WolfBrown: On Our Minds

Late last year, I started work as the part time Administrative Director of a small community arts organization in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. I took the position because of a desire to ground my work locally and to dig in to a single organization rather than stay at the 35,000 foot level that consulting so often requires.

And what a revelation it has been! This mostly volunteer-run, financially hand-to-mouth organization is doing impressive artistic work, and has been for almost 35 years. But among its most impressive feats is the tight-rope act of making ends meet. The board bet that someone like me serving as “professional” staff could provide the grounding for a more stable operation. The jury’s still out on whether the budget can sustain that – and the current climate for nonprofits isn’t making it any easier.

For example, The Nonprofit Finance Fund just released its 2012 State of the Sector survey, which asserts, among many other interesting observations, that “…many nonprofits are still facing fundamental challenges that threaten the stability of the sector and the well-being of the people they serve.” Their data show that funding is tenuous at best for more than half, and many have trouble meeting community demand for their services.

The environment is challenging, no question. But it’s also true that arts nonprofits- even small, community-based ones- have a growing array of resources at their disposal. In addition to the financial advice and support of the Nonprofit Finance Fund, nonprofits have access to a number of business services organizations. Fractured Atlas, for example, provides a range of support services, like education and health insurance, to artists and arts nonprofits. Grassroots.org, for another, provides the Nonprofit Tool Box, a mix of services including free web hosting, a volunteer-run graphic design service, and online marketing assistance to all types of nonprofits.

Yes, I use these services, and they help. Yet, when I look around at my small organization and its small army of enthusiastic volunteers and supporters, I am struck by how much of a difference the passion of our artists make. The support services make it possible, but the artists make it worthwhile.

Writing About Music

April 17th, 2012

As someone who writes pages and pages every year about the arts, there is one topic I will not tackle: music. That may sound surprising coming from someone who grew up in a family of musicians, played flute professionally for decades, and attends scores of musical events annually. I can write about musical organizations and musicians, but describing music itself or musical performances is beyond me. So I was delighted to read Jonathan Biss’ recent piece in which this superb young pianist describes the problem: “…the only thing worth doing is also nearly impossible: to convey something of what the emotional experience of listening is like.”

Describing music and musical performance is deceptively difficult. Unlike writing about theatre or art, where the writer can include plot summaries or reproductions of images, music is abstract and elusive. Writers resorting to historical facts about composers rarely give us a sense of the music. Writing that is so technical that the reader needs a companion score and dictionary to decipher it is even worse. Then there is the “oh my, isn’t it wonderful” school, who feel that classical music is beyond emotional or intellectual explication.

But recently I read a piece in the New Yorker by Jeremy Denk, another great pianist. (“Flight of the Concord“; 2/6/12). Here at last is a writer capturing the essence and experience of music. It made me want to go right out and buy his recording of Ives’ Concord Sonata, a piece I have never really warmed to. Now I am a double convert – to Denk and Ives – which is what good writing should be able to do.

Apparently, I was not the only one impressed by Biss and Denk. So was Anne Midgette, a well known music critic who had the good sense to acknowledge how much some performers have to offer in writing about their art form. -Tom

Calling all performing arts presenters on college campuses, academic departments (music, dance theater), and performing arts
and other nonprofit arts organizations! WolfBrown, with the Student Engagement Working Group of the Major University
Presenters consortium, is accepting Case Study Nominations to be included in a resource for campus-based performing arts presenters on exemplary practice in student engagement. Selected case studies will be featured in a national publication. Please complete and submit the online nomination form by April 30.

 

The goal of this project is to compile and disseminate good practice to the field. Any campus-based performing arts presenter,

performing artist, student organization, or academic department may nominate one or more case studies. Case studies might include:

  • Student marketing campaigns that have yielded good results
  • Programs through which students engage directly with visiting artists
  • Programs through which students create artistic work, or learn about creativity
  • Programs that involve students in planning or producing programs
  • Effective student ticket discount programs
  • Other examples of student engagement in the performing arts

Nominations should be exemplary in some way. In other words, some evidence of success should be provided that demonstrates why the nominated practice is innovative, replicable, or successful. WolfBrown and the Student Engagement Working Group will review the nominations and select a diverse group of case studies for further research and writing. For more information, contact Jennifer Novak-Leonard at jennifer@wolfbrown.com.

About the Student Engagement Research Initiative: With funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College is leading a multi-site research effort aimed at gauging how to maximize students’ performing arts participation and attendance, including a focus on the particular challenges around classical music. The study will culminate in summer 2013 with a national convening of students from MUP campuses to analyze and form action recommendations out of the research.

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