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Can You Deliver On The Promise of Clean Restrooms?

Yesterday evening I was hanging out at the local coffee house participating in a send off of an artist who has been creating murals for a public art project in the city for over 20 years now.

I got to talking to the owner of the coffee house about his management philosophy. Which, when it comes to employees, can be pretty much summarized as, cultivate the good workers and cut loose the deadwood.

He pays his employees a decent wage and involves them in as many aspects of the business as they are comfortable or interested. For example, when considering any potential new menu items, everyone participates in the preparation and pricing to make sure it makes sense in terms of the time and resources it requires.

Sometimes I don’t agree with his choices, but he always good at explaining his rationale to customers. I was on hand when a woman suggested they have loyalty punch cards like other coffee houses and he laid out the alternative approach he had chosen that provides value to the customer.

As closing time approached, the gathering adjourned to the patio so the employees could go home. I made a trip to the restroom and was confronted by this sign.

deserve restroom

When I mentioned the sign to the owner, he said it was there more for the employees than the customers. It communicated the standard of cleanliness they were expected to maintain because god help them if he got a call.

I thought it was pretty damn audacious. It doesn’t just say contact the manager if the restroom isn’t clean. It tells the customer they DESERVE a clean restroom and promises they will get it.

Question to ask yourself: Does your organization operate at a level that you can promises this standard of service?

This isn’t a literal promise about clean restrooms, it has figurative implications about the service you should expect to receive during every interaction while you are on the premises. It plays into the adage about being able to judge the cleanliness of the kitchen from the state of the restrooms, but goes beyond that.

Even with only a handful of customer contact points, it takes a lot of effort and attention to achieve this standard. If you really sit down and make a list, there are more contact points with customers than you think.

Can you tell your customers, figurative clean restrooms are hard to find, but they deserve them, and then deliver on that promise? It is pretty daunting.

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Does Your City Need An Arts Bureaucrat?

Given the Labor Day holiday and the fact that Wells Fargo seems to think kids need to set aside their childish artistic dreams for real career choices, it seems appropriate to do a post on interesting, constructive arts careers.

Jennifer Lasik, Arts Coordinator for the City of Evanston, IL makes a “Case for an ‘Arts Bureaucrat’ in City Government.”

While her boss hates the use of that term, (the real job title is Cultural Arts Coordinator), she sees the arts bureaucrat role as one of the most important parts of her job. (my emphasis)

In public performance or art installation, there is often perceived conflict between what the artists want to accomplish and the objectives of the City regarding liability, maintenance, budgets, and code regulation.

[…]

While intended primarily as a resource for the arts community, City staff has appreciates having someone who “speaks artist,” can plan and evaluate artistic projects, and listen to and fine-tune artists’ proposals to address various departmental questions and concerns. Both groups trust me to negotiate a balance between the artistic and practical aspects of the project, helping artists through the application and permit process, and cutting through some of the bureaucratic red tape that can cause frustration and bottleneck. The time and energy this position saves for both the City staff and the artists is a compelling argument for an arts bureaucrat position.

She lays out the scope of her position which makes it sound like this position, created in 2013, was the next step in a process in which Evanston was amenable. She notes, for example that:

“Public Works uses a “Complete Streets” model, which means that when maintenance or repair work is done, other goals such as public art, accessibility and sustainability are factored into the rebuild.

At the end of her post, she provides some suggestions for municipalities that don’t have the capacity for a full time arts bureaucrat, including appointing a staff person to act as an “arts whisperer” to help facilitate communications.

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Big Boards In Big D, But Probably Not For Thee

There was a piece on the Dallas Morning News website about how the boards of various Dallas arts organizations were beginning to focus on greater diversity in their membership and accountability of their staffs.

The article opens by noting that Dallas Summer Musicals parted ways with their managing director months before his contract expired and the Dallas Museum of Art appeared to have a tense parting with their director.

“In the old Dallas,” says Veletta Forsythe Lill, a former City Council member and past executive director of the Dallas Arts District, “a board would have let a guy finish his term,” as in, why not let Jenkins stay eight more months, until his contract expired?

“But we’re living in a new Dallas,” Lill says, “and the new Dallas naturally carries with it a new breed of board member. The new boards want more control and more accountability.”

[…]

Today’s artistic boards veer younger and more corporate, and although older white men continue to dominate, their once-fierce hold — some would say stranglehold — is beginning to wane. Today’s artistic boards are increasingly more diverse, with women commanding a more powerful presence than ever before.

I was happy to see that boards are starting to take their governance responsibilities seriously and are attempting to make board and staff composition more diverse and reflective of the communities they are serving.

As I was reading through the article, I wondered if the boards would possess the will to evaluate how effective they are at executing their responsibilities.

When I see that Dallas Summer Musicals has 146 board members and 40 members on their executive committee, I can’t help but be skeptical about how effective such an unwieldy arrangement can be.

