More Thoughts About Culture Vouchers

In the last few months, I wrote about how the EU was offering free Euro-rail passes to 18 year olds this summer to encourage them to broaden their horizons. Two years ago I wrote about the Italian government giving €500 culture vouchers to 18 year olds.

Just this week I read a CityLab piece about another voucher program that people who are at least 18 years old can participate in –voting and political campaigns.

Based on the success Seattle has seen with their Democracy Dollars program other cities like Albuquerque, NM and Austin, TX are looking into handing out campaign finance vouchers as a way to get a broader segment of the community involved with the political system.

…eligible residents vouchers totaling $100 to donate to the local candidate of their choice. Candidates who opted in to the program had to agree to strict guidelines on how to spend the money they received. The idea behind the pilot was that giving the equivalent of money to constituents who don’t usually have the resources to support their candidates—pensioners and the homeless, for example—would spur greater political participation.

These stories got me thinking that having a similar voucher program that people could use to donate to their favorite arts organization might inspire a broader range of the community to become involved with arts organizations. It may even help bring funding to organizations that have been marginalized or don’t have the resources to apply for formal grants.

According to the CityLab article, studies conducted on Seattle’s program did see participation by a more economically diverse segment of the community. However,”…voucher use was greater for older, white, and middle- and high-income voters.”

Surveys have shown similar results during free admission days for museums. Rather than attracting people who don’t normally visit the museum, most free admission days are patronized by those who are already visiting the museum.

The fact that voucher use was greatest by older, white, middle/high-income voters doesn’t mean that there isn’t potential to involve a broader range of people. It just may take more time and effort to help people feel empowered to participate.

“Yet low-income voters who did participate said they appreciated the opportunity: “It feels like I’m more a part of the system,” one voucher user told the Seattle Times in 2017. “People like me can contribute in ways that we never have before.”

While I express optimism that vouchers would help spread funding around to arts and cultural groups that don’t normally receive it, I imagine some government entities might require groups to officially register as approved recipients. This type of requirement potentially poses the same barrier to organizations as needing a grant writer.

It obviously doesn’t need to be that way. The Italian government’s voucher scheme was intended to be used for a wide range of things like buying books, taking classes and admission to events.

Though admittedly since they distributed the funds via an app, being able to accept the voucher funds may have required registration and paperwork. On the other hand, just as cell phones and tablets have lowered the barrier to being able to accept credit cards through a simple swipe, the same app that displays a voucher’s QR code could also be employed to scan codes and accept payment. All of which is probably less work than writing a grant.

Create, Re-Create, Recreate

I was reading a piece in CityLab about Repair Cafes which strike me as a good complement to MakerSpaces and creative activities that arts and cultural entities may host.   The concept was started in Amsterdam by Martine Postma who was disturbed by how much repairable equipment was sitting at the curb on trash day.  She sells start up kits that allow you to use the Repair Cafe logo and puts you in touch with the other Repair Cafe’s around the world.

But beyond reducing what is sent to the landfill, personal empowerment plays a large role in the Repair Cafe concept:

What she’s discovered was that it wasn’t that people liked throwing away old stuff. “Often when they don’t know how to repair something, they replace it, but they keep the old one in the cupboard—out of guilt,” she said. “Then at a certain moment, the cupboard is full and you decide this has been lying around [long enough].”


For the time being, communities are doing what they can to encourage people to fix things. Libraries like the one in Howard County, for example, have started renting out tools and creating “makerspaces” where members learn to both repair and create. Elsewhere, cities have hosted MakerLabs, FabLabs—short for fabrication lab—and Innovation Labs for both adults and children. Bike shops and nonprofits alike have fished scrapped vehicles from the landfill to repair and donate to the underserved community.

The social and personalized elements of the Repair Cafes, makerspaces, etc may be part of the value and appeal. After all, you can watch a YouTube how-to video to fix something that breaks. If you don’t have confidence in your ability to effect the repairs, having someone available to teach you the skills to do so in the process of fixing your stuff might motivate you to act. This despite the fact it is more trouble to haul your broken equipment somewhere versus tossing it in the trash.

It is also easier to toss stuff away rather than hauling it to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, but people donate goods to non-profits all the time because they know it is better not to let things go to waste.

Just as recognizing your capacity to be creative is empowering,  learning to fix items can instill a degree of pride and self-satisfaction which is why I feel it is such a close companion effort to creative activities.

#19NTC Topics-Oh Yeah Do I Got Ideas For You

Last week Drew McManus did a call out to the non-profit arts community to submit proposals for the Nonprofit Technology Conference in March 2019. (Proposal deadline is August 17)

Last year, I was excited by the topic Drew was presenting – “Everything Tech Providers Wished You Knew About Writing A RFP (plus the stuff they want to keep secret)

So in the spirit of getting more stuff I am interested in learning about proposed, I am gonna give you a list of some of the things I think would make good topics in the hope some of you will submit something.

