WolfBrown: On Our Minds

Over the past several months, I have been deconstructing what we, as a field, mean when we talk about “arts participation” in light of what we are discovering about how people actually engage with arts and creative activities in their daily lives.  This thinking is inspired partly by our recent work on a forthcoming research monograph for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) about arts participation and creation utilizing data from the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts(SPPA).  The focus of the work has been to analyze the multiple modes in which a person can participate in the arts using SPPA measurements – attendance, personal arts creation, and media-based participation.  How do people participate across and between these modes?  What is the relationship between creation and participation?  Most importantly, what new measures of arts participation could be effective in advancing policy nationally?  Thinking about these types of questions brought me to a recently released report by the Australia Council for the Arts called More Than Bums on Seats: Australian Participation in the Arts.  While the SPPA concentrates on measuring arts participation through behavior (e.g.,”Have you attended a ballet performance in the past 12 months?”), More Than Bums on Seats expands its focus to include attitudes towards arts and creative activities (e.g., “The arts should be as much about creating/doing these things yourself as being part of an audience”), and perceived benefits of the arts (e.g., “The arts help me feel part of my local community”). The final result of the study is a community segmentation model based on a combination of attitudes and behaviors towards arts participation.  I wonder what kinds of implications for practice and policy would such information yield if a national study of arts participation here in the U.S. were to include such measurements?  I’m looking forward to that discussion.

We will be sharing more about the NEA monograph in the upcoming months. Expected publication is September 2010.


Anyone trying to sort out the new world of fundraising in the digital age should consider the research and findings of The Next Generation of American Giving:  A study on the multichannel preferences and charitable habits of Generation Y, Generation X, Baby Boomers and Matures. It sorts out by age segment how people learn about charities, get involved, and decide to give. The big lessons: “Fundraising is profoundly multichannel,” and “The younger the donor, the greater the number of ways they give.” To be effective, organizations have to reach out to all generations in multiple ways and provide a variety of paths to involvement and donation, including traditional direct mail, but also encompassing newer social media channels. It also means that organizations have to structure internal fundraising, communications, and technology operations in ways that integrate those functions toward shared goals, and that fundraising database applications have to be able to track all of the different ways organizations are connecting with donors. It gets harder and harder to tell which solicitation a donor is responding to in a multichannel model. Where did they hear about us? What message connected with them? These questions can leave us scratching our heads. But the study also points out the eternal fundraising truth that, “There is not a single tactic or giving channel that is nearly as important as the quality of your message and your ability to inspire, arouse, and engage the hearts and minds of your donors.”  We live in interesting times.


Several of my WolfBrown colleagues have been working tirelessly to promote the understanding that art education, as well as greater focus on math and science, is critical to the creativity and innovation that drive our economic growth and vitality – in other words, the “creative capital” about which so much is written. I was thus astonished to learn, in attending the annual conference of the National Association of Art Educators (NAEA) a couple of weeks ago, how resistant visual art educators remain to mentoring creative process in the classroom.  Instead, most apparently prefer to teach the fundamentals of art (meaning line, form, and the color wheel), despite efforts to elevate the purpose and standards of arts education as championed in The Qualities of Quality: Excellence in Art Education study, underwritten by the Wallace Fund and the Arts Education Partnership.

And yet, there is hope: both “creativity” and reform are hot topics among the field’s leaders.  I attended a session, for example, in which Kerry Freedman, a professor at Northern Illinois University, and three graduate students described their efforts to craft curricula at the district level. Thanks to their efforts, youngsters will now explore the references at work in “visual culture” and how they influence us in both conscious and unconscious ways.  Julia Marshall, a professor at San Francisco State and my sister, offered a fascinating case study in which high school students “invented” tools to address chronic social or environmental problems about which they are concerned. Julia’s case study, “Thinking Outside and On the Box,” was published in the most recent edition of Art Education.**  They both offer cause for optimism.


It seems that many of WolfBrown’s clients are helping answer the question of what it means to be a productive and successful musician in the 21st century, and discovering that one of the more important components of being a complete musician now is about engaging in your community in a deep and personal way.  Recently, I’ve been inspired by programs that promote and support community engagement, including:

  • Community MusicWorks in Providence, Rhode Island supports a professional string quartet and other musicians using music to help build and transform community.
  • Weill Music Institute and Carnegie Hall’s joint program called Musical Connections takes music out of the concert hall and directly to people who don’t readily have access to live music (e.g., hospital patients, prisoners, seniors). The program also supports participating artists through its Professional Development program.
  • Carnegie Hall and Weill are also partnering with the Juilliard School and the New York City Department of Education on The Academy, a two-year fellowship program for up and coming professional musicians which helps them to develop community engagement and leadership skills along with artistic excellence.
  • The New England Conservatory (NEC) has a number of programs that focus on community, including musical entrepreneurship that WolfBrown helped design and the American version of Venezuela’s El Sistema, a voluntary musical education program.

Tony Woodcock, President of the NEC, in a recent talk at the Salzburg Seminars last month discussing NEC’s programs and innovations around professional musicians, quoted Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu, the founder of the El Sistema program in Venezuela: “It is not enough for them (musicians) to love their instruments; they must also learn to love their responsibilities as citizens. They need to be apostles to the community.”  I think this pretty much sums up the importance of artists’ activity within their community – agents of social change.



