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Rent Out Space, Mingle Your Ideas

Had an intersection of ideas moment this morning. Yesterday, I was listening to the TED Radio Hour about where ideas come from. They excerpted Steven Johnson’s talk on the subject where he starts out talking about how coffee houses in the 1600s become a hot bed for innovation because they provided an environment where people of disparate backgrounds could come together and share ideas.

This morning I see a short piece on FastCompany about an Airbnb type service that will let you rent out your empty office space to people looking for short term work spaces.

It occurred to me that this might be a boon to arts organizations by helping them supplement their income by renting out unused space. But also it could act in the same way as the coffee houses by getting different people working together in close proximity whether it is non-profit arts people in a for profit business space or vice versa.

This is generally the intent behind the development of incubators and innovation hubs, (Steve Jobs’ vision for Pixar Studios) but this shared space service has the flexibility and immediacy of being able to go down to the coffee shop without baristas wondering if you are going to nurse the same cup of coffee all day.

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Info You Can Use: Negative Feedback As GPS Data

In my last entry, I cited the pitfalls of providing too great a forum for feedback and expectations about how that input will be addressed. I think we all recognize though that as arts organizations, we need to solicit feedback in order to better serve our communities.

How you receive the feedback is just as important as how you ask for it. It is easy to dismiss feedback we don’t like or be paralyzed/depressed by taking it too much to heart. FastCompany recently had an article addressing how to take negative feedback on an individual level, but the advice can scale up to the organizational level.

The article talks about using negative feedback to make yourself more successful. I was interested to learn that openness to feedback is actually a significant factor in an employee’s success.

“A recent study found that 46% of newly hired employees will fail within 18 months. Of those that fail, 26% do so because they can’t accept feedback,…


“People who are at the bottom 10% in terms of their willingness to ask for feedback–their leadership effectiveness scores were at the 17th percentile,” says Joseph Folkman, president of Zenger Folkman… “But the people who were at the top 10%, who were absolutely willing to ask for feedback, their leadership effectiveness scores were at the 83rd percentile.”

One of the problems a lot of people face with negative feedback is that they see it as an indictment of them as a person rather than, say an indication of their poor typing skills. I don’t know for sure if it is any worse in the arts sector than any other sector, but I imagine given that those involved in the arts tend to derive so much emotional satisfaction from their work, negative criticism may be more apt to be taken personally.

Article author Denis Wilson suggests just treating the feedback as a single piece of data among many to guide your personal development rather than orienting specifically on it. He cites an apt analogy made by Joseph Folkman that a GPS device needs 3-4 sources of information to accurately track your progress. For the same reason, Folkman also cautions against relying entirely on your own perceptions.

The article goes on to suggest a number of ways to handle the feedback, again by mostly focusing on the facts of the situation rather than emotions involved. A patron may complain angrily and indicate that they have lost faith in you due to problems with their experience. Your focus should be on solutions to those problems rather than fixating on and reacting to the anger.

Of course, it it often no small feat to remain centered on the facts of a situation when on the receiving end of emotionally delivered criticism. Remember that being able to do so contributes to your personal growth.

There is nothing to say the person delivering the criticism will be satisfied with your composed reaction and apology. Just reading the comments to the article, it is clear some people have an expectation that those on the receiving end of the criticism will be contrite and cowed.

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When Good Ideas Occur To Lazy Readers

Occasionally I get a sense that I have a bunch of interesting ideas percolating in my subconscious because I will occasionally misread the title of an article and have a whole slew of assumptions about the article which don’t bear out. It makes me think my subconscious has these ideas but is just waiting for someone else to do all the hard work of proving they are viable.

This occurred with an piece in Fast Company about how Minnesota based Artspace (not to be confused with ArtPlace) prevents artists from being displaced from communities due to the gentrification they helped encourage.

Artspace has done this by building all types of artist housing/work spaces in the Twin Cities (as well as 21 other cities in the US). Because Artspace controls the housing, the artists aren’t as apt to be priced out of the neighborhood as they have been in so many other place.

