Don’t Forget That Failure Is An Option

It has only been in recent years that a message of embracing and talking about our failure has been part of a public conversation among arts and cultural organizations. I am not sure how many people are including these stories in their reports to funders, but little by little people are willing to admit that not everything has gone has planned.

Still, we don’t see a lot of articles and case studies where people are analyzing where they went wrong. It was for that reason that Madhavan Pillai’s account in Arts Management Quarterly drew my attention. Pillai had experienced great success with a walking project which drew attention to the polluted ecosystem along the Cooum River near Chennai, India. Buoyed by this success, he wanted to create an arts festival along the river to inspire people to take ownership in the well-being of the river.

The project concept was well received among partners and supporters, the goals and objectives were crystal clear. A proposal was written, presentations were made, budgetary details worked out, teams were set, their roles and responsibilities were defined and agreed on. A strong network was established without leaving a single stone unturned including a focus on public relations and advertisement. With all ingredients for a very successful international festival in place, the project failed

Among the factors Pillali attributes to the failure was actually not acknowledging that the project might fail. The other was using a democratic leadership style that sought the consent of all the partners. (my emphasis)

The overemphasis on democratic leadership, which is otherwise considered to be a best practice, turned around to become disastrous…During the high-point of crisis I was consulting team members and addressing everyone’s concerns….A consent with all members could never be reached. The mode of action instead geared towards an apologetic atmosphere with self-satisfied and settling egos within the team.

Based on this experience, I think that leadership should be trained to face failure as the most powerful source for know-how and understanding. It teaches survival, renewal and reinvention of yourself and the organization you are leading, but this learning about failure should be built in education. If the control over the team and partners is not strong, the leadership is forced to accept new ideas that emerge every day.

The lack of factoring the failure left no room to fight the crisis and I was left alone with unnerving thoughts, waiting for a miracle to happen. Irrational and persistent fear of failing kept me towards pushing my limits and digging inside to explore….As the famous proverb goes “success has hundred fathers, failure is an orphan”, I was abandoned.

A lot of interesting thoughts here. In addition to the text I bolded regarding how experiencing failure makes you stronger, Pillali’s mention of being paralyzed by fear and waiting for a miracle were not unfamiliar. I have seen a good number of arts and cultural organizations where miracle seeking in the face of a paralyzing crisis has been the default mode of operation. I have felt fortunate that I was not on the inside of those organizations because I have had the unfortunate experience of being on the inside of organizations that operated in this way.

Tell A Creative You Love Them This Valentine’s Day

As we come up on Valentine’s Day, a little reminder that there are a lot more ways to say, “I Love You,” than speaking those specific words.

A couple years ago Gavin Aung Than created a cartoon on his Zen Pencil’s site illustrating the sentiments of filmmaker Kevin Smith that, “It costs nothing to encourage an artist.”

Here is a small screenshot from the comic. I won’t spoil the ending, but according to Smith something is lost when you discourage an artist.

Ticket Reseller War Stories

About three years ago I wrote about the problem of ticket resellers creating website names that approximate that of performance venues or using names that imply they are the central ticketing source for your city. At the time, my venue saw people who had bought tickets at a big mark up or for events that weren’t actually happening once a year or so. Now that I have moved to new position in a new city, I see it happening ALL THE TIME.

Perhaps one of the reasons this issue is coming to light regularly is that we changed our seating configuration about two years ago resulting in the removal of two rows and various individual seats. The resellers are selling people tickets to those non-existent seats so the problems is very evident very quickly. I just attended a meeting of colleagues around the state and many of them are reporting similar issues with ticket resellers.

Right around Christmas this year, we had a show cancel and in the process of issuing refunds, we had to tell a gentleman that we couldn’t process a refund to his credit card because it wasn’t the card that purchased the tickets–it was the ticket resller’s. He was irate to say the least, especially since he paid about triple the actual cost of the tickets. He demanded we call the company and tell them the show was cancelled since he felt, perhaps correctly, that they wouldn’t believe him.

Much to my surprise, after waiting on hold for quite some time, I was able to get the company to process a refund for him.

We include a warning in all our email newsletters encouraging people to only purchase from us–but that only reaches people who have already successfully purchased tickets from us, not those wishing to attend for the first time.

If you are running into this, there are a couple things you can do. First is to do an online search using various terms like “tickets venuename theater yourtown,” varying the order and removing your venue name and only using generic terms like theater, dance, music. See what sites come up and see what they are selling your tickets for.

