Top Menu

For All Your(e) Worth

Seth Godin had a post on entitlement versus worthiness a couple weeks ago. There was a lot in there to unpack and I am not sure I have wrapped my head around it enough to know if what he posits is entirely true or not, but I thought I would toss it out there for general discussion.

There is a lot in the post that is applicable to the arts. Perhaps most obvious is the following:

Both entitlement and unworthiness are the work of the resistance. The twin narratives make us bitter, encourage us to be ungenerous, keep us stuck. Divas are divas because they’ve tricked themselves into believing both narratives–that they’re not getting what they’re entitled to, and, perversely, that they’re not worth what they’re getting.

At first I wondered if it were really true that divas felt like they weren’t worth what they were getting. Then I thought about all the conflicting narratives associated with art.

On the one hand you have the entitlement ideas: the prescriptive view that arts are good for everyone; if people just saw our work once, they would be hooked; arts participation as a sign of maturity and culture; one’s practice being “true” art versus that of others.

Compare that with the sense of worth associated with the arts: low pay; suffer for your art; making money=selling out; arts education isn’t important in schools; arts careers are dead ends.

In that context, it is easier to see why you can feel both entitled to more, but worth less, than you are getting.

Godin continues with some concepts that have likely passed through the minds of many in the arts on more than one occasion. (emphasis mine)

The entitled yet frightened voice says, “What’s the point of contributing if those people aren’t going to appreciate it sufficiently?” And the defensive unworthy voice says, “What’s the point of shipping the work if I don’t think I’m worthy of being paid attention to…”

The universe, it turns out, owes each of us very little indeed. Hard work and the dangerous commitment to doing something that matters doesn’t get us a guaranteed wheelbarrow of prizes… but what it does do is help us understand our worth. That worth, over time, can become an obligation, the chance to do our best work and to contribute to communities we care about.

When the work is worth it, make more of it, because you can, and because you’re generous enough to share it.

Those last couple sentences about contributing to communities and making more because you’re generous to share it are essential cornerstone sentiments of the non-profit arts.

Where I pause is at the question of, “are you generous enough to share it” for free? There is a lot of debate in the arts about working “for the exposure” that Godin’s post brushes up against.

While his stressing the that hard work does help us understand our worth does imply that one should be receiving their worth, the way he ends his post doesn’t definitively settle the question about whether you should hold out for what you are worth.

“I’m not worthy,” isn’t a useful way to respond to success. And neither is, “that’s it?”

It might be better if we were just a bit better at saying, “thank you.”

Continue Reading

This Is Not The Ticketing Site You Were Looking For

As the holiday season approaches, I am remind of the less than altruistic truth that others are eager to make money off your success..even if you don’t perceive yourself as successful.

Close to two years ago I wrote about a compliant I was called to the box office to address which turned out to be the result of another ticketing site masquerading as ours.

In the last day Thomas Cott tweeted a similar story about the Colorado Ballet’s Nutcracker tickets being bought up and sold at up to $1,100 for $155 tickets. In this particular instance, with tacked on fees, two tickets cost $3,000.

Even though the Ballet has received its money, the problem, as the Ballet’s ticketing manager says, is one of access.

Part of the problem comes when audiences can’t afford overinflated ticket prices and then stop considering going to the ballet altogether.

“We love supporting our community and we have our ticket prices set so that… every family that wants to come see The Nutcracker can,” Clark said.

This article was particularly timely because I recently noticed that the top Google results for our theater was a site with the pattern “” They are selling some of our events at 4.5 times the face value.

It isn’t just us. I did a little more searching with common theater names and Ohio Theatre in Columbus, Fox Theatre in Detroit and Bijou Theater in Knoxville all have sites with the same URL pattern that show up.

Lest you think that only big productions at famous venues are vulnerable, my theater is located in a rural area and the show in question two years ago was an Elvis impersonator. There was a good crowd scheduled to show up, but it was hardly the most heavily in demand event.

It doesn’t take much effort to check the Google results for the search terms including your theater name and location and see what shows up as selling your tickets. In addition to the address, I have also seen as a common site names. I am sure there are others.

It can be good to remind potential and existing customers of the official ticket outlets. The fact that these are not the official websites are quickly apparent to many people, but to those not accustomed to navigating the internet and purchasing things online, it isn’t as clear.

At the prices some of these places are charging, all it takes is just a couple of people making purchases to make it worth their while.

N.B. In the comments, Marc Fleming shares a link to a video the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust created to combat this issue.

