Sending Love To Those Calling Attention To Important Theater Issues

Gotta give a shout out to Non-Profit Quarterly for putting up two theatre related articles yesterday. I wanted to call attention to it to show appreciation for to them for covering arts concerns.

(n/b – slight mistake -during editing I noticed Ross Jackson’s article was published on Jan 29, 2016, though it appeared in my social media feed today.)

The first piece by Ross Jackson on Blackness in Nonprofit Theater reinforces a lot of the conversations that have been occurring lately about the recognition and opportunities afforded people of color.

It’s publication is timely just as we move into February when many arts organizations offer their Black History Month programming. Jackson rightly criticizes this approach, (or having any sort of “ethnic slot”), as tokenism. I think many more arts organizations recognize this than had 10-15 years ago and have taken steps to remedy this.

Jackson goes on to point out some less obvious, but equally problematic choices that are made in casting and programming decisions.

More troubling is that the lone black cast member is usually male. Black women are often cast only when the script calls for them or to fill promiscuous and degenerate roles…for example, auditioning a black actor who has the talent to play Rosalind, the witty, courageous leading lady of the court from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, whom the audience is made to feel deserves love, and casting her instead as Phebe, the entitled, arrogant, shepherdess who is criticized for having too many lovers. Rosalind stays white.


Furthermore, when casting black actors in nonspecific roles, it is not at all necessary to reimagine or reconceptualize the production by placing it in the inner city or adding what a middle-aged white male thinks of as a “Hip-Hop influence,” in order to “excuse” the decision to have black bodies present onstage. We don’t all walk around with a bassline underscoring our every action; there is no reality to that, so do not try to insert it for us.

He goes to provide other examples which place black actors in the status of otherness. He proposes ways in which organizations can examine their choices and processes.

The other mention of theater on Non-Profit Quarterly was about how theaters are becoming more effective at cultivating individual donors to support their work as corporate support wanes. The piece draws from an article in American Theater.

The American Theater article is worth reading because it goes into greater detail than the NPQ piece. However, Eileen Cunniffe does a good job summarizing on NPQ. The reason why many theaters have become more effective is because they are using predictive analytic tools and engaging in one-on-one relationship building to a much greater degree than in the past. That isn’t necessarily good news for every theater company who lack the resources to keep up.

…the newer approaches to donor cultivation that have been successful for nonprofit theater companies are also more labor-intensive—sometimes requiring additional development staff, other times requiring more flexibility from development staffers in terms of when they work, adding more evening and weekend hours to woo donors—again, including board members—before and during theater performances. He also notes that fundraisers must pay more attention than ever to generational differences among individual donors.

Finally, these approaches are likely to bear more fruit for larger theater companies that can afford to invest more in fundraising; they may be unnecessary for the smaller companies, which already know most of their individual donors quite well; and the better they work for the larger companies, the more they may disadvantage midsized companies, which may not be able to invest in additional staff or bells and whistles like predictive modeling.

NPO Execs Much More Concerned By Lack of Board Diversity Than Board Chairs

I recently published a short piece on ArtsHacker about how important the leadership of non-profit board chairs was to the success of the organization. Much of the information was draw from a webinar Non-Profit Quarterly hosted about Board Source’s most recent Leading With Intent report.

I just got around to reading the report in the last week. Since the finds are summarized pretty prominently on the Leading With Intent home page, I will leave readers take a look themselves and hopefully choose to focus in on areas of interest, if not read the whole thing.

Of course, general observations don’t give you the full story. While I wasn’t surprised to read that board membership isn’t becoming more diverse and their current composition is inhibiting efforts at diversity, I was interested to read that executive directors felt much more strongly than board chairs that the lack of diversity was a problem.

Sixty-five percent of executive directors versus 41% of board chairs were somewhat or extremely dissatisfied with the level racial and ethnic diversity.

It is possible chief executives express higher levels of dissatisfaction with the board’s racial and ethnic diversity because they are more exposed to the way it is affecting their organization. Seventy-nine (79) percent of chief executives say that expanding racial and ethnic diversity is important, or greatly important, to increasing their organization’s ability to advance its mission.

Additionally, chief executive responses highlight an understanding of the many ways that diversity (or lack of diversity) can impact an organization’s

reputation: 80 percent of executives report that diversity and inclusion is important, or very important, to “enhancing the organization’s standing with the general public.”

reach: 72 percent of executives report that diversity and inclusion is important, or greatly important, to “increase fundraising or expand donor networks.”

If an organization is facing issues and challenges due to a lack of board diversity, chief executives are wise to help the board understand these issues rather than continuing to make the case for diversity without the board fully understanding what is at stake.

