As The Toilet Flushes

Having been part of two theater renovations which had enlarging restrooms as a major focus of construction I read CityLab’s article on the history of women’s restroom lounges with some interest.

It may not seem like an engaging subject, but since expectations about amenities like restrooms have a significant influence in whether people enjoy their experience, it is something to which it is worth paying attention.

Theaters were among the first buildings to include lounges as you might imagine, but I was surprised to learn that the lounges pre-dated indoor plumbing.  There was a sense that the genders should have places to retire to separately even before other physical necessities were addressed.

“Interestingly, ornate lounges for women preceded public restrooms by several decades,” Kogan explained, noting that there were parlors for women in public buildings many years prior to when most of America had indoor plumbing. In other words, gender separation and protecting women’s virtue was initially the justification for these spaces, and the toilet came later.

When public restrooms were first introduced, they weren’t segregated by gender because they were all single use rooms. It wasn’t until construction techniques enabled greater amount of indoor plumbing that these single use rooms were attached to gender segregated lounges. Of course as technology allowed for communal restrooms, those became even more firmly associated with separate lounges.

Over time, the lounges began to be omitted from new construction, and with few exceptions, those building with lounges saw the spaces repurposed for other uses.

The thing I am curious about is how restroom sizes shrunk to the point where we are now expanding them to accommodate need. Was there a time when architects decided people didn’t need as much restroom space as they do?

Alternatively, have people become more comfortable using public restroom spaces placing more demand than was the norm when the spaces were originally constructed?

Another explanation, at least for performing arts spaces, might be that the expectation that you be back in your seat promptly at the end of intermission has directed more people to restrooms in a shorter period of time than when the building was first constructed.

I would be interested to hear what theories people have.

Bringing Porches Back Front And Center

While I was at the Arts Midwest conference in November, Joanna Taft, Executive Director of the Harrison Center for the Arts, spoke about the “porching” culture that had developed in Indianapolis and spread across Indiana.

A short time later, she wrote a piece on the subject for Shelterforce. I have written a fair bit about cities that utilize people’s front porches and yards as impromptu stages for music festivals so I am pretty down with the idea of porches and stoops as community gathering places.

Taft focuses on an active return to traditional uses of porches– just sitting outside and chatting with neighbors and passersby.

I will be honest when I first heard about this, I wondered if people were trying to turn hanging out on the porch into a thing by verbing a noun. According to Taft, the practice is outside the experience of so many people that she and her collaborators created step by step guides and videos to help people get organized.

What I did appreciate was that Taft and the Harrison Center recognized that porching on a weekly basis might end up excluding some neighbors for various reasons and made efforts to find solutions.

…it became evident as we monitored social media posts and attended neighborhood association meetings that many longtime residents were being left behind. The neighbors participating in #PorchPartyIndy were sorted by their financial ability and energy level to host a porch party. We wanted to make our porching initiative more inclusive.

…we realized the time had come to not only encourage residents to host their own parties, but for the Harrison Center to intervene and host porch parties for some of our neighbors.

[…]

Before the party, we organized a group of Harrison Center interns to visit the homes of residents we had met through neighborhood association meetings. At those meetings, we noticed that some of these neighbors expressed strong opinions and concern for their community and this convinced us that they had powerful stories to tell. We queried them about their favorite foods and colors to ensure we catered to their porching style.

For instance, we discovered that a neighbor named Miss Terri loves purple, so we arrived with a table for her front yard covered with a purple tablecloth, and served purple carrots, purple chips, and grapes. Miss Jimmie turned 101 and was tired of the same old cake, so we put candles in her favorite dessert, a pecan pie.

Unexamined Initiatives Are Not Worth Implementing

It is no news flash to even casual readers of the blog that I am involved with Arts Midwest’s Creating Connection program to build public will for arts and culture. Last week, they ran a webinar just to present the basic research and program. In recent months they have been featuring two case studies where people talk about how their organizations are putting the research and messaging into practice. This session was aimed at giving people more complete information about the program.

As much as I have been a fan boy cheer leading the program, what I really appreciated about the webinar last week was the number and type of questions people were asking of the presenters.

It was an indication of just how serious people were thinking about implementing the research that webinar attendees were questioning the research methodology. I think people in arts and culture field are wise to scrutinize whether a new approach to doing business is a popular fad soon to fade or has some rigorous thought behind it. They have little enough time and resources as it is and don’t want to waste it on initiatives lacking substance.

What I really appreciated was when one person, identified as Zi Li, asked about case studies on failed programs because they were interested to learn why those program failed.  My friend Carter Gillies often mentions the problem of survivorship bias  where you only study the successful cases rather than gaining insight from those that failed.

The music on the Awesome 80s radio station is always going to be better than the music today because you are comparing the cream that rose to the top and endured the last 30 years to all the music being performed today, both good and bad.

If you are new to the concept of Creating Connection or just want a refresher, take a look at the video from the webinar which includes all the questions and comments made that day.

Are You Persistent or Consistent In Your Pursuit of Excellence?

Seth Godin made a post earlier this week comparing Persistence with Consistent wherein he starts with the statement “Persistence is sort of annoying.”

He goes on to talk about the way in which consistent is the desirable opposite side of the coin,

Consistent with your statements, consistent in the content you create, consistent in the way you chip away at the problem you’re seeking to solve.

Persistence can be selfish, but consistency is generous.

And the best thing is that you only have to make the choice to be consistent once. After that, it’s simply a matter of keeping your promise.

In this context,  persistence seems to be about performance of a specific action whereas consistent is policy. In this sense persistence is approaching a challenge in the same way until it is worn down to the point you can pass. Whereas consistent is more about dedication to finding a way past that obstruction.

While both approaches never falter in achieving a singular goal, the latter entertains options regarding the methods by which this can be accomplished. In fact, consistent may be better equipped to recognize that surmounting the barrier isn’t the goal but rather getting to the place beyond the barrier and therefore there may be no reason to engage with this particular barrier at all.

What actually drew my attention to Godin’s post was that last line about keeping a promise. Working in the non-profit arts sector is often such a struggle that we feel like we can only survive with dogged persistence. Perhaps what is really needed is a focus on consistency.

If our promise to the community we serve is to provide a certain experience, a persistent approach may keep you locked into executing an approach and methods which have decreasing relevance. A determination to offer a consistently valuable experience can lead you to place more importance on needs of those you intend to serve rather place importance on the methods by which you accomplish it.

Think about it this way. If you want to keep a promise to provide excellent customer service do you do the same thing today as you did five years ago? Do you use the same approach for small groups as large? Kids as for elderly? Film audiences as for Broadway musical audiences? 2500 seat theater as for 150 seat theater?

Sure you will still make bad choices, but a consistent approach to great customer service is likely better able to take the differences of time, place, environment and expectations into account than a persistent approach.

If you are like me, Emerson’s line, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” might have come to mind when you first saw the term. In that context consistency has a negative connotation. After reading and pondering Godin’s post I wondered if it might have been better said as “a foolish persistence.” Though I learn toward consistency is a better word choice.

It should also be noted, Emerson never mentions what the characteristics of wise or non-foolish consistency are. Consistency is not necessarily negative in and of itself. Persistence isn’t either, but it does have implications of a single-mindedness that can quickly become problematic.

You may have noticed I didn’t make definitive claims about persistent being one thing and consistent being another. Ultimately, of course it isn’t about what word you use as much as what practice you embody.

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