Housing Appraisal As Art For Social Change

Back in March I made a post about an artist’s project in Pittsburgh that called attention to the disparity in appraisals between White homeowners and Black homeowners.  In a story of art having some success at bringing about social change, that project apparently lead the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to investigate whether there might be appraisal discrimination occurring.

One part of artist Harrison K. Smith’s project involved having a house appraised, first with the Black homeowner and then with a White stand-in. The appraisal came in higher for the stand-in.

The Fair Housing Partnership of Greater Pittsburgh (FHP) filed a housing discrimination complaint against the appraisal company, Ditio Inc., which conducted the first appraisal last year, after reading about Smith’s exhibit in the news. (The second appraiser wasn’t identified.) The Fair Housing Partnership found fault not only with the appraisal discrepancy, but also in the manner in which the appraisal was carried out.


Through HUD’s administrative complaint process, the FHP is hoping to change Ditio’s appraisal practices, and potentially open the door for broader policy changes across the industry down the road. FHP says HUD is investigating the complaint and is currently in a fact-finding stage.

You can read the article about the issues FHP has raised about the appraisal process.

Check out my March post about the details of Smith’s project if you weren’t already familiar with it. There are multiple parts and the appraisal stand-in is arguably the least interesting phase given that people in other communities have attempted the same thing.

The fact he talked a museum into taking out a mortgage on one of their properties to support another segment of the project seemed much more bold and far reaching to me.

Ushering Them Off With Great Fanfare

I have read a fair number of articles about transitioning problematic board members off a board, but I have to credit Vu Le for laying out a relatively detailed process for accomplishing the task.  Le’s approach, which he terms the “Plaque and Sack,” requires essentially killing the board member with a ton of kindness.

I wouldn’t imagine it is 100% effective, but it is intended to help mitigate any negative repercussions that might result.  It is also meant to be used in extreme cases after much thought and consideration.

Basically, it involves identifying a high visibility event at which to honor the board member with an award for all they have contributed and accomplished, both with the organization and in the community.  The occasion should feel prestigious and significant and involve lionizing the honoree as a pillar, supported by a video montage of people likewise praising them as they retire from the board.

Le admits that perhaps the hardest part of the whole process might be swallowing anger and resentment while organizing the occasion.

9.Try to suppress your bitterness and resentment: I know it can be hard to watch someone get praised publicly when they have been terrible for the mission, but close your eyes to keep them from rolling, …

And that, my friends, is the art of the Plaque and Sack. Besides board members, it may work on difficult volunteers and donors. Again, do not deploy this lightly.


Asking “What Would You Like Future Attendees To Know?”

I had planned to write about something different today but this post by Ruth Hartt on LinkedIn grabbed my attention.

Cain Lewis goes on to talk about how he doesn’t care about Airbnb:

So telling me ‘we’d love to know how it went’ doesn’t compel me to leave a review at all 😴

But I *do* care about helping other travellers like me find good experiences. And avoid the bad ones.

Because I appreciate reviews when I’m looking to book something too.

I’d bet most of their customers feel the same way.

So, here’s what I’d change it to:

‘Remember to leave a review for your Northwest Jeep Experience. Your feedback will help other travellers know what to expect!’

Less about Airbnb, more about supporting the community that I rely on so heavily myself.

This got my mind going because Hartt is right, this slight shift in perspective has wider implications. Many arts organizations send surveys after events so directing people to your social media pages when asking people to complete a survey aligns with the concept that their response will help other attendees. Asking people to complete a survey alone based on an appeal to help other visitors know what to expect will likely be met with skepticism.

Even though people may make negative comments on your social media pages, at least those comments are in a place you can see and know about rather than in places far outside your awareness.

Just the same, I think that the perspective of  your answers as a participant are making things better for the next person can be applied to surveys that only staff are likely to see.  Reframing survey questions in this context can communicate a sincere desire to improve the experience.

