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Arts Center, I Choose You!

I was walking in to work on Saturday and met a woman who has offices in the arts center who told me that there was a Pokemon in the fountain in front of the building.

Sure enough, as part of the new augmented reality game Pokemon Go, when she pointed her phone at the fountain, the virtual map overlay showed a Pokemon in the fountain. She then lamented that someone else was battling to capture it. I assume it was the kid standing on the sidewalk just south of the fountain.

Then she explained that she and her kids had seen some Pokemon in a tree at the Farmers’ Market that morning, but the virtual critters got away.

As we walked into the arts center, her phone informed her my building was a Pokemon center and she told me if I downloaded the app, I could capture them every morning when I came into work.

I asked her how the building and fountain had been designated as spawning points and she said someone must have come along before her, taken a picture of the building and added it to a list of possible points.

At that point, I realized it could be a great boon for getting younger people in the door if they could get their venues included in the game.

Jason Evangelho at Forbes Magazine had the same idea and suggested businesses use the game to lure in customers. Unfortunately, if you read down to the Update postscript at the end, the game creators are the ones who designated these locations using Google Maps, not the general public.

However, Evangelho figures given the opportunities the game represents, they may come up with a way for different places to get themselves added or offer some sort of premium features for game players.

One of the things he mentions places that already are designated as “Pokestops” can do is buy a lure module that attract Pokemons to the location for 30 minutes. (for 100 Pokecoins currently selling for 99 cents.)

It may be worth checking if your location is already designated as a central location in the game so you can think about how to adapt that into your activities.

It should be noted, you may not have any choice in whether you want to accommodate game players. Some police stations designated as Pokemon centers have had a steady stream of people coming in to capture them. It may be necessary to brief staff very soon on whatever customer service policies and procedures you create in response to these visitors. Especially since there have been an increase in accidents due to people paying even more attention to their phones as they swing them about trying to locate their virtual prey.

On the other side, players have posted on social media about the Pokemon company’s sneaky attempts to get them to go back to church.

The game is getting people to wander around in places they haven’t been before so it may increase foot traffic near your organization even if you aren’t a designated game location. Though in an incident echoing the movie Stand By Me, a girl found a dead body when she jumped a fence to find a Pokemon.

All in all, something to be aware of and keep an eye out for associated opportunities. Once it becomes clearer what sort of promotional opportunities exist, I will probably get a post up on ArtsHacker.

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Same Idealism, Potential For Same Mistakes

Some time back I read a piece on the Bridgespan Group’s website that made me realize that non-profits and funders/donors may adopt similarly flawed approaches to addressing social issues. When you think about it, it only makes sense that two groups that are passionate and idealistic about bringing change to communities might make the same errors in policy and execution.

Because donor/funder is perceived as having more power in the funder-non-profit relationship, it can be easy to assume their decisions are based on criteria that differs from the non-profits seeking their support.

In fact, funders can make inefficient and inconsistent decisions for the exact same reasons non-profits do.

In the article, What Are the Five Most Common Traps I Should Avoid in My Philanthropy?, trap number one is:

Trap #1: Fuzzy headedness

As a philanthropist, your passions, values, and beliefs will fundamentally drive your giving. But unfortunately, “fuzzy headedness” occurs when donors allow their emotions and wishful thinking to completely override logic and thoughtful analysis. One common symptom: When asked “what are you trying to accomplish?” do you respond with broad, hopeful statements (like “curing cancer,” “ending poverty,” or “stopping global warming”)? If so, you’ll need to get more specific because at that level, your goals are still too undefined (and therefore unattainable)…

I realized this is almost the exact same mistake some non-profits make. They embrace vague mission statements and goals and define everyone in a geographic radius as the people they intend to serve instead of having a clearly defined focus.

I wondered if there might be a feedback loop between funders and non-profits with one saying their goal is to completely fix X and the second getting excited and inspired by the goal (or the money now available for that goal). Each party seeing the other is excited and invested in the goal decides it is worthy to pursue and goes on to mutually reinforce this too broad goal upon each other and others around them.

The second trap, Flying Solo, also has a similar overlap. Both funders and non-profits can fall into the trap of believing they know the solution to a problem either through lack of research about previous efforts or ego. The result is they spend a lot of time and effort repeating the mistakes others have made. Or they fall short having overestimated their ability to marshal the required resources alone.

The remaining traps are more funder oriented and have a little less in common with non-profits. Number three deals with under-estimating what it will take to achieve a goal and therefore underfunding the project. The fourth deals with using overhead cost as a measure of effectiveness.

Non-profits could contribute to reinforcing these traps by keeping their numbers low in order to keep their overhead ratio low, resulting in underperformance due to lack of sufficient funding. Which may, in turn, result from less funding from a donor or foundation that expected better results.

Some of the ideas in the article are new to me, some I have heard before, particularly regarding suggested changes in philosophy by funding organizations. The piece could be worth further reading if you are trying to find an effective line of reasoning to convince a funder to adjust their expectations and criteria.