Reading the following, I suspected the membership numbers are largely courtesy appointments for the purpose of fundraising:

Board giving and participation guidelines: $1,000 down payment to be a general board member, coupled with raising at least $2,000 from outside donors. Must be a season-ticket holder. Executive committee members: Must make a $2,500 down payment, raise at least $5,000 from outside sources and be season-ticket holders.

Similarly large numbers appear on the boards of AT&T Performing Arts Center whose bylaws allow up to 70 members, but currently has 55; Dallas Museum of Art which has 73 board members; and Dallas Symphony Orchestra which has 68 members, 20 of which are on the executive committee.

In January I wrote about San Diego Opera which was revived after a stakeholder revolt fought the board’s decision to cease operations. The board membership went from 53 to 24. One of the key issues they identified as having contributed to their inability to adapt to the changing economic and social environment in San Diego was the “Get, Give or Get Off” board membership policy.

The San Diego Opera was one of those organizations where having a large number of people on the board was a function of fundraising. You pay x amount of money and you’re on the board, and no one wants to alienate any of those folk with contentious conversations that cause discomfort. But that is certainly not a good modus operandi for an organization facing the whitewater of the twenty-first-century cultural organization. And, it was not only the business model that had to change but the governance model, too.

Yes, yes, I know everything is bigger in Texas. With a funding model that includes 40 executive board members bringing in $7,500 each and the other 146 board members bringing in $3000 each, Dallas Summer Musicals may not experience issues that require them to be more nimble and responsive.

For everyone else, everywhere else, it is worth considering if a move toward a leaner, more nimble board might be the best course to meet the organizations long term challenges.

For  your listening pleasure, “Big D” from The Most Happy Fella.

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Pretension Is Just A Hoity-Toity Word For Pretendin’

A book with an intriguingly different view on pretentiousness was recently the subject in the LA Review of Books. According to reviewer Barrett Swanson, Dan Fox, author of Pretentiousness: Why It Matters, thinks pretentiousness gets a bad rap.

Early in his disquisition, Fox wonders why children who investigate the world through “pretend” and “make believe” are seldom accused of pretentiousness, whereas adults who experiment with the liberties of masquerade are inevitably charged with duplicity.

[…]

“So you thought the film you just saw was pretentious, and so was the date you took with you. You thought the food and service at the restaurant where you had a bite to eat after was also pretentious. But pretending to be … what, precisely?” Fox asks. Because there is no Platonic ideal,… “When a person decides that a restaurant is pretentious,” he concludes, “the ‘authentic’ restaurant to which it’s being compared and the values that provide The One True Restaurant with its bona fides are seldom revealed.”

There are some interesting things in there to ponder.  Though before I get into the main part of my post, I wanted to note (without having read Fox’s book), that often pretension is based on an authenticity comparison that is anything but idealized — San Diego being the only place to get authentic Mexican food, for example. (Whereas NY is indisputably the only place that makes pizza and bagels worth eating.)

My initial thoughts about why kids can pretend without being dismissed as pretentious and adults can’t get away with it as easily, is due to the fact we don’t feel empowered to call people out as quickly when we get older.

Between being bound by a sense of polite behavior and a growing understanding that there are subjects in which other people are more expert at than ourselves, we don’t feel we have the ability to force people to acknowledge they are pretending something is what it isn’t. Still, because we feel ashamed of our lack of knowledge or ability to deny the reality being asserted, we label it pretentious.

For example, we had no problem as kids recognizing that someone is pretending to be Superman or a dinosaur. We had no compunction about saying pretend bombs, swords and Kamehameha waves missed us or got deflected by our energy shields.

It is more difficult to know if someone is wrong when they make a statement about a performance or visual art work if we don’t have experience in that field. If something tastes awful to us, we don’t know if it is really poorly made or if our palate just isn’t refined. Because we acknowledge the possibility of not having enough knowledge or experience, we don’t have the confidence to yell “Na-uh!” that we did when we were children.

Even if we did and we were right, there may be sufficient number of other people who have agreed to pretend otherwise causing us to feel uncomfortable. We may laugh about wine experts who think the same wine tastes better when it is in a more expensive bottle, but we still feel anxiety about picking out a bottle to bring to a dinner party.

It may actually relieve one’s anxiety to a degree to look at a situation that appears intimidating and decide everyone who thinks a certain way is pretending. It can be liberating to walk among people whom you have decided have subscribed to a certain fiction whereas you have subscribed to a slightly different fiction. Or perhaps, you have decided it would be fun to see how far you can get pretending the same thing everyone else does.

While I think this might be a helpful intermediary step to assuage anxieties, deciding everything is equally meaningless and lacking of value does an injustice to objects and achievements that have actual value.

This isn’t an argument for determining what is objectively more valuable and important than something else. Rather, eventually one needs to acknowledge that there are some things one recognizes as more important and valuable than other things. Others may not agree and that doesn’t bother you. The you five years in the future may not agree with the you of today and you need to be okay with that possibility as well.

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