Who Remembers When There Were Shared Comedy Bits?

There is a lot of concern these days about intellectual property rights. Artists don’t want their work copied, sampled, superficially reproduced, etc., and have someone else profit off it.

But that wasn’t always the case, even within the last 100 years or so. A memory of old reruns I watched as a kid bubbled up this weekend where I recalled seeing an old vaudeville bit performed by a number of comedians. It is called by different names, but the line common to all the bits is “Slowly I turned,” as someone is set off into a homicidal rage upon hearing a key word.

I most clearly remember it from I Love Lucy, but I saw other comedians do it as well:

Abbott and Costello did it

The Three Stooges did it

According to Wikipedia, a lot of other folks did it or referenced it as well.

I started to wonder when the dynamic changed. I would guess it was when increasing mass media made entertainment more lucrative. When you go from having everyone making a passable living using a shared bit on the vaudeville circuit in front of a relatively limited audience to a limited number of people making a lot more money doing a bit that far larger audiences can view and go on to associate more exclusively with a single artist or comedy team, people may start to get a little protective.

I am not sure if that is actually the case of what happened. It is just a theory I had. I would be interested in learn more if anyone knows.

In the context of today where everyone is replicating the same dance or challenge for their Tiktok video, I wonder if there might be a shift back toward shared entertainment content. Though that is much more simple in theory than reality given that there have been controversies of white influencers getting credit and monetary rewards from copying the dance moves of black creators.

20th Anniversary Of Butts In The Seats

This past Friday, February 23 marked the 20th anniversary of this blog. While Drew McManus often remembers the anniversary better than I do, I did recall the anniversary was coming up prior to the actual date.

When I first started back in 2004, I used a platform provided by my internet service provider for a total of two entries. It was quickly clear that their set up was not suitable for blogging. I ended up switching to Movable Type which I stayed on for awhile until Drew McManus invited me to join the Inside The Arts platform.  I am glad he did because the technical requirements for maintaining the blog were quickly outstripping my ability and interest.

Happily, Drew was far more skilled in such things. And while his focus on expanding his business to provide websites and ticketing CRM for arts organizations led to the sunsetting his blog, Adaptistration, his company embodies the same approach as his blog–providing useful tools and advice for arts and cultural organizations. At one time you might have read his posts or attended conference sessions on how to effectively use Google Analytics or analyze 990 filings for orchestra compensation. Now he focuses on making it easier for customers to learn about organizations, events, and feel comfortable rather than overwhelmed purchasing tickets.

While I didn’t initially mean to make this post an ad for his company, I have known Drew a long time, and our conversations have informed many of my posts. (He recently commented in a Zoom conference that I was the attendee he had known the longest and met in person the least.)

However, my initial inspiration to start blogging was another Andrew — Andrew Taylor, who writes the Artful Manager blog. I actually wrote to him with a comment on one of his posts shortly before starting my blog and he included my response in a later post. (Mine is the one about Chick tracts) I was so thrilled, I made it the subject of my second blog post.

There have been a lot of people who have influenced my thinking over the years. At the risk of overlooking some important ones, I will cite Carter Gilles and Nina Simon as being among those who have helped to shift my thinking and improve the way I operate professionally. The point being, this blog hasn’t emerged from a vacuum but stands on the shoulders of giants who have come before.

When I look back at some of my earlier posts, I have to cringe at some as I compare where I am now philosophically and professionally. Certainly others have stood the test of time. This blog does reflect much of the general thought about how arts and cultural organizations should operate so it is also a testament to how the general thought has evolved over the last two decades.

My view is that things have been moving in a more constructive direction in terms of being more audience and community-centric. This has manifested in orientations toward welcoming and inclusivity for community members, but also staff and volunteers. There have been increased implementation of policies to create better work environments for employees at all levels, including interns and apprentices.