Continue Reading

I Love The Smell Of Bach In The Morning

This month’s New Yorker has a story about researchers who have discovered how interdependent our senses are when it comes to enjoying an experience. (h/t Tyler Cowen)

For example, people’s perception of how crispy potato chips are when they eat them is dependent on what type of sound they are listening to. People will perceive foods as more bitter, sweet or satiating depending on the color, shape, texture, weight of the vessels they are consuming them from even if the product doesn’t change.

…Spence asked people to sample a dark Welsh ale: one sip while listening to a light, tinkling xylophone composition, and the second to the sound of a deep, mellifluous organ. When the second piece of music stopped, the audience had fallen silent.

“Wow,” a girl near me in a vintage houndstooth dress said. I knew this particular trick of Spence’s—I had watched him perform it multiple times—but it still worked on me. With only a change in the background music, the deep-brown beer had gone from creamy and sweet to mouth-dryingly bitter.

While these techniques have been used to help market food and other products, they can also be used to promote healthier eating.

He noted that other researchers have shown that the elderly, when eating tomato soup, must add more than twice as much salt as a young person does in order to achieve the same taste. Why not mitigate that increased salt consumption, and its attendant health hazards, by presenting the soup in a blue container, a color that Spence has shown can make food seem significantly saltier?…The effect could be used similarly, Spence said, to design soundtracks that replace some of the lost flavor of food for the elderly.


This year, he began working with a children’s cancer center in Spain, to experiment with plating, lighting, and acoustic tweaks that could counter the pervasive metallic taste and nausea that are common side effects of chemotherapy.

Since performing and visual arts are a sensory experience, the article got me wondering what the benefit would be in engaging a fuller range of senses at performances, museums, galleries, etc.

Most specifically, I wondered what might be helpful in making the experience more welcoming and less anxiety inducing for new attendees. My first thought was the subtle smell of chocolate chip cookies or homemade bread wafting from somewhere.

Beyond that I can’t think of too many other specific examples of sights, sounds and textures that would be conducive to an experience. (Although according to Holly Mulcahy, in Chattanooga, Maple Street Biscuits are hands down the way to go.)

Many arts venues will often have music playing and the lights adjusted to create a specific mood for visitors and attendees. Artists are already plugged into the impact of color, light, sound, and sometimes smell, as tools and possess a little insight in this regard. But often this insight is focused on the impact of the presentation on the viewer rather than the viewer’s total experience.

Clearly, you can go mad trying to determine if the curve of the arm rests on your seats best enhances the experience of Shakespeare or Arthur Miller. It could be helpful to keep this research in the back of your mind and think about what obvious opportunities to engage a fuller range of senses might exist. It may involve changing default lighting schemes or soundtracks in favor of more suitable ones.

Continue Reading

Positive Signs For Reimbursement Of Overhead Costs

You may remember back in January that I wrote about the new rules promulgated by Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requiring that any entity receiving federal funds much cover at least 10% of a non-profit’s overhead costs.

Don’t worry, its okay if you don’t remember. But this is relatively important and bears repeating.

One of the concerns at the time was that state and local governments and other funders might pressure non-profits with whom they contract or provide grants to waive a their right to receive overhead costs. The OMB rules prohibit this, but if a non-profit isn’t aware of the rules or are afraid to advocate for themselves, the problem may continue.

Given this context, it was a positive sign when the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted to adopt the OMB guidelines and to write a letter to the state government to do the same.

It may not seem significant for a governing body to agree to adhere to the conditions under which federal funding was allocated, but as Non-Profit Quarterly notes there are “rob Peter to pay Paul” concerns about how funding may be manipulated.

Rules do not implement themselves without strong nonprofit monitoring and oversight—hopefully, as in this case, in partnership with government authorities. In this case, not only are the supervisors talking to state officials, but they will also be developing an implementation strategy in consultation with Los Angeles nonprofits, which we presume, based on what we have seen as policy statements from CalNonprofits, ought to address how to ensure that higher indirect cost reimbursements do not occur at the cost of lessening service delivery.

As I had noted in my earlier post, the National Council of Non Profits created a guide to educate organizations about the rules and provide responses to assertions from funding entities that the rules don’t apply.

One thing I had mentioned was that arts organizations should note that these rules likely apply to the funding you receive through your state or regional arts organization:

One- it doesn’t matter whether it is called a contract or grant or any other term, the rules are based on the substance of the transaction.

Two – Sub-recipient non-profits who are required to acknowledge part of the funding is received from the federal government are covered under these rules.

Continue Reading