My guess is that pretty much everyone in the arts and culture sector understands that the recent push for greater diversity in commercial entertainment and associated award shows isn’t just applicable to commercial or entertainment enterprises.

If you are under the impression that this is all just a fad and will stop at the edge of the televised red carpet, ooooh boy, you better pay closer attention. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if inclusion displaced overhead ratio as a primary measure of effectiveness and worthiness among funders, patrons and donors.

While lack of diversity in terms of race/ethnicity was the biggest source of dissatisfaction, lack of diversity in terms of socioeconomic status, age, gender, sexual orientation and persons with disabilities was roughly equal for executive officers (~30%) and presumably growing.

The neutrality gap between satisfaction and dissatisfaction in each of these areas varies widely and might be a source of interest to readers. (page 10 of the PDF, page 11 in printed version)

Thanks For The All Creativity

I am going use the assumption that everyone is focused on traveling for Thanksgiving and not on reading blog posts as a license to be admittedly a little lazy here and not dwell heavily on arts and cultural administration related topics today.

Over on ArtsHacker, we posted about what we were thankful for as arts administrators.  If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you won’t be surprised to read I appreciate the efforts people and organizations are making in advocating for the cultivation of an individual’s capacity for creativity.

More importantly, they are getting out there and providing people with hands on opportunities to help them recognize that capacity.

Hope everyone has a great time with family and friends this holiday season and travel safely.

It was with some sympathy that I read today that traffic will be awful in cities that are usually great to commute in whereas places with awful traffic jams will hardly notice it has gotten worse. Be safe out there.

In a list of the 25 U.S. metros that draw the most Thanksgiving travelers, Cleveland, Ohio, turns out to have the highest spike in pre-holiday traffic—probably because on a normal day it’s generally one of the world’s less stressful cities in which to drive.

Turkey-destined slogs through towns more generally besieged by traffic—Seattle, Dallas, and San Francisco, for example—will be still be arduous, yes, but not as shockingly so. Small comfort, I know.

Placemaking As Imagined By The People Who Live There

The Shelterforce website had an interesting article about some data collection techniques being used for Creative Placemaking efforts. Author Keli Tianga’s description of a crowdmapping process was the approach that most intrigued me.

In crowdmapping, participants get out on foot and survey a neighborhood for its existing creative and cultural assets. “Every small group gets a small section of [a neighborhood’s] overall map to work from—this is so they can focus their efforts and share ideas with one another,” said Leo Vazquez, executive director of the National Consortium for Creative Placemaking.

Teams are given color-coded stickers, and mark places on the map they’ve identified for their potential. Large, blank walls on the sides of buildings can become canvasses for murals; empty, fenced-in land owned by private business can become a site for temporary large-scale sculpture installations; community gardens can also become venues for outdoor music performances, and small parks can become designated spots for contemplation or solo art-making.

In the process, I made special note of being outside and observing how a community moves and interacts with one another and with space—where people are gathered, which streets have the most pedestrians, which playground is the most popular are all things to remember when at the point of trying to reach people “where they are.”

Crowdmapping’s virtue is its practicality and democracy—it requires no prior training, and everyone’s viewpoint is useful…

What appealed to me most was that is such great participatory activity that can go a long way toward solving the problem of involving people who are most impacted by decisions but may not show up to formal meetings. People who don’t feel like they are represented or have their voices heard can gain a measure of confidence that their contributions matter when they are made responsible for imagining/suggesting what a neighborhood might become.

The article discusses how places like Baltimore are using these type of maps, overlaid with other data about social and economic indicators to make decisions about how to deploy resources.

Keli Tianga also writes about some really intensive one on one discussions that were conducted in Cincinnati as part of a process called “design thinking.”

Following a link to a story about the design thinking process on the ArtsPlace America site provided some usefl insight about why people are reluctant to participate in community meetings soliciting feedback about development plans.

…we discovered barriers that hadn’t been considered before. Many of the events weren’t physically accessible to Walnut Hills’ older residents. Other residents said they didn’t feel safe leaving their homes, or were afraid that by vocalizing their concerns they’d be labeled as “snitches.” Finally, some admitted that they thought attending these meetings would only encourage and accelerate the gentrification of their neighborhood.


High Fives was ultimately seen as a huge success for both the RF and Design Impact. Residents who hadn’t previously participated in listening sessions or community council meetings stepped up to plan what High Fives looked like, when it would happen and how to get other residents involved. Those who felt less comfortable leading tasks still contributed by spreading the word or distributing signs, a reminder that “resident leadership” can look different depending on the person.

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