Remaking Museums

April 16th, 2010

Imagine a museum exhibition about how the Normandy coast inspired Impressionist painters – but one where the paintings come with photographs of those coastal landscapes and an immersive sound-scape. Or imagine an exploratory gallery where you can grab a giant lens and move it slowly over a Corot painting of a storm at sea in order to explore that turbulent surface in a way no self-respecting guard or docent would ever allow.  Both of these exist at the Dallas Museum of Art where five years of intensive visitor studies are reorganizing the way the museum and its curators engage with audiences.  This summer will see the publication of these studies and their implications as Ignite the Power of Art by DMA Director, Bonnie Pitman and Ellen Hirzy.  The volume details how the research has yielded a new understanding of museum visitors which has been used to double attendance, re-think exhibitions, and develop new programs such as the Center for Creative Connections, the online Arts Network, and insomniac museum tours.  Prepare to rethink nearly everything that comes to mind when you hear the phrase “art museum.”  More than that, prepare for a volume that could perturb your thinking about any and all cultural institutions from libraries and concert halls to aquariums.


Shall We Dance?

April 16th, 2010

There were two recent announcements of unusual organizational collaborations that caught my attention. First, an article in Crains New York reported that the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company is in final negotiations to merge with Dance Theater Workshop. If the deal is consummated, the two groups will combine their boards and staff into one entity with a new name and mission. The Columbus Symphony also announced that it has outsourced its administrative functions to the Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA). CAPA also handles administrative duties for Contemporary American Theatre Company, the Franklin Park Conservatory, and the Phoenix Theatre for Children, in addition to its primary mission as a performing arts presenter and facility manager. Both of these appear borne out of financial necessity, as is too often the case with organizational collaborations in the non-profit arts and culture sector. There is a growing sentiment among enlightened arts leaders, however, that organizational collaborations can produce positive institutional benefits – such as demonstrating efficiency to donors and generating more resources for programs and services – that may justify the effort to set them up and the resulting shared control of decisions. The “carrot” of additional funding opportunities – such as the Collaboration Prize offered by the Lodestar Foundation – is also helping to turn organizational collaborations from a sign of failure to avoid into an innovative strategy and a “best practice” to emulate. A variety of resources are available from the Nonprofit Collaboration Database.


Until recently, the typical way for visual artists to apply to juried exhibitions and craft shows has been by duplicating a myriad number of slides, labeling, and shipping them to multiple destinations.  As a studio craftsperson, I remember what a laborious process this was and so I can see what a huge benefit it is for artists to now be able to apply for many juried exhibitions online using a single digital interface.  Register once and you’re done!  One such system, called ZAPPlication, has been up and running since 2004.  It is hosted by WESTAF (Western State Arts Foundation), a leader in digital services for artists.  WESTAF also offers an analogous system for applying for public art commissions called Café, which stands for Call for Entry.  What’s interesting to me is not only the development of such new technology, but the growth of a community around the ZAPP site.  Their forum discussions include everything from advice on how to assemble booth displays to reports of sales at various art shows and festivals.  A soon-to-be-released iPhone application will allow visitors and patrons to access art show and festival information.  Among other things, the app will allow people to search show content by artist or medium (e.g., drawing), access event schedules, and link to the artists’ websites.  Beyond simplifying life for artists, the power of these tools is their ability to build connections between artists and their audiences and to enhance the potential for more engaging dialogues.


Accountability…transparency…openness in communication… These are “buzz words” today in many sectors, both for-profit and nonprofit and the Foundation Center has offered a service to the nonprofit sector that provides all of this – and more – about leading foundations in America.  They call this service Glasspockets.  I visited the site and was astonished at what they have done.  They have identified 22 measures of transparency and accountability, and they have already collected information of all of these measures for 15 major foundations.  See their report on The Rockefeller Foundation, for example.  Glasspockets also provides key information on Web 2.0 communication tools (Facebook, Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn) that foundations are now using to increase their transparency to the public.  The immediacy of communication on the web provides us all with information that used to be nearly impossible to get.  Sometimes I find it overwhelming.



April 2nd, 2010

Are we at the cusp of a new, more democratic model of funding the arts?  Several weeks ago, Joe Kluger wrote about Pepsi and other corporations that are using social media to crowd-source grantmaking.  Power to the people?  Not so fast, says our friend and colleague John Shibley. “I admire the faith you place in the masses.  I wish I shared it.”  Shibley argues that crowd-sourcing might be good for rating restaurants, but might not be an effective approach to solving complex social problems.  ”If popularity proved quality, then TV ought to be full of masterpieces.”  Personally, I am less interested in the application of the American Idol principles of audience engagement to grantmaking than I am in exploiting the potential of web-based technologies to drive new approaches to fundraising.  Last year, I followed with interest several news stories about online fundraising initiatives.  The Community Foundation for Southeastern Michigan’s one-day Community Foundation Challenge-Arts and Culture on August 18 generated over $4.9 million for 75 arts groups, leveraging $1.6 million in matching funds from the foundation, well surpassing the original goal of $3 million.  With just $500,000 in matching funds, GiveMN, a Minnesota fundraising campaign, raised $14 million through a 24-hour “Give to the Max Day” event via the Internet, donated by 39,000 people.  Check out the next-generation fundraising site, www.GiveMN.org, funded by the Minnesota Community Foundation.  And The Pittsburgh Foundation through its Match Day in October, raised $1.5 million in online gifts in 22 minutes and 11 seconds.

What fascinates me most about all this is the power of the ‘limited-time’ event to capture the attention of the public.  What would explain why tens of thousands of people flock to a website at the same moment in time to donate?  While I would like to think the matching incentive is a motivation, as well as the immutable deadline, this alone doesn’t explain it.  Most certainly there are other, more subtle, psychological factors at play, both altruistic and selfish.  The emergence of community-wide online fundraising “events” underscores the critical importance to arts groups of being able to mobilize their constituents electronically.  New technologies are reshaping the giving patterns of ordinary people who understand that they can play a small, meaningful part in changing the world, or at least their own community.



Proudly powered by WordPress. Theme developed with WordPress Theme Generator.
Copyright © WolfBrown: On Our Minds. All rights reserved.