Not So Strange, But Does Require Effort

Non-Profit Quarterly made a post in May that just came across my social media feed today about a weekly Zoom call 200+ arts organizations in NYC are having in order to share information during Covid-19. Ruth McCambridge links to the New York Times piece that reports on this effort.

I have to admit I initially bristled at McCambridge characterizing the NYT article reporting on a story that is “pretty strange” because:

It appears the pandemic has created a sudden realization among the city’s arts organizations that they need one another for advice, counsel, and support even while they take one coronavirus-related hit after another. That has led to a daily Zoom call with around 200 leaders in attendance, coming from groups large and small and spanning organizational types.

[…]

Pogrebin finds it “notable how much they are actually acting these days like the ‘arts community’ to which they often aspire.” We call it something of a small miracle, which we think we may be seeing a lot more of as advocacy and mutual aid look increasingly central to not just our survival, but our evolution in a new landscape.

I have been regularly participating in on a number of those calls myself so I will admit that there is more coordination and information sharing across disciplines than before. It is definitely beneficial to everyone involved.

However, over the course of the last 15+ years, I have been part of organizations comprised of arts and culture entities whom regularly shared information and even engaged in cooperative grant writing. I am sure many readers have similar relationships. You know, the ones where you receive important information, but also multiple people feel their one word reply “Thanks” should go to the entire group rather than to an individual.

While I do agree with the proposition that it would be a shame these cross-disciplinary conversations faded away when the crisis passes because we are seeing greater cooperation and community than in the past, I also feel like the idea this coordination is novel news doesn’t given non-profit arts & cultural organizations credit for progress made over the last couple decades.

Also, were there a lot of commercial entities who were having conversations like these that non-profit arts organizations have been eschewing?  It seemed perhaps there was an implication of some norm that existed that cultural organizations are finally participating in. Non-profit folks are networking and sharing information at conferences, chamber of commerce meetings and rotary meetings, etc just like everyone else.

I will say though, it can be really difficult to make sure you are invited to the right meetings. If you look in the comment section of the NYT article, people were asking how they could join the call because the information wasn’t public. You had to know someone in order to receive the meeting link.

That dawned on me about a month ago as I bounced from one Zoom meeting hosted by charitable foundations to another Zoom meeting of local live event organizations (concert venues, sports teams, bars, etc.). I realized a number of people in the meeting I just left weren’t invited to the second meeting where topics like the governor’s orders on public assembly are discussed. I asked for about 20 additional groups to be invited to that second meeting and did see about eight show up to the last meeting.

Bottom line- regardless of my perceptions of how these meetings are characterized, an effort should be made to ensure they continue past the current crisis. Which means people who are invited need to commit to participating rather than blowing the meetings off. Just as important, we should continually be thinking about who might benefit from these conversations and take steps to see they are invited.

 

Yeah, I Have Weird Feelings, Too

Hat tip to the National Endowment for the Arts for linking to this video of an 11 year old taking The Bob Ross Challenge – basically trying to keep up and replicate Bob Ross’ painting instructions as he relates them during an episode of his show.

The kid, Khary Halsey, an avowed Bob Ross fan since he was six, is charming and hilarious just on his own. But it is right at the end of the video that he says something that encompasses what the creative experience should be for everyone, “From the looks of it, I did horrible, but I feel great.”

Okay, so obviously people shouldn’t always think they did horrible, it is the satisfaction and enjoyment of the experience regardless of the perceived quality of the product that I am advocating as the ideal.

Khary isn’t sure if he is supposed to be having this contradictory experience so he follows up saying, “I have weird feelings.”   The truth is, those feelings are quite normal and shared by a lot of people, including, I am sure many with long careers in the arts.  There are a lot messages we get throughout the day, both overt and subtle,  that equate quality with marketability. (And don’t get us started on “you shouldn’t expect to get paid if you are having fun.”)

Delay May Appear Wise, But Is The Outcome The Same?

Interesting short piece on the FastCompany website that points out the current uncertainty about the future created the the Covid-19 pandemic makes deferring on a decision seem the wise option, however there is always a cost associated with delaying on that decision. The author of the piece, Art Markman, says that because deferring the decision seems so attractive, people don’t actually think through whether the delay will make any difference or not. (my emphasis)

Leaders might think it prudent to wait for more information about the status of the pandemic before moving forward. However, it is always worth making a decision tree to determine whether a different decision would be reached in each of these conditions. Key leaders do not always take this step. In some cases, leaders might find that the best outcome is actually the same regardless of the status of the pandemic. In that case, deferring the decision would involve paying a cost to defer the decision in order to get information that does not change the decision that gets made. There was no reason to incur that cost.

I haven’t come up with a scenario other than capital improvements/repairs and staffing decisions in which this might apply to arts and cultural organizations. I may be too entrenched right now  in thinking about the pros and cons of re-opening venues in the context of economics and public perception/willingness to broaden my imagination. However, I figure some readers might be in situations where being reminded to make a decision tree might be useful for helping move things forward.

You Don’t Know You Are In Water

Seth Godin made a post today that addresses the current climate of Black Lives Matter, policing, statues, etc without directly naming any of these things.  (A week ago he mentioned he generally tries to write posts that were evergreen rather than specific to the times in which they were penned, but felt he had to unequivocally state Black Lives Matter.)

Today he points out that when you are part of the dominant culture, you don’t see it around you like the proverbial fish that aren’t aware they are in water. It isn’t until you go to another country that you recognize every small assumption comprising your daily routine needs to be examined closely just to cross the street to get breakfast.

This experience can be part of what is fun and engaging about your visit. But part of what makes it fun is that you know you can return to a familiar environment later where you will have many stories to tell. The prospect of living in that foreign place for a longer time can be more daunting.

When media images, policies and corporate standards tell someone that they are an outsider who needs to fit in in non-relevant ways, we’re establishing patterns of inequity and stress. We need to be clear about the job that needs to be done, the utility we’re seeking to create, but not erect irrelevant barriers, especially ones we can’t see without effort.

Good systems are resilient and designed to benefit the people who use them.

If the dominant culture makes it harder for people who don’t match the prevailing irrelevant metrics to contribute and thrive, it’s painful and wasteful and wrong.

If you think about the above quote from Godin a bit, you might see that there are a good many times when the dominant culture shows little regard about alienating its own members. We have seen it happen often in recent years in both large and small ways. Currently we are in a period where many people are realizing their membership isn’t as secure as they thought or that they are no longer in synch with the terms of membership. The result is, they are finding greater common cause with those who have felt themselves outsiders.

But also, lest it get lost in the macro level big societal questions being wrestled with on the national and international stage, Godin’s admonishment about good systems being resilient and designed to benefit the users is just as applicable on the micro level of your organizational business hours and admission practices.

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