Contacting them to tell them to stop probably won’t work, but at least you will be aware of what customers might be seeing.  I don’t know if Google is doing a better job fighting  SEO attempts by these sites, but when I ran a search before writing this post, there were far fewer reseller sites appearing as results before my venue or even on the first page than there were in December.

However, the one that did come up before us is offering tickets in rows that no longer exist to a show that sold out in October.

Something we have done is worked with our ticket vendor to disallow credit card sales from out of state ZIP codes. We are smack in the middle of a state so it isn’t a big deal. Even if you are on a border, you may be able to do this for a significant geographic region across borders. Most ticket reseller purchases we have encountered are from the West Coast or Mountain West.

Be aware though that resellers get around this by using Visa/MasterCard branded gift cards which don’t require ZIP codes.

Another thing to watch out for is people posting on your Facebook events page saying they bought tickets but can’t make the show, encouraging people to send them a direct message and they will sell them cheaply.

Generally what these people, as well as many of the reseller sites will do, is place an order with you after people have contacted them about their “extra tickets.”  I would encourage you to delete these messages when you come across them. One of the big giveaways is that the Facebook account has been created in the last couple months and the person doesn’t live anywhere near you. They probably won’t have a record of purchasing tickets from you either. They may populate their page with pictures and friends connections to add some verisimilitude, but if you look carefully there are some clues.

Today we had a guy offering tickets for an event tonight that was born in Canada, apparently lives 300 miles or so away from us in Florida and is the CEO of a company in Poland.

I am sure there are much more sophisticated techniques other groups are using on larger venues where the return on investment makes it worth it, but I figure this will provide people with a general sense of what to watch out for.

Anyone got any stories or tips they want to share?

Is Art Dishwasher Safe?

After long correspondence (both in years and text length), I finally had an opportunity to meet with Carter Gillies over Thanksgiving weekend.  On at least one occasion I dubbed Carter “potter-philosopher,” because he has studied and practiced both disciplines.

Carter has been a big proponent of measuring the value of the arts on their own terms rather than their instrumental value to stimulate economies, raise test scores, cure cancer and bring world peace.

We spoke and debated for many hours on these ideas. However, the really challenging conversation was the one I had with myself days later. It is a conversation that millions have had and never concluded satisfactorily.

Before I left Carter’s house, he took me back to his studio and told me to pick out whatever I wanted. I grabbed a bowl that caught my eye and Carter discussed why he liked the glaze he applied to it, pointing out the subtle golden flecks that dotted different places.

A few days later he wrote me thanking me for visiting and hoping I enjoyed eating out of the bowl.

I was mortified. How could I eat out of that bowl? It was a piece of art that represented the culmination of our relationship to this point. I had it prominently displayed on a table in front of my sofa.

But then when I thought about it, I have two mugs given to me by one of the directors of the art museum back where I previously lived in Ohio. I drink out of those all the time. In fact, I am drinking out of one of them right now, totally unplanned. To leave them in the cupboard and not use them would be a small betrayal of my relationship with her, implying they were not good enough to eat out of.

I have endowed both the bowl and mugs with value derived from my relationship with the makers. My conclusions about what the appropriate treatment of each are completely opposite and pretty illogical.

I am not even sure the question here is “what is art?”

Does mundane and common use diminish an object’s identity as art while preserving it in an untouched and stationary state except to dust it impart greater identity as an object d’art?

The makers are both in my mind and heart when I see and use these objects which is part of the value for me. Does sentimentality contribute or detract to the objective value of these items?

These are questions that can be addressed forever. But this also illustrates why it is so much easier to talk about the value of art in terms of instrumentality. Instrumental measures are things people can grasp on to much easier.

The big problem, however, as Carter points out is that we never really try to introduce the conversation with policy makers about why we value the arts.  It can be really easy to talk in a passionate way about why you value the bowl on your coffee table and the mugs in your cupboard as well as the stuff hanging on your walls.

Yes, there is no facile way to empirically say the bowl is more valuable than the mug. There is a whole lot of complicated factors that contribute to record breaking auctions at Sotheby’s .

People value art and creativity in their lives for reasons that have nothing to do with what they can sell it for or enhancing their test scores.

The first step is opening your mouth to mention that the true value of a creative expression is divorced of these measures and potentially even divorced from another person’s perception of that creative expression.

Send this to a friend