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Signals Of Quality In Arts Disciplines

For the last month or so I have been trying to figure out why, depending on the discipline, different elements of an artist’s background signal quality.

I realized that when people on my board or in my audience talk about a classically trained musician, they orient on what conservatory they attended first and then what ensembles they may have played in.

However, when it comes to actors whether the person appeared on Broadway or TV/movie is the most important. Lacking that, if they are based in NY or LA adds to their cachet. However, no one ever seems to care if they went to NYU or Yale Drama or University of Wisconsin for their training.

With dance it is usually which dance company they have performed with and where. Very seldom does the source of their training get mentioned.

Visual artists it is all about whether you can understand what you are looking at, whether you think it is any good and what the price tag is. Many people can discern whether an artist has had formal training or not, but I don’t think I have ever heard someone express confidence that an artist will be good based on the place they studied.

Scott Walters has long talked about the problem of actors needing move to NY/LA/Chicago so they can get work in their own hometown. I am not going to rehash those lengthy arguments.

But along those lines I wanted to toss the question out there about how and why this range of criteria about what constitutes quality developed.

I have come up with a lot of theories that don’t quite make sense. One idea I had was that while there are people who enjoy the arts in general, just as their are cat people and dog people, people who like the arts have one discipline they focus on. Otherwise, wouldn’t there be a single prime criteria that dominated, especially for the performing arts? Instead it seems people accede to the dominant criteria of each discipline, perhaps feeling they aren’t as qualified to judge as they are in their primary focus.

As I said, that doesn’t quite make sense. I can poke a lot of holes in that idea. I am left wondering where these concepts of quality originated from. Is there something that the music education and performance community did to signal a conservatory education is desired in a musician in a way that isn’t as compelling in the acting and dance community? Or is it that the audiences and communities that participate in each of these disciplines gradually oriented on certain signs they felt insured a quality experience.

Another thought I had is there an unconscious desire to be associated with the strongest name recognition. People on the street may recognize the Julliard name, but if given ten options to choose the Big Five orchestras, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas might appear on the list more often than Cleveland based on general impressions people have of each city.

I am not saying people shouldn’t be getting credit for doing well in a conservatory program, especially if they spend a lot of money in the process. I have a suspicion if the underlying factors informing these concepts of quality were better understood, it might be easier to communicate that artists who don’t possess those specific associations and pedigrees can provide a high quality experience. Inversely, one could suggest an artist does not necessarily need those associations and pedigrees in order to be successful.

Granted, there is a continuum there. This claim is more true of having a NYC address than having formal training. It may be easier to break these conceptions now than it was in the past since the internet allows people to verify that quality and these signifiers don’t go hand in hand. (Though we can also attest that the same forum allows a lot of crap to get recognition while hard work and talent are overlooked.)

Anyone have other insights or theories?

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Resources From Unexpected Places-Federal Reserve Banks

Okay, I know this week I posted a piece that continued my long standing assertion that talking about the economic impact of the arts is not an effective way to garner long term support and investment around arts and cultural activities.

However, while it shouldn’t be the central argument for support, I don’t discount the value of using economic impact as corroborating data.

In that vein, I have recently been wondering if it might not be useful for the arts community to forge closer ties with the various regional Federal Reserve Banks. I have seen some publications coming from them that are valuable to non-profits and make a case for the place cultural organizations have in community development.

Last December, I used a well-written guide on managing Non-Profit Executive succession and transitions produced by the Kansas City Federal Reserve in a post I wrote for ArtsHacker.

Since then I have seen two pieces in a four part series written by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland on the importance of cultural organizations in Eastern Kentucky’s transition away coal mining. The first focuses on creative placemaking and the second specifically spotlights the work of Appalshop in Whitesburg, KY.

I am not sure how many may read the articles, but the people and businesses who closely watch the activity of the Federal Reserves are not without influence. Section headers like “The economic impact of creative placemaking;” “A Case for investment: two examples;” “Making Dollars and Sense” can resonate with the interests and concerns of these groups.

It might be worth having state and regional arts councils reach out to make contacts with the respective Reserve Banks in the different regions to explore whether the councils can provide data and stories that might be of interest to the readers of the Federal Reserve publications.

Having the Federal Reserve’s research as an additional source to corroborate statements and statistics about economic impact can help bolster non-profit organization goals.

In return, the Federal Reserve banks may be able to produce publications like the non-profit leadership succession guide that are useful to non-profits. Having issues of finance, taxation, labor law, business relations, etc tailored to the national needs of non-profits could be helpful.

If the Federal Reserve produced case studies about beneficial collaborations between businesses and non-profit organizations, the gravitas they bring could cause groups to consider exploring similar efforts.

Maybe they already produce documents like this and we are just not widely aware of it. It actually took me some time to find the third installment in the series on Eastern KY on the Cleveland Fed website. Had I not had the URL of Part 2 as a guide, I may not have found it.

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