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.

Feeling Sliced and Stretched Trying To Meet Evaluative Measures? There Is Good Reason

Last week I linked to the unabridged version of Carter Gillies’ article for the Arts Professional (UK). The shorter print version has since appeared on their site.

In his response in the comments section of the Arts Professional article, Carter employs some evocative imagery to support his contention that just because you can measure something doesn’t mean the metric tells you anything of value.

If you have been having a difficult time wrapping your head around the arguments I have been laying out about how arts and creativity are valued, Carter’s illustration of the idea might help toward better understanding.

There is an ancient Greek Myth that shows the dangers of confusing our measures with something subject to measurement. In it Procrustes guarantees that the visitors to his inn would fit their beds perfectly…. But Procrustes turns the situation on its head and instead measures the fit by how well the people are measured *by* the bed. In other words, the people are stretched out if they are too small or chopped down if they are too long. Gruesome!

…Do we strap the arts into a framework that satisfies specifically non-artistic values, force a conformity that exists only in conformity obsessed minds? Do we sacrifice all that art can be merely to satisfy a diminished version that is neat and tidy, but itself merely a butchered example of what art does and what it should aim for?

If Arts Council England wants to impose a quality metric for the arts, they have a bureaucratic right to do so. Unfortunately. What they do not have is a right to speak for what things count as quality in the arts, or by extension what the arts themselves are or should be. If they want to take on the role of Procrustes let them be honest about it. But don’t let them tell you that what they are imposing is really what counts as the arts…

Now before you start mumbling indignantly as you recognize how government funders, foundations, etc are applying irrelevant measures in an attempt to define the value of art, recall that we all ultimately end up creating personal definitions and measures of what is and is not worthwhile art. It is just that most of us don’t wield the money and influence that broadly shapes policy and practice for other arts and cultural organizations

I Don’t Know What You Need To Know Because I Know So Much

This summer I have been seeing a lot of California Symphony Executive Director Aubrey Bergauer popping up in places like videos of conference talks she has been giving. It has been over a year and a half since I wrote about her Orchestra X project so I figured it was time to revisit and reacquaint people with the work she has been doing.

Recently she had a blog post following up on the conversations her organization has been having with the communities they serve. She mentions a theme I keep seeing in formal survey results and collected anecdotes — audiences aren’t clamoring for a change in programming as much as they are intimidated and confused by the decision and experience of attending a cultural event.

The bigger issue, she says, is that those of us on the inside forget what it was like being entirely unfamiliar with information or an experience. Even when we are faced with a new-ish experience, our past experiences allow us to make logical leaps that total novices can’t.

What we learned was that a “basic” level of understanding about the symphony or classical music does not exist among newcomers. Some people didn’t even know the names of the instruments in the orchestra, which to me, the person who had played an instrument all growing up and who wanted to manage a symphony since age 16, was pretty much unfathomable (remember hindsight bias?). The good news, we discovered, was that this group of smart people desperately wanted to learn about everything related to classical music though. And through the discussion we learned that the way we layout and present information on our website made it very difficult for them to do that.

[…]

Virtually every person in the room expressed the sentiment of “awe” when describing the art they saw and heard. No one said, “I need a shorter concert,” or “I need to hear more movie music.” They very much wanted to learn about all facets of the repertoire and were emphatic that the art is incomparable.

Bergauer says that now that California Symphony stopped stressing about programming mix and started focusing on retention versus new audience acquisition. Last season, their new attendee retention rate was over 30%.

Take a closer look at the post. She talks a little more about how rich experiences make us unable to anticipate what new attendees really need to know in order to enjoy themselves.

#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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