Passion Is Work

Seth Godin had an interesting post recently challenging the notion of passion preceding the decision to commit.

“Offer me something I’m passionate about and I’ll show up with all of my energy, effort and care.”

That’s a great way to hide.

Because nothing is good enough to earn your passion before you do it. Perhaps, in concept, it’s worthy, but as soon as you closely examine the details and the pitfalls, it’s easy to decide it’s better to wait for a better offer.

We see this sort of thing manifest in any attempt people make to invest themselves in something new whether it is volunteering or new job tasks; getting audiences engage with new experiences; or people wanting a thunderbolt, love at first sight moment before dating.

Godin suggests turning it around to a place where people seek an opportunity to contribute and then passion grows from doing the work.

Work before passion measures our craft in terms of contribution, not in an idealized model of perfection.

Passion comes from feeling needed, from approaching mastery, from doing work that matters.

While this is almost an appeal to the individual not to discount an opportunity as something you aren’t passionate about, the “don’t knock it until you tried it,” argument doesn’t have a high conversion rate.

In addition to how doing work that matters strongly motivates people to work for non-profits, what immediately popped into my mind was that this might be an argument for the value of providing an participatory experience to audiences.

Just as people think that creativity is a matter of momentary inspiration gifted by an outside source or inherent genius rather than developed over a long process, it is a pretty good bet that people believe their passion is an inherent quality of themselves rather than the end result of effort and attention invested over a long period of time.

That whole bit about doing something you are passionate about and you will never have to work a day in your life evokes a sense of effortlessness. That can certainly be true if that passion is a result of short bursts of exposure/effort every day over 10-20 years. Even if you decide to fervently devote yourself to a rekindled childhood interest, the joy and groundwork laid in years past buoys you even when you are sweating toward proficiency.

It is when we feel that adding anything new is a zero sum game, where something of a current selves must be sacrificed, that we use resonance with our passion as a filter. As Godin suggests, it makes it easy to say no based on an insufficient effort by others to get us excited.

Godin’s post is more a call to the individual to change their perspective than to organizations to offer more opportunities to become involved. However, once people start looking for ways to become involved in work they feel could develop into a passion, arts organizations need to be there with opportunities to offer.

Art As A Lubricant For Better Business Practices

Americans for the Arts had a post on their blog last week that hit a lot of the right buttons for me. Steve Sanner and his partners have the Jiffy Lube franchise for Indiana. He writes about how placing murals on their buildings and becoming involved with other mural projects has benefited and redefined their business approach.

He says from 1985-2015, he and his partners basically approached their marketing from the assumption that the advice of husbands, fathers and boyfriends were what motivated women to visit Jiffy Lube locations. Therefore most of their marketing was aligned toward men even though women comprised 50% of their customers.

In 2015, we made a conscious decision begin speaking directly to women about the virtues of Jiffy Lube. We wanted women to know they could trust us to handle their maintenance needs and that they wouldn’t be subjected to chauvinistic or condescending mechanics.

A chance encounter with an arts group put them on the road to placing murals on some of the 48 Jiffy Lube shops they own. The first three murals were designed as paint by numbers stencils so that community members could participate in their creation. A mural calling attention to mental illness involved flying a graphic novelist out from Seattle to hold panel discussions and resulted in a fundraising effort that benefited the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The first three murals attracted the attention of the Arts Council of Indianapolis with whom they partnered on six murals in 2018 with another six planned for 2019.

Sanner says from a purely business perspective, this has been a smart move for them:

Vehicles are going longer between oil changes and many only need one or two oil changes per year. This makes it easy to forget about your neighborhood Jiffy Lube. In addition, sign ordinances have become stricter, making it hard to identify our locations easily. By painting these murals, we are giving people an organic reason to talk about and pay attention to our stores.

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, you know what he said next was the part I love the most (my emphasis):

Internally, we have been surprised at how many artists we have working for us. Our employees are now showing off their own talents through sketches, vehicle graphics, and tattoo designs. We are planning museum tours and art classes designed to help our people further develop their artistic skills, understanding that this will help drive creativity in our own business. Employee retention is a huge issue for many businesses these days, and we are no exception. People want to be proud of who they work with and they care more than ever about the mission and purpose of their employer.