  • Data Privacy and Security From Perspective of Communities of Color – I have already reached out to one of the people who made a presentation for the Hispanic National Bar Assn in NYC, but anyone with an interest should submit on this topic. Given that non-profits serving communities of color often need to establish a relationship of trust, this seems like an important subject to address.
  • Analyzing The True Cost of Programs – favorite topic of mine. Related idea:
  • Using Evidence/Data to Rebutt the Concept of Overhead Ratio As A Measure Of Effectiveness
  • Shared /Online Procurement Goods/Services
  • Effective RFP Generation – both internal & external processes
  • Using Geofencing To Better Understand Target Communities – can geofencing help you better understand a community based on where they travel around the community?
  • Ethics of Using Geofencing For Marketing  – i.e. I can geofence a local theater and target people based on the idea that they enjoy attending performances or with the intent of stealing the audience.
  • In-Person/Conference Based Professional Development vs. Online/Technology Delivery. Are there some subject areas better suited to one format over the other?
  • Shared services/technology arrangements – in terms of both back office and program delivery
  • Delete the Facebook Account? – Communication strategies when faced with a concerted social media assault
  • Conforming with Google’s new criteria for Adwords Grants – i.e.
  • Energy Saving Performance Contracts
  • Use of technology to provide regular cues to keep strategic plan alive and relevant – i.e. using software/apps to periodically to nag/remind you of milestones in time line, provide encouragement, remind you of ideas you had during the planning session
  • Effective Hiring – from job description to orientation/training  this topic is large enough to be multiple sessions can hit on everything from online job boards/job app apps to new state laws requiring salary range and forbidding asking about salary history

There are plenty more ideas where these came from, but I feel like this is a good broad range of subjects. I have already reached out to a few people encouraging to propose based on topics they are well-qualified to address.

If any of this inspires you in any sort of direction, submit a proposal.  If you got questions, let me know. Like Drew, I am on the conference session committee. Honestly, the conference organizers are really good about providing opportunities for people to ask questions at scheduled office hours and open Q&A sessions, and an online proposal prep group in which you can solicit feedback on proposals you are developing. All these resources are listed on the proposal pages.

They Can Give The Arts ESP? Sign Me Up!

You may not have caught it last week when the Knight Prototype Fund announced awards for the development of technology to support the arts.

Of the twelve projects, four are focused on helping people interact and receive information about visual arts.  Along those same lines, one seeks to utilize augmented reality glasses to deliver performance content to deaf, hard of hearing and non-English speaking audiences.

The Holy Grail of technology tools for the arts seems to be live delivery of program notes during a performance. I am not sure if the tools aren’t effective, the technology difficult to use or if there is a resistance to a common standard, but these type of projects seem to always be in the works. Back in 2004 we saw Concert Companion.  Artsjournal has been promoting a live streaming of program notes by the Philadelphia Orchestra.  There was also San Jose Ballet’s live casting of commentary during a performance of Sleeping Beauty last May. (Interested to know how that turned out.) Now Knight Prototype Fund is supporting MIT’s ConcertCue which plans to do much the same thing.

From an arts administration standpoint, my interest was piqued by the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts’ proposed ArtsESP which plans “Developing forecasting software that enables cultural institutions to make data-centered decisions in planning their seasons and events.”

Our ticketing system has “tomorrow” as a default choice for many reports and I have often joked how I wish it could tell me how many tickets we will sell tomorrow. Maybe we will be a step closer now…

Nina Simon is involved with the Museum of Art and History at the McPherson Center’s project to develop “…a tool in the form of a smartphone/tablet app for cultural institutions to capture visitor demographic data, increasing knowledge on who is and who is not participating in programs.”

There are also some interesting projects designed to assist communities in providing feedback.

One, appropriately called Feedback Loop has the goal of, “Enabling audiences to share immediate feedback and reflections on art by designing hardware and software to test recording and sharing of audience thoughts.”

Wiki Art Depiction Explorer wants to use “crowdsourcing methods to improve Wikipedia descriptions of artworks in major collections so people can better access and understand art virtually.”

Civic Portal looks to encourage “public input on new forms of historical monuments through a digital tool that allows users to identify locations, topics and create designs for potential public art and monuments in our cities.”

This last one reminded me of the crowdmapping projects I wrote about some communities undertaking. (Actually, that is exactly what it is.)

Any of these sound intriguing, take a look at the Knight Prototype Fund page and keep your eyes open for reports of the projects’ progress. I have already tried to see if I could learn more about ArtsESP, but couldn’t discover anything online at the moment.

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