Yes, But When She Said It, It Sounded Brilliant

Vu Le posted this week about a well-observed phenomenon he termed “Outsider Efficiency Bias.”  He defined this as basically having an outsider like a consultant come in and be lauded for making the same observations and recommendations that internal constituencies have.

Because this is a common experience, I figured someone would have already coined a term for it, but I couldn’t find one. Though logical fallacies like appeal to authority, appeal to accomplishment and appeal to novelty all intersect.

He points out this manifests in the hiring and contracting decisions organizations make and beyond just bringing consultants in for a week or two.

•Board members insisting on hiring an external candidate to be the ED instead of promoting a qualified person within the organization
•EDs/CEOs doing the same thing, hiring a staff from outside, often neglecting internal candidates
•Foundations hiring people from academia or the corporate world, who have no experience in nonprofit, to be the CEO
•Organizations hiring consultants from outside the geographic area instead of contracting with local consultants who live and work there
•Organizations hiring local consultants instead of just listening to their staff
•Conferences booking national and international speakers instead of working with local speakers

Le said he experienced this situation with his own board when they suggested bringing in an outsider to advise them about how to write blogs and articles better. If you aren’t aware, Vu Le is in fairly high demand as a speaker and panelist based on the content of his blog posts and use of social media to advocate for equity.

He acknowledges that an outsider perspective is important to the growth of organizations and is not discounting the need, but he lists many ways in which a bias toward outsiders can undermine the short and long term health of an organization.

I would have to copy and paste a significant portion of his post to include everything so I encourage people to read the original and think about how the bias exists in your organizational culture.

Since the Bible talks about a prophet being honored everywhere except in his own town and among his friends and family, this behavior is pretty deep seated but can be avoided with the investment of some thought and attention.

Looking To Public Art To Revitalize Cities Post-Covid

Somewhat in line with my post yesterday about the growing number of basic guarantee income programs for artists, Artsjournal.com had an interview with the mayor of Toronto, John Tory, about the beginning of a 10 year initiative to create public art. The program had been delayed by the start of Covid and the mayor says that has created an even greater need for public works of art.

This is true for a couple of reasons: first, I think the sense of joy — the look and feel of the city being enlivened by artistic creations of all kinds — became even more important after a desolate period when you’d walk around downtown and it was bleak, I mean it was a wasteland. The second reason, which was valid before but now became 100 times more valid, was that it also allows some of our artists to tell their stories. And beyond the benefits to us of having those stories told and those works displayed, this program will retain the services of 1,500 artists over the course of this year. That’s not unimportant in the context of a group that has been very hard hit. I’m not minimizing the problems other people have had, but artists had a terrible time. Now there’s a need to bring the city back to life and there’s nothing like the arts and culture to do that.

I was interested to see the interviewer, Jonathan Dekel, follow up by asking the mayor how this vision of supporting artists and their importance to the city reconciles with the concerns about gentrification displacing the artists. The mayor made mention of some measures like tax relief for music venues and affordable housing arrangements which recognize that artists’ income is not regular from month to month.

Who Gave You Your First Break?

Tweets responding to UK based Arts Emergency’s new campaign were filling my Twitter feed today. I have written about them a couple times before. They are essentially focused on cultivating the next generation of creative workers through training opportunities, scholarships and mentoring.

The organization’s name and raison d’etre is premised on the idea that cuts in funding nationally have created an emergency for the future of the creative economy in the UK.  Their newest push is #BreakTheGlass, as in “In Case of Emergency, Break The Glass.”

What I really admire about their execution of this awareness campaign is that they aren’t focusing on the negative consequences that cause their organization so much concern, instead they have asked people to tag & tweet about the person(s) who “gave you some key advice or encouragement early in your career.”

Today my feed was packed with people calling out those who helped them get jobs in theater, in broadcasting, print media, etc. I usually view Twitter with a chronological order setting and there were so many people talking about those who gave them their first big break, I was scrolling, scrolling, and scrolling only to find I was still viewing tweets that were only 5 hours old.

I don’t want to horn in on Arts Emergency’s initiative, but maybe folks here in the US need to pick up the tune and call out those for whose help we are grateful. October is Arts & Humanities Month which would make it a suitable time. Or if we don’t want to steal attention from Arts Emergency, next month around Thanksgiving would be appropriate as well.

Ultimately, over the long term I think advocacy for arts and culture needs to have positive messaging like this that doesn’t focus on economic impact, test scores and behavioral outcomes as benefits. Talking about mentors and being grateful for opportunities and investment of trust and faith is a good way to emphasize the benefits of arts and culture in cultivating relationships and reinforcing the social fabric without explicitly making those claims.

When You Actually Want Your Sidewalk To Fall To Disrepair

More great stories of artists being part of infrastructure projects, this time from a Next City article that came out last week. I have written about these type of projects before and one of my favorite go-to examples is the Green Line project in St. Paul, MN which employed artists to help mitigate the impact light rail construction on nearby businesses.

This recent Next City piece discusses a similar effort in the small town of Grand Marais, MN that was also seeing the impact of construction:

She began by interviewing village residents about detours in their lives and turned their stories into a playful scavenger hunt of signage that reframed the construction as an exploration of unexpected life shifts. Detour signs sharing personal life stories are now installed throughout the village. With artist collaboration, this infrastructure project became an opportunity to turn road detour signs into messages of community joy.

In the article they talk about artist-in-residence programs in cities, both large and small, and the impact the artists have had on planning and design. However, what really caught my eye was another project in St. Paul, MN – Sidewalk Poetry.

“In St. Paul, Minnesota, artist Marcus Young turned common sidewalks into atlases of community stories by inviting residents to share poems printed in the concrete. City residents are invited annually to submit their poems for consideration to be printed into sidewalks as they are scheduled for replacement across the city by the public works department. Young saw this system-based work as a re-imagining of the city’s annual sidewalk maintenance program in which the city replaces 10 miles of sidewalk a year, a way to enhance a civic system to give it a new sense of relevance and appreciation.”

In the article linked in the quoted section above, they emphasize the fact that only sidewalks slated for replacement are part of the program, “never in new development, ensuring that the poems are able to be found across the entire city.” The project solicited poems in the languages of groups with high representation in St. Paul, including English, Spanish, Hmong, Somali and Dakota.

The project involves an interesting mix of priorities. While some people will request that a poem not appear in front of their home or business, the city is not able to fulfill all the requests they receive to place a poem in a specific place because they strive to balance where the poems are placed and because not every patch of sidewalk requires repair.

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