’t aware may have a big impact on our operations.

I wonder, was there ever insurance against nuclear attack during the height of the Cold War? I have recently been listening to ’80s music and realized there are a surprising number of references to nuclear war. I thought I was just anxious because I was a teenager. I guess the absence of an actual strike prevented anyone from realizing what the potential payout might have been.

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Basic Intro To Finance Options

When I was at the Ohio Arts Council conference yesterday, I attended a session on finance for arts and culture. This is unknown territory for me because I am familiar with grants and fundraising, but don’t really have any significant experience with finance.

One of the things I learned were the differences between Community Development Finance Institutions (CDFI) and Community Development Corporations (CDC). (Which is to say, I know slightly more than the textbook definition, but enough to start paying attention and learning more.)

There were representatives of each of these type of organizations as well as banks and venture capital firms talking about somewhat familiar financing options like bonds. There were also tools that I had no idea a non-profit organization might consider like the EB5 program which provides foreign investors with a fast track visa process.

While I had a sense that a non-profit might get funding from a revolving loan fund, I had no idea that a non-profit might actually run one. One option mentioned during the panel was possibly partnering with people to run your fund and coming in as a second layer on a loan that a bank was underwriting.

The panel made us aware of New Market Tax Credits which CDFIs sell to banks to encourage them to fund/invest in projects in low-income, high-poverty, high-unemployment communities at a lower rate. They encouraged us to Google the terms “New Market Tax Credit Arts Culture” to see what sort of projects popped up in order to get a sense of what was possible.

There were some main points the panel wanted those seeking financing to walk away from the session knowing about:

• Investors want to know how your project fits into the overall vision of: your city, foundations providing support, other funders, the community and your own organization.

• Even if they don’t explicitly say it, economic developers are looking for how the project provides cohesion in terms of issues like market change, safety and stability in the community. Economic developers don’t concern themselves about the health of an arts and cultural organization except as an attractor of new business and enhancer of quality of life. They noted one of the reasons businesses are starting to orient back toward downtowns is because the density of activity provides for connectivity and innovation.

• They emphasized that no one source will provide 100% of the funding. It is going to have to come from a mix of economic development entities, banks, public and private grants and donations.

• As a result, you need to have all parties at the table, even ones that you won’t necessarily need immediately. You don’t want to be in position where you realize you will need extra funding and go to someone at the last minute saying you need money, trying to explain your project to them and get them connected to your story.

• The panel explicitly said, if you start talking to these entities when you have a project in mind, it is already too late. You need to be telling your story and have people aware of it years in advance of soliciting support for a project.

Ultimately, it seems like you have to be telling your story every day, all the time to your immediate community in order to gain short term support for your projects and to anyone else who may ever remotely be of any use to you for a hypothetical project.

To heck with “Always Be Closing,” you need to be “Always Be Charming” (Yeah, that stinks. Anyone has a catchy phrase, let me know.)

An interesting suggestion about bolstering confidence in your organizational story was to devote part of your annual budget to enriching your endowment in order to show potential investors that you are investing in yourself.

It was notable that the first question asked after the presentation was about the shame directed at non-profits for overhead and the fact they might try to pay people a living wage. One of the panelists said people shouldn’t be ashamed and that foundations should know better.

However, I felt like he was sort of hedging when he said to break down administrative cost by task rather than by roles and titles. For example- assessment,  program administration, engineering, capacity building.

I didn’t feel that overhead cost was of particular concern to the people on the panel. Their criteria for good governance and success seemed more aligned with the for-profit sector. So the fact this came up immediately may be a sign that the subject of judging an non-profit organization by overhead costs will become a more prevalent topic in the next couple years.

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