For example, instead of asking people how they would rank a performance, the service they received and restroom cleanliness on a Likert scale (1 being worst, 5 being best), questions can ask, “What would you like future attendees to know about our performances/ticket ordering experience/restrooms?

Obviously, it doesn’t have to be that exact syntax repeated for every question, but the general subtext can be present.  This line of questioning has “would you recommend us to your friends?” baked into it while adding a sense of “what do you wish you had known/read about us before you arrived?”

For repeat attendees, some of these questions will be a bit less relevant because they are familiar with your physical plant and how to navigate purchasing and attendance. But you can also get feedback about things a first time attendee might think was a one off mistake but a frequent visitor has noticed and wants to warn others about. i.e. “They will tell you they are having problems with X tonight, but it is always like that.”

I also think that asking questions in this manner with a sincere intent to remedy what you can, the first rule of surveying is never ask a question you aren’t willing to act upon, is that it will differentiate your organization from others. Perhaps it will even encourage people to respond to your surveys more frequently.

I know Americans for the Arts are making a strong national survey push over the next year, but their focus is very much on economic impact and asking you how much you spent before you leave the venue. Those who are frequent arts attendees are going to be asked to complete the survey often over the next year. It may be difficult for organizations to find people who are willing to complete their personal, non-AftA surveys, so asking questions focused on the interests of other attendees versus the organizational interest may make the difference.

Just as an added aside – the venue I am currently at will have alternating bursts of reviews for events on our Google profile and Facebook page. I have no idea what the common element is. Why did 10 attendees of a dance recital review us on Google, but a handful of attendees to another event flock to Facebook? Anyone have any insight based on what they have observed?

Visiting For The Gift Shop

Whenever I have visited a museum that forces you to go through the gift shop before you can exit, I have viewed the design as a cynical cash grab. As I think about it, while I have frequently purchased gifts for others at museums, they weren’t institutions that forced you to exit through their retail spaces.

So it was with interest and curiosity that I read Colleen Dilenschneider’s post about the strong link between museum gift shops and museum memberships.  This is definitely not something I had considered before. If you have a gallery or museum type organization, take a close read of her piece because she includes a number of caveats about reading the results in a certain manner which I am definitely not going be able to accurately reflect here.

Dilenschneider suggests that museum retail may be a strong element in re-engaging with members and the community at large in the post-Covid next normal. Many lapsed members intend to renew next time they visit and members are 15% more likely to have first visited the museum for the gift shop than non-members. So the retail space may be what draws lapsed members back first.

One thing she mentions is that gifting objects from museum retail spaces are often closely tied to self-image.

Critically, we know that people believe that visiting a museum makes them better friends, neighbors, and parents. Purchasing an item from the gift shop can reinforce perceptions that someone is the type of person who supports their community by way of supporting an organization, purchases unique gifts for friends and family, and leaves their home to have educational experiences. This factor may be even stronger for members.

While she can not definitively say self-image is stronger motivator for members, data shows that members make purchases from museum gift shops in higher percentages than non-members and tend to spend more on those purchases than non-members.

The fact that they may get a discount is ranked relatively low in importance as membership benefit.

Members consider benefits such as supporting the organization, free admission, priority access, and positively impacting the museum’s mission significantly more important. Nearly a quarter of members are having a retail interaction. Instead of assuming they’re there for the discount, consider that those interactions can be an important touchpoint of engagement for strengthening this community of supporters.

On the question of “Are members important to retail or is retail important to members?” Dilenschneider says that there are myriad interrelated factors comprising the museum experience. People’s motivations shouldn’t reduced to a single simple question. Rather as she mentions in the last line quoted above, museums/galleries should focus on using the retail touchpoint to deepen relationships with members and an opportunity to potentially cultivate non-members into members.

While Dilenschneider provides examples of two museums that do encourage membership sign ups in their retail spaces, I suspect this might be accomplished in well-designed, soft-sell manner. I am just thinking about all the stories of people who attended a performance once and resented being barraged by phone calls and mailings about subscribing and donating.