APAP’S Conference Takeaways

Last week I mentioned some of my experiences at the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) conference.  The conference recently sent out a list of 10 takeaways for their own. The vast majority of them are focused on topics of striving for healthier work environments and practices with the goal of alleviating stress and unhealthy expectations of oneself and others.  That is probably a good indication about where things generally stand with arts organizations and practitioners across the country.

APAP cites a session panelist who reported:

Ryan George of Tour Health Research Initiative shared statistics from a 2019 study from the Journal of Psychiatric Research, “34% of touring professionals reported suffering from clinical levels of depression, five times higher than the regular population. 27% reported clinical levels of anxiety. Only 8% reported attending weekly therapy, and 73% attended no therapy at all. 83% reported feeling overworked or some degree of burnout. 26% reported serious suicide ideation, six and a half times more than the regular population….

The takeaway list also mentioned the ongoing effort to more formally track compensation practices among presenting organizations. There had been some crowdsourced efforts in the past where people were self-reporting data into shared spreadsheets. But that was limited by the fact that you needed to know about the effort and receive a link to the spreadsheet.

They provided information about the effort with a link to submit a request to join the next phase of the survey:

In fall 2022, APAP with AMS Analytics launched a pilot of a first-of-its-kind, industry-specific initiative and tool that will gather comparative compensation and demographic data in the field. The session “A Look at Industry Pay: Piloting the APAP Arts Compensation Project” gave an overview for the project, data from the 67 presenting organizations that participated in the pilot study, and an invitation to join the next phase of the survey.

These are only two of the ten takeaways. You can find the others here.

Friendly Fraud And Other Ticketing Trends To Watch

Last week there was a post on the INTIX website listing 19 trends for 2023.  The list contains prognostications from people handling tickets for both arts and sports events so your mileage my vary on some of the thoughts, but I wouldn’t totally dismiss those that don’t align with your favorite industry.

At the top of the list is being able to identify all the ticket holders and potentially cultivate relationships with them rather than the ticket buyer. Because the ticket buyer will often distribute tickets electronically to family and friends, it will be possible to identify who those people are. You may view this news with with anticipation, dread or both.

Unsurprisingly, staffing issues were also near the top of the list due to the stress of dealing with customers and low pay don’t make customer service roles attractive. What also won’t be surprising to find on the list is an anticipated increase in fraudulent purchases, including what the article terms “friendly fraud” where customers initiate chargebacks on ticket purchases.

“I think that we will also see an increase in what’s called first-party [or friendly] fraud, where if a lot of ticket buyers do not get the refunds that they want, they will file a chargeback. I think that will start to happen as well because people were so used to refunds happening for so long during COVID. I think people still want to be able to get refunds, and especially, unfortunately, with inflation, people might be looking at how they can get their money back, and they might go that route of chargebacks.”

Related to this is the need to provide more flexible purchasing arrangements as people move away from subscription purchases. So not only flexible subscription packages, but targeted discounts. And flexible refund and exchange policies.

“We saw such movement during the pandemic of adapting away from ‘no refunds, no exchanges.’ It was such a hard line in the sand, and we had to blow that all away because we needed to change things … due to health concerns and restrictions,” Spektrix’s Nothstein says. “I think we are going to continue to see flexibility in that perspective.”

“We had to offer things that we would not have previously considered offering because of COVID and what it meant to the return to the venue,” Ticket Philadelphia’s Cooper says. “I don’t know that it’s practical or advisable for us to try and revert to what we were in the days before COVID happened … Ultimately, the goal is to retain the customer.”

The Director of Service and Retention for the Oakland Athletics, mentioned that people were buying on a very short horizon rather than season ticket packages or single tickets months before opening day. They structured a very targeted, short term ticket sale for the celebration of 50th anniversary of the A’s 1973 World Series title.

Ziegenbusch continues, “So, think shorter, getting your patrons to make these micro-decisions along the way. Present offers that are deeply discounted and value-rich but for a short period of time.”

I have seen Collen Dilenschneider offer similar advice to arts organizations on her website.

The article also raises the need for accessibility both to allow those with physical disabilities to participate in events, but also as accessibility relates to diversity, equity and inclusion. This is both in terms of programming/how an experience is structured and how it is priced.