Yes, there are still a ton of hostile work environments out there. You don’t have to look far or hard to find stories about organizational leaders who seem to be intentionally doing the worst they can to make people miserable. I have written about a lot of them. But you can absolutely see examples of organizations who are breaking away from the long seated mentality of the show must go on even if it destroys you/you have to pay your dues like I did/suffer for your art.

Thanks to all of you who have been reading all the while

The Measurement Used Can Alter The Impact Of Your Work

Long time readers know that I resist the use of economic impact as a measure of value for arts and culture for many reasons. The late potter-philosopher Carter Gillies was really effective in calling attention to the myriad ways in which using inappropriate measures of value would result in meaningless data and incorrect beliefs and assumptions.

Seth Godin recently made a post that illustrated that the measure you use shapes how you perceive the impact and value of the work you do. This brings the concept that just because you can measure it, doesn’t mean the result is meaningful to a more personal, relatable level.

Godin observes that we have long been indoctrinated to believe that completion of a task is a measure of productivity.  But, he asks, if “I did all my homework” is a measure of productivity, what has the practice of completing your homework ever done for you?

The actual measures of productivity that might be useful range quite a bit:

• I did enough to not get fired.
• I did enough to get promoted.
• I did enough to get hired by a better firm.
• I solved a problem for a customer who was frustrated.
• I changed the system and now my peers are far more productive.
• I invented something that creates new possibilities and new problems.
• I created new assets that I can use (and others can as well).
• I didn’t waste today.

Pick your measurement and the impact of your chores will change.

Just because you can measure productivity in terms of work completed, it doesn’t necessarily yield results that are meaningful–except perhaps to whomever is selling the work you have completed. But there are other measurements of value that can be applied to your work, some of them far more meaningful than others. The impact of that meaning could have–and I use this term intentionally–immeasurably more value than just units of work completed over time.

Guaranteed Basic Income Programs Seem To Benefit Those With Concrete Goals

Long time readers know I tend to pay attention to news about guaranteed basic income programs, particularly those that have artists as a target group. Thanks to a CityLab link to a story on Los Angeles’ recent foray into providing guaranteed basic income, there is more data about what approaches are most effective. This program didn’t target artists as a group, but it has some good insights.

Like most stories on the subject, there were many heartening stories about the successes people had and continued to experience after the program ended. However, this article also mentioned those who were doing well while they were receiving the $1,000 month funds, but once the program ended found themselves faced with living in their cars. Anecdotally, at least those who had problems after the funding ended weren’t spending that much differently than those who continued to thrive. (i.e. the biggest spurge spending was on rather modest once a week meals)

What seems to be the differentiating factor is whether people had concrete goals they wanted to achieve prior to receiving the monthly payment:

Participants that do achieve a measure of economic mobility, she said, are those who already had concrete goals or plans.

“What happens with guaranteed income is that it smooths that income volatility … and it creates predictability,” Castro said. “When you have that floor, that scarcity starts to go away. And we know that it calms the mind, it calms the spirit, and it creates space for people to re-imagine an alternative future, or to maybe take steps toward a goal that they’ve always had but have not been able to actualize.”

Abigail Marquez, general manager of L.A.’s Community Investment for Families Department, which ran BIG:LEAP, called guaranteed income “one effective strategy” for ending generational poverty in L.A. Such programs must be paired with workforce development, economic development and housing strategies, she said.

Knowing this, one concern I would have is that guaranteed basic income programs not gradually evolve guidelines similar to foundation grant programs where candidates for receiving the money have to provide evidence of having goals they are pursuing and just need a little bit of help gaining stability. Unfortunately, it is easy to imagine this happening because the folks putting up the money want to hear success stories and know their funds are being used effectively. Little by little, the unrestricted use nature of guaranteed basic income can become a little more restricted.

On the other hand, I feel like guaranteed basic income for artists becomes an even better idea since artists generally always have projects in mind they want to pursue. Though I am sure there are some who would say some of those projects aren’t as practical as the goals people in the L.A. Times story were working on.