“…Black people, are just living works of art, in our culture and being.”

For years now I have been following and writing on the Culture Track survey.   At one time the survey was being conducted every three years or so in order to measure changing trends and attitudes about arts and culture.

When Covid hit, the folks at Culture Track decided it was important to closely monitor the impact of the pandemic on perceptions of arts and culture. It seemed like there was a new phase of the study being conducted every six months. (Disclosure, my venue participated in the study and has been grateful to receive useful data as a result.)

One of the things they noticed early on was that racial minorities were underrepresented in the survey and worked with NORC at the University of Chicago to collect data to offset that disparity.   In the most recent phase of the survey, they included a qualitative segment in which they extensively interviewed fifty Black and African-American participants to gain insights that the broader survey couldn’t provide.

In early May, Wallace Foundation posted an interview with some of the co-authors of the report on the role of race and ethnicity in cultural engagement. I haven’t read that report yet, but the interview provides some interesting perspectives.

The same interview links to the qualitative report, A Place to Be Heard, A Space to Feel Held: Black Perspectives on Creativity, Trustworthiness, Welcome and Well Being  This is extremely valuable to read.  While there are reasons specific to them that may or may not cause Black residents of the United States to feel an organization is trustworthy or welcoming, there is a lot in the responses that illustrate why anyone in general would not feel a sense of trust and welcome.

The findings are broken into four sections: Creativity, Self-Care, Trustworthiness, Welcome & Belonging. While there is much to be garnered from the executive summary of the study, the respective sections offer a lot to sink your consideration into.

I am always keenly interested to hear how people perceive creative practice and the study did not disappoint.

Some preferred to frame their creativity as a state of mind (“feeling like an artist inside”), an attitude they viewed as fundamental to guiding one’s life. One participant described this as an active rather than spectatorial process: “It’s not just about appreciating creativity, but about bringing creativity from the world into yourself.” Others seemed hesitant to call themselves creative, especially if there were people in their lives who had pursued creative careers. “I am very in awe of art and artists,” said one participant. “I think we all have creative sides, I think mine is not as expressed as others’.

The more I see people asked about creativity, the more nuance appears. I am starting to feel this is a topic we don’t talk to people about enough. In fact, the study says that in the first phase of the survey conducted shortly after Covid started, Black respondents reported participating in fewer cultural activities than the overall pool of respondents. In this qualitative survey, the range of activities people reported participating in was much broader.

Having the conversations about what people define as creative really seems to matter.

“And that idea of creativity as ubiquitous and lived was, for some, specifically tied to being Black and practicing Black culture as an important form of creative expression….As one participant put it, “I think that everybody, particularly Black people, are just living works of art, in our culture and being.”

In the trustworthiness section of the study, one of the big takeaways I had was that just because the demographic segment whom you hoped to reach are showing up, it doesn’t mean they trust your organization.

The people we spoke with can hold a “double consciousness” about cultural organizations’ trustworthiness and experiential value…they can enjoy the experience even though they don’t have a trusting relationship with it. They’re used to some amount of cognitive dissonance in these experiences: they can relish the art and overall experience even while knowing it’s problematic in important ways

Some of the issues of trustworthiness are related to who has influence and who is making the decisions are cultural organizations. There has been a fair bit of conversation these last few years about representation on executive staffs and boards. But it is also a matter of what stories and faces are appearing on stages and walls. One of the direct quotes from a participant is particularly pointed.

Traveling internationally…when you go to museums, you see what you are told in the U.S. is not true. The narrative of African race is much more out there than in the U.S. If you go to Sweden to the Nobel Prize Museum, [you’ll be] blown away by how many Brown people have won the Nobel prize. There are a whole bunch of us across the globe… I went to Mozart’s house, and I saw how he played alongside Black classical composers. Look at all this greatness we don’t talk about [in this country].”

The question of welcoming and belonging are closely related to these same factors of representation. Just because someone feels welcomed to a space, doesn’t necessarily translate into a feeling of belonging. While it is more marked when physical traits mark you as different from the rest of the crowd, most people can understand the difference because we have all had an experience where we are excited to be somewhere, but we don’t feel like we fit in. It doesn’t even need to be something like not knowing which of five forks to use at a formal wedding reception, we have all walked into a restaurant or store and shown ourselves to be outsiders by messing up the seating or ordering process.

Just as it takes time to become accustomed to the practices of a new place, making someone feel they belong is the process of small experiences over a long time. As the study points out, this can’t entirely be achieved by making an intentional effort to be hospitable to new arrivals, there are also myriad cues about who belongs, many of which will be invisible to insiders. It will likely take conversations with those with whom you have cultivated a degree of trust to identify what cues may be undermining a sense of belonging for them and their friends.

Take the time to read the report of the qualitative study. For many, there will be some things you are aware of already, things you may have already suspected, and things you haven’t been explicitly told before.  For others, it will be a lot of what you already know and will perhaps appreciate having explicitly mentioned and talked about in a manner it hasn’t been before.

Into The Arts And Out of ‘The Real World’

Last week Vu Le made a Twitter post alluding to the fact a lot of corporate leaders will shift to leading non-profits, but you basically never hear of a non-profit leader making a career transition to lead a corporation.

That made me think of a story Howard Sherman had linked to, (apparently back in October, it didn’t seem that long ago), reporting that cultural organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area were courting people who didn’t have previous experience in the industry due to the high level of turn over.

There is quite a bit more nuance to the story than you might expect, especially given the context I created with Vu Le’s post (which remains a valid point, regardless.)

The piece opens mentioning an art administrator who asked for a higher salary upon applying for an arts job and was given it.

A bit later, it mentions that revamping job descriptions and interview questions to include diversity, equity and inclusion was helping to draw people to museum work.

“If you look at our job descriptions, they look like manifestos,” said Lori Fogarty, director and CEO of the Oakland Museum of California.

Each museum applicant who makes it to the interview round gets two documents describing the institution’s work on anti-racism and equity, and that’s not just informational.

“We ask questions about how values of anti-racism and equity actually show up in your work and how you would apply these values to your position,” Fogarty said. “What we’re finding is this is a big reason people are applying to the museum.”

Similarly, revamping job descriptions to remove degree requirements that are not necessary to perform the work and allowing the flexibility to work from home are cited as changes that are making culture jobs more attractive to applicants.

However, there was one part of the article that grabbed my attention (my emphasis):

Even with the arts’ lower salaries compared with many other hours-heavy industries, such as tech, employers say they’re still finding applicants, some of whom are transferring from one position to another within the field or coming from another industry entirely.

“Applicants are easier to find than before COVID,” said the Ballet’s St. Germain-Gordon. “I’ve interviewed people trying to get into the arts out of ‘the real world’ mostly.”

[…]

At the same time, the social justice movement has led some veterans of the arts — a field known for its long hours and low pay — to rethink their life priorities in other directions. Some have decided to leave the field altogether.

Michelle Lynch Reynolds, for example, left her role as executive director of Joe Goode Performance Group in September and does not plan to get another job in the arts. She says the problem wasn’t with her company but with the industry.

“My career felt emotionally tied to my identity as a creative individual,” she said. “That is personal, but it’s also systemic. There’s an entire culture built on the idea of, ‘This is what you’re