History of Public Libraries & Questions Cultural Orgs Face Regarding Inclusion

Check out this visual storytelling piece on CityLab about the history of libraries in the US.  As arts and cultural organizations struggle with the question of inclusion of under-represented communities in our spaces and on our boards, the efforts people to which people went to gain access to books may provide some insight into the issue. Especially given that the meaning and value of libraries today is no longer directly tied to books. (In fact, 150+ years ago the role of libraries was already expanding beyond a source of books.)

It is generally acknowledged that Ben Franklin started one of the first libraries in the United States, but it was privately funded and by invitation which excluded white women, blacks and poor people.  According to the graphics in the CityLab piece, this just lead those groups to form their own clubs like the Phoenix Society of NY established to, (I love this phrase), “Establish Mental Feasts” and “Establish Circulating Libraries for the Use of People of Color on Very Moderate Pay.”

Women’s Clubs were established along the same lines, and when they excluded Jewish, black and working class women, those groups created their own clubs.

I think I may have mentioned before that I currently work in a historic theater that has the dubious distinction of possessing one of the best preserved Jim Crow balconies in the country.  A few blocks away from us is a theater established by a black business man to serve the black community due to the lack of access in my building. Reading about a parallel history in libraries is pretty relevant to me.

Before Andrew Carnegie started to endow libraries across the country, many of these library projects were already embracing social issues like literacy, anti-lynching, and suffrage. Bookmobiles were bringing books to rural communities.  Even with Carnegie’s funding and the expansion to public access, according to the graphic, it was women’s clubs that helped drive the construction of libraries to the point where having one was a staple of every community.

Even still, there was a lot of exclusion by race:

As I was reading through the CityLab piece, I saw echos of many of the questions arts and cultural organizations need to face regarding their identity.

For example, at one point the stated purpose of many libraries was to promote “desirable middle class values.” While this isn’t as explicitly stated by many arts organizations these days, it is present quite implicitly.

First Rule Of Arts Club–Talk To Everyone About Arts Club

I came across a study conducted in the UK where the researchers found some benefit to new attendees of arts and cultural events having the opportunity to participate in peer-lead audience exchange conversations.

They were pretty particular about excluding someone with (perceived) expertise from the group as including such a person either led to people deferring to the person’s expertise or feeling too intimidated to contribute to the conversation. The researchers drew comparisons with book clubs, but encouraged arts organizations to facilitate the formation of such groups since people rarely organize themselves. (emphasis from original)

Deborah (DX): “It’s really nice to talk about it afterwards. Rather than just sort of taking it all home with you”.

Bridget (IKG/BCMG): “[…] at the contemporary music thing, it was quite nice to sit down at the end and talk with other people about the experience [agreement] because otherwise you sort of wander away with a couple of inane comments, and sort of forget about it. But sitting down with people is an interesting way of reflecting –” [Doris: “It can add to the experience.”]

This deepening of experience through conversation was also evident in the group discussions themselves, as participants wrestled with their own responses to an event and sought insight and reassurance from others in the group. They emphasised that the particular kind of discussion they had enjoyed in the audience exchange was not the same as the conversations with performers sometimes offered by theatre or concert providers, where Doris (IKG) felt she “would feel a bit intimidated about saying something not terribly deep and meaningful – but this doesn’t intimidate”.

Some of the commentary the researchers recorded was very interesting to learn. I was trying to figure out how an arts organization could go about capturing this data without being there. An obvious answer is to record it if that doesn’t impact what people are willing to say. Otherwise, asking someone to take notes. Among the comments the researchers recorded were ones about the marketing materials organizations were putting out.

Even while the new audience members struggled to find a vocabulary to talk about their response to a concert, some felt that the language being used by the arts organisation also failed to capture their experience, with too much of an emphasis on analysis and not enough on the emotional impact of the music:

Bryony (E360A): “For me that description of tonight doesn’t make it sound very exciting – it makes it sound a bit rubbish!” [laughs].

Adam (E360A): “Especially the Martinů one, like that was my favourite one, and it says it ‘exhibits the flute to great effect’ [laughter] but to me it was the violin that was really interesting, and the variations in the music”.

These sort of discussions can be helpful for new attendees because they can validate the reactions they have. Some of the discussions revolved around feelings of guilt about being bored or having one’s mind wander. Someone else in the group piped in defending her “’right to daydream’, expressing the view that if the music encouraged her into personal thoughts and memories, this was in itself a response to the performance and not one for which she should feel apologetic.”