But the article title which included the words “artists revived an old warehouse district–and got to stick around to reap the benefits of what they helped create” and “Give Artists Their Own Real Estate Developers,” made me think someone came up with a plan where the artists received some increasing financial benefit as the neighborhood improved.

I imagined there might be some sort of version of the 1% for art for the neighborhood where artists received a share of every real estate transaction that occurred–every time a construction project began; every time a property was sold or leased to a new business; every time an apartment was rented and re-rented–artists actually benefited financially from the improving fortunes of the neighborhood.

Since all this came flooding into my mind when I caught sight of the titles, I am not quite sure how it would work. But I wonder if a city would be willing to license an organization like Artspace or create a sort of investment fund which would receive a cut of all transactions for 25-30 years. I am not sure at what stage this might happen. Gentrification of a neighborhood often starts when artists move into spaces they aren’t really supposed to be inhabiting so they wouldn’t want to call attention to themselves too soon.

All charter artist members of the organization/fund would get a payout every so often which would help diminish the impact of the gentrification and benefit those responsible for inspiring the improving conditions. If the money was going to a non-profit like Artspace, perhaps they would use a portion of the funds to develop low cost artist accommodations and seed similar artist beneficial gentrification efforts in other cities.

Imagine artists having a piece of every Starbucks lease, every high rise luxury apartment construction project, every boutique shop renovation, every bar and restaurant opening, every skyrocketing apartment rental or sale.

And if having to pay that percentage inhibits this sort of development–well that is all the longer that artists can actually afford to live there. It would actually be good if companies started moaning publicly about paying a percentage because it would start to illustrate the real economic impact of the arts.

Just think if rather than just real estate, every transaction, from cups of coffee and shoes sold to parking fees and haircuts, within a district was charged even a quarter of a percent in support of the artists there. At the end of every year you would have some real hard data about the economic growth the presence of artists initiated in that neighborhood.

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Do The Arts And Millennials Share The Same Core Values?

Last month there was an article on Fast Company, Why Millennials Don’t Want To Buy Stuff, that claims the focus is moving away from acquisition of things toward access to ideas and relationships.

Though the article also admits it might be because they can’t afford stuff either.

They also point out many “goods” we consume are actually rented or licensed from services like Netflix, iTunes or Amazon’s Kindle. Exchanging money for a transient product is the norm for Millennials in a way it isn’t for previous generations.

According to the article, when Millennials do buy things it is motivated by one of three things. Either the item provides access to other experiences in the manner of most Apple products; the item can be used to develop a relationship or sense of community; or the item makes a statement about themselves to others.

Of course, there tends to be a lot of overlap between these motivators since sharing experiences enabled by a product can make a statement about yourself which can be shared with like-minded people.

If the article is correct, arts and cultural experiences are pretty well suited to Millenials. The experience is transient and can’t be possessed as a concrete object. It can provide a sense of community and opportunity for relationship building and can make a statement about the person to others.

Of course, as has oft been discussed, what Millennial wants the statement they are making to be that they like hanging out at a performance hall cultivating a relationship with old people.

The fact that this article just provides a slightly different perspective that brings us back to the conclusion that if you want to attract Millennials, you have to provide an experience they find attractive should be comforting. It means that the answer is so simple and evident that we keep reaching the same conclusion.

Or I suppose that we are so fixated on the idea of attracting Millenials, we lack the imagination to interpret it in any other manner.

There is something to be said for the research that shows people tend to orient toward arts and cultural experiences at a certain age range when they have reached a level of personal and economic maturity. In that respect, there is perhaps too much expectation placed on the Y generation to start attending now.

At the same time, I think that: 1- It never hurts in the cause of creating general awareness to let Millennials know now that the opportunities are available when they are of a mind to attend.

2-The product and approach you used to attract their grandparents and parents isn’t going to work on them so you might as well make your mistakes now while they aren’t really paying attention than trying to refine your approach later when they are.

I am encouraged by the thought that the Fast Company article might reflect the values being embraced by Millennials because I think it plays to the real core strengths of arts and culture. The message that the arts are what you get involved with to exhibit you are mature, cultured and refined is an ill-fitting suit in comparison. We have just been wearing it so long we have mistaken it for our identity rather than garb donned when an opportunity presented itself.

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