Org Culture More Important Than Artistic Reputation

A couple weeks ago Aubrey Bergauer hosted a LinkedIn conversation with Karen Freeman from Advisory Board for the Arts (ABA) to discuss what mattered most to arts professionals as they sought jobs in the arts. Freeman discussed a survey ABA conducted where they asked people to prioritize between different situations in order to drill down to what really mattered. An example Freeman gives is would you rather have great pay, but so-so benefits or a lower pay rate but with better benefits.

Among the criteria people had to prioritize were things like artistic reputation, work from home, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), shared governance, professional development, etc., They had over 1500 respondents from organizations around the world, though with a slightly larger representation by U.S. based groups.

Freeman shared four findings among the many that she found most interesting. The first one revealed that respondents felt their current organization had medium healthcare benefits, good management, good job security, middle of the road flexibility with work hours, fairly good progress in diversity and equity and selective transparency. Freeman notes that a majority of respondents felt their organizations operated at the highest level of artistic quality which she attributes akin to a Lake Woebegone view that everyone is above average.

The second finding is perhaps the most interesting one because it provides insight into what arts organizations can do to retain employees (~13:30 in the video). In terms of what people valued most, Inclusive Culture was valued most and Other Office, which encompassed office space and technology fell at the lowest end of the range. Inclusive culture encompasses transparency, accountability, inclusive decision-making along with diversity, inclusion and equity.

Second most important was flexibility which includes flexible hours and work from home. Next is advancement, including opportunity to advance and supervise. Next is Manager which involves good manager, professional development and internal recognition. Health care and leave came next. Second to last was artistic reputation and community import.

This raises some interesting questions. There are already surveys that indicate trumpeting artistic excellence, while important, isn’t a top draw for audiences. Now we see it is almost at the bottom in terms of what organizational staff value. So perhaps it is time to examine the amount of emphasis being placed upon it.

I should note though that it isn’t clear how many of the respondents were creators and performers. Those groups may rate artistic reputation much higher than administrative staff.

Skipping to the fourth slide (~19:25) provides a little insight. When broken down by job role, people in the C-suite (aka highest paid person’s opinion) care most about artistic reputation (even more than artistic department) along with job accountability, manager quality and transparency. C-suite place least emphasis on job schedule flexibility, work from home and DEI.

When broken down by generation (~16:40), the starkest differences were that artistic reputation was most important to baby boomers and DEI was most important to Gen Z respondents.

Freeman also mentioned that they ran some simulations to make up for some potential flaws inherent to the surveying methodology they used to get the above results. In those simulations, when choosing between higher pay or artistic reputation, 54% of people would take the job with higher pay at a place with no reputation for artistic quality.

A second simulation they ran provided the choice between a place that had high pay, but hierarchical decision making, low transparency and accountability, and performative DEI against an organization with better culture on all these dimensions, but lower pay. In that case, 63% of people would take a job with the better work culture at the expense of better pay.

This was some new data for me insofar as what I thought were the start of trends are far more deeply held values than I anticipated. If you are similarly surprised, take a look at the video.

How Will Non-Profit Law Change To Meet Shifting Expectations?

Gene Tagaki raises some interesting thoughts over on the Non-Profit Law blog on the question of how legal concepts and structures may need to adjust to reflect changing values in the non-profit sphere.  He lays out some thoughts in regard to Charitability, Philanthropy, Governance, Technology, Fundraising, Advocacy, and Employment.

I provide this list with the intention of sparking enough interest in folks to read more deeply because I am only going to touch on a few ideas that popped for me.

One question he raised was whether the IRS would need to adjust its definition of 501(c)(3) entities:

“Would relief of historically discriminated groups of individuals without regard to poverty or distress now qualify as charitable? Would the sale of alternative energy sources for personal use be charitable even if at market rates?”

Tagaki also points out that there is a growing shift in how fundraising is accomplished and how the work of social good is being framed. He notes that crowdfunding focused on supporting a specific project or individual versus organizations which help many. He also cites corporate efforts to “charity-wash” their activities by positioning themselves as reducing social problems.

“Fundraising trends also raise other legal concerns as nonprofit fundraisers face competitive pressure from those raising money from crowdfunding platforms to help specific individuals rather than charities, businesses proclaiming to do more social good than nonprofits, and entrepreneurs looking to both help charitable causes while creating for themselves an opportunity to earn substantial amounts of money.”

Finally, Takagi observes there is a trend not only toward remote work, but also shared leadership of organizations. This approach is likely to exist in tension, if not complete conflict with a hierarchical board governance model legally required of nonprofits in the US.

“Many organizations are struggling with this movement as there are clear and proven benefits with traditional hierarchies and the law is built on boards having ultimate responsibility and authority over the activities and affairs of their corporations. But there are shifts in power that are possible, and laws or regulatory guidance that confirm the appropriateness of certain delegations of authority may be helpful. What are some of the distributed leadership systems that would be helpful if recognized by sector leaders as good practice and by lawmakers and regulators as acceptable?”

As always, many things to think about for the future.

More Europe Performing Arts Orgs During Covid

Last week German arts administrator Rainer Glaap made a Facebook post linking to the first ever study of theatres across the European Union (EU).  Additionally, some of the survey participants were non-EU members of the Creative Europe program.  Readers may recall I had made a number of posts looking at how various governments across Europe were providing financial support to artists during the height of the Covid pandemic.  So I was interested in seeing what this report had to say.