Also listed were broadening the media and channels through which people can learn about your organization and make purchases, including facilitating transactions and empowering self-service.

I am obviously skimming over a lot so if the ticketing side of your operations is a central concern, give the article a deeper read.

Theater Games To Mirror Daily Interactions

h/t to Howard Sherman who posted a link to a story about how theater can teach empathy to kids. The article talks about how common theater games like mirroring can cultivate active listening and learning in kids. Gaining these skills helps kids become better communicators which facilitates success in both interpersonal and professional relationships.

It’s the social dynamic of theater, the give and take, the volley of listening and responding, that expands kids’ capacity to read cues, think quickly and creatively, work as an ensemble and see things from another perspective. Theater provides an awareness of space, pausing, waiting for somebody else to talk.

What I really appreciated was the inclusion of examples regarding how the same training can help people whose profession employs highly specialized and specific language communicate with general audiences. Many articles discuss positive educational outcomes from arts experiences, but don’t give concrete examples of how arts based learning is useful for adults.

Scientists are trained to speak methodically, defend their arguments and use niche jargon, a communication style that doesn’t always land with a general audience, says Laura Lindenfeld, executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. Through improv, they are taught to make mistakes and laugh about it, to “give ourselves permission to fail and move on.”

“When scientists come into a room, they’re like, ‘Oh man, you’re going to put me through improv?’ ” she says. But after exercises like “the mirror,” looking intently into other people’s eyes, they realize they can’t succeed unless they’re in touch with the other person. Speaking becomes about making a human connection rather than pushing information — and that’s the point. You may have the most wonderful scientific finding, but if no one understands it, what’s the use?

Let’s be clear, even though arts professionals’ lives are saturated with these practices, they can be equally as guilty of using insider jargon if they aren’t actively employing the skills they have acquired in an intentional manner in all their interactions.

Non-Profit Arts Workers, What Are You Tired Of?

For the APAP conference this past weekend, one of the primary plenaries was “A Brutally Honest Conversation about Nonprofit, For-Profits, Government, Philanthropy, and the Arts.” (panel discussion starts about 14 min in) If you are familiar with Non Profit AF blogger Vu Le, you won’t be surprised to learn he was one of the panelists since this is ground he has staked out for years. Joining him was Producer, Artist, Strategist Sharifa Johka, and Keri Mesropov, Chief Talent Officer at TRG Arts.

The conversation started right in on issues of burn out and bad funding practices. Le said arts people are so kind and nice, they can tend to be taken advantage of, but also that when you are burnt out even if you are the most well-intentioned, you can end up perpetuating many of the injustices you hope to eliminate in the world. Le warned the audience there might be difficult language and some cussing and then the panel went straight to a survey asking attendees “What are you F***ing Tired Of?” The word cloud that was generated was enormous.

Le also brought up the problematic choices funders make about what they will support. He said non-profits have been in this situation for so long there is a degree of learned helplessness. He grumbles at foundations that say they need to reserve funding for a rainy day and asks how hard it needs to rain if the latest pandemic didn’t qualify? At one point a gentleman got up and talked about artists starting donor advised funds (DAF) so that they could make the funding decisions. Le commented that while DAFs can be a viable tool, the way the laws governing them are structured is ripe for abuse.

Lest you think from the title of the session that it was full of gripes and complaints, there was that but both panelists and audience members talked about how they were energized by the discussion and the decisions non-profits made during Covid. Le used the examples of non-profit orgs in Seattle that refused grants and asked funders to give it to colleague organizations that needed it more. Johka referenced the “We See You White American Theater” and the conversations and changes that resulted from that challenge to entrenched practices. Even as people complained and stated “we need to stop that shit,” there was a sense that conditions existed where that could realistically happen.

Of course, Vu Le brings a lot of humor to topics in need of serious consideration. Commenters picked up on that energy. One gentleman complained that black and brown people had to dramatize their trauma to be considered relevant whereas “non-black and brown folks can say I just wanna do a work about sounds and color, and its the most brilliant thing.”

Panelists advocated for more cooperative and collective action for non-profits to get what they need to operate. Le cited a group of 180 organizations in WA state got together and told funders they needed to double their funding and make multi-year, general operating grants. He said about a dozen foundations signed the pledge to do so.

I encourage people to watch the video of the session if you have a few moments: