Americans For The Arts Unleashes A Pinwheel of Arts Power!!

Americans for the Arts just rolled out their Social Impact of the Arts pinwheel this week. Instructions and ideas about how to use it may be found in a blog post and/or video made by Clay Lord, Vice President of Local Arts Advancement.

As you know, I apply a pretty critical eye to anything that might make prescriptive claims regarding the ability of the arts to solve all sorts of problems.  As always, I am concerned about people using data like property values increasing 20% due to the presence of a cultural organization and a correlation between taking arts classes for four years scoring 100 points higher on SATs as a primary measure of value of the arts.

I will say that it is clear A LOT of effort went into assembling the data and putting these materials together. It can provide a valuable resource when advocating for the arts and finding practices to emulate.  Between the amount of data points and ease of use, my pinwheel of arts power moniker is pretty deserved.

The topics covered are much wider than the economic and educational benefits we often see cited in relation to the arts. There are sections on diplomacy, innovation, faith, infrastructure, health and wellness, social justice and yes, culture, economics and education. Each of the 26 “slices” of the pinwheel brings up a “Learn More” button in the center that allows you to download a printable PDF specific to the topic with footnoted sources that you can bring to meetings with policy makers to show them what is backed by research.

Arrows on either side of the center hub will take you to examples of practice, reading lists and organizations associated with the topic. According to the video presentation Lord made, they were still populating that content.  Since that video was made at the conference back in June, they have likely added a lot more content since then.  I haven’t checked every slice of the pinwheel, but haven’t been able to find an area that lacks any of those three categories.

The downloadable PDFs have reading lists, examples of practice and organizations included, but the respective categories accessed via the pinwheel hub provide more direct access to the information in each section.

My hope is that the easy availability of data and examples of impacts in a wide range of applications will enable people to advocate for the arts cross a broader spectrum of rationale. Likewise, I hope people find it easy to draw inspiration from the successes organizations have had making artistic and cultural practice part of their effort to create connections and impacts in various endeavors.

Show Of Hands- Conference Professional Development Sessions Mostly BS Or Sources of Valuable Info?

While I wasn’t scheduled to sit on any panels at the ArtsMidwest conference last week, I did end up leading (or at least shepherding) one.

Actually, I made a tongue-in-cheek claim I was hijacking the session because it was originally cancelled but I decided it should go on if there was enough interest.  What had been scheduled was a book club type discussion of Nina Simon’s The Art of Relevance. The person who had been scheduled to lead the session couldn’t make it so I decided if enough people walked up and expressed disappointment at seeing the cancellation notice, I would pull the sign down and make sure it happened.

Sure enough, two other people quickly came up and said “awww” so I pulled down the sign and took over the room. We ended up having about 15 people attend, half of whom had read the book and the other half who intended to read it and wanted to know more.

Given that mix of experience and perspectives, it was pretty easy to provide a valuable and informative session. (Though if I had had more notice, I might have tried to get a computer so we could show one of Nina’s TEDx talks)

Earlier in the week, there was another session that had been cancelled because the presenter couldn’t make it. This one was geared toward helping people take a look at the physical surroundings of an arts venue from a different perspective to identify what features might be sending unwelcoming messages to some groups.

From the session description:

“Oftentimes the greatest asset of any arts program is its physical space, and yet it’s frequently overlooked when it comes to access, inclusion and diversity…if we aren’t paying attention we can inadvertently send the wrong messages. Like tourists with fresh eyes participants will go on a walking tour of the Indiana Convention Center and explore how to identify and mitigate the psychological, emotional and physical reactions that occur in response to a physical space.”

I had seen this at previous conferences and had conflicts so I intended to participate this year and I was a little disappointed that it got cancelled.

I overheard a number of other people express similar disappointment at it being cancelled and then rhetorically ask if the conference couldn’t have just found someone else to run the session instead.  My feeling is that being sensitive to and aware of these problematic features is a pretty specific skill set.  It isn’t as easy to find a suitable substitute as it was for me and others to step in and lead the book club discussion.

I mentioned this to a couple of those making these comments and they seemed pretty reluctant to concede this was the case. This reaction made me wonder if conference attendees perceived the content of these sessions to be marginally valuable BS that presenters spouted and therefore was easily substituted on short notice by other people who happened to be around.

And yes, granted a lot of times conference content can be full of empty platitudes about how everyone must love the arts but sessions like these are more about specialized practical skills and less about advocating for the value of the arts.

I suppose a more charitable read could be the perception that everyone in attendance but oneself is a highly qualified expert practitioner and therefore could step in to provide illuminating perspective on the problem.

But if it is the assumption that half of what you are hearing is B.S., then arts conferences have a challenge about communicating their value for professional development.

Thoughts?

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. https://nonprofitquarterly.org/2018/05/07/nonprofits-can-keep-adwords-grants-following-major-changes-restore-lost-accounts/
  • 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.

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