One of the biggest difficulties faced in putting the study together was all the differences that exist between European countries in terms of number of theatre, definitions of performing arts activities, funding policies, training practices, etc. There were numerous times the report noted the difficulty in making and apples to apples comparison.

However, there were a number of interesting things I pulled from the report. For instance, apparently France and Germany are the primary models for presenting/touring versus producing.

The so-called ‘French oriented system’ is based on productions, touring and selling plays to other venues making international co-production easier to fit in a programme. In a ‘German oriented system’ whereby theatres operate as production houses with in-house established ensembles, international co-production is less natural since the programme is set for the season.

Since the degree to which European governments subsidize the arts is a frequent topic of conversation in the U.S., having a EU-wide report on this number is obviously of some interest (recall this is an average from 39 participating countries):

“ticket sales in public funded theatres usually amounts to about 25% of the theatre budget. Commercially-oriented private theatres and independent companies however rely mostly on revenues generated from the box office and other commercial activities. Among the surveyed private theatre venues and companies, revenue from sales (tickets, admissions) constituted around 40% of their budgets before the COVID-19 pandemic.”

During Covid, many of the measures taken in European countries were similar to those in the U.S. Many shifted to streamed live or archived performances, with results ranging from innovative to downright disappointing. Others found ways to perform in outdoor or non-traditional spaces. Companies in a number of countries started working with hospitals, retirement homes, schools and universities to offer performances. Some organizations experimented with the drive-in theatre experience where people remained in their cars. There was an account of a festival in France which replaced the cancelled Avignon Festival which provided press exposure to smaller arts organizations which normally wouldn’t get it and apparently enabled the organizer, Theatre 14 to reach audiences not used to attending theatre. I am not sure how it was organized to encourage that. I assumed it might be outdoors in public spaces, but it appears the performances were held in physical performance spaces.

There were examples of efforts to provide better support for artists, both in terms of government policy:

Good practices are emerging, such as negotiating a minimum wage for artistic work in the theatre, also for people working on other terms than an employment contract e.g. in Austria or Finland. In some countries, such as Poland, new legal acts and wide-ranging regulations are created to support this professional group. In Belgium, the situation of artists resulting from the pandemic pushed the creation of a new type of ‘fair trade’ contract, in order to improve the contractual relations between artists and cultural operators. As a result of such a contract, a play can either be postponed or cancelled, but in the latter case part of the fees must be paid to the artists.

[…]

….The project was funded via the European Commission’s DG Employment and Social Affairs budget line for Information and Training Measures for Workers’ Organisations. It helped the unions to train and put in place a strategy in relation to organising, with a focus on freelance, self-employed and otherwise atypical workers in the Media Arts and Entertainment sectors.”83

As well as acts of solidarity:

Nau Ivanow, a cultural residence space in Spain that has a venue, decided that all income from ticket sales during the COVID-19 pandemic will be given to the performing companies and artists.
Also, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic they decided to offer their two rehearsal spaces for free for the interested artists/companies.

[..]

Some of the [Romanian] public cultural institutions (National Dance Centre, National Heritage Institute, Clujean Cultural Centre, National Museum Complex ASTRA Sibiu, Studio M Theatre in Sfantu Gheorghe) announced that they did not attend this funding session in order to show their solidarity with the independent cultural operators, whose resources have been drastically diminished, and who were less eligible for support than state funded institutions.

The report also made some recommendations for the future which I will probably cover in my post tomorrow.

Arts Orgs Are Shifting Approach Post-Pandemic, Will Grantmakers?

A link to a video presentation about a study the Michigan Arts and Culture Council commissioned of SMU DataArts popped up in my feed last week. I am not sure what inspired me to listen all the way through because I am glad I did. There were some small unexpected revelations that popped up.

For instance, right around the 30 min mark director of SMU DataArts Zannie Voss discusses how Michigan arts organizations have a higher median working capital than the national median, however the average working capital was quite a bit lower than the national average. (Reminder of median vs average) But both the median and average were close together which Voss says is unusual. After some investigation she found this was due to Michigan arts organizations having smaller budgets than the national average.

This carried over to organizations who primarily served BIPOC communities versus those who did not primarily serve BIPOC communities. Overall BIPOC serving groups in MI had the same liquidity as non-BIPOC serving groups in MI, whereas nationally BIPOC serving groups are more liquid than non-BIPOC groups.  This is due to the fact that in MI the budget size of both groups are closer to each other than their peers nationally.  Generally smaller organizations tend to be more liquid than larger ones.

Voss delves more deeply into this factor by noting that smaller BIPOC serving organizations especially tend not to grow large because there is a lot of unrecognized sweat equity being invested by people. This is one of those “you have to have money to make money” situations. If an organization can’t show a cash expense because so many people donate their effort, they don’t meet foundation/donor funding thresholds to receive more money.

She the moves into recommendations for funders as organizations try to recover from Covid restrictions. The first one is to “support grantee defined strategies for recovery and adaptation” and to “place bigger bets on BIPOC serving organizations who have been disproportionately by the pandemic and racial injustice” on the scope of decades rather than a couple years.  Another is to provide capacity building by supporting salaries and benefits for staffing and other operational expenses.

Specifically she encourages funders to focus on capacity building over organizational growth.  Instead of pushing organizations to add programs, granters should encourage organizations to set down deeper roots to ensure stability.

Likewise she advocates for the exploration of different business models, multi-year grant commitments and encouraging arts organizations to build cash reserves.

None of these suggestions are particularly new, but the pandemic reignited the discussion of many of the issues and created a context for implementing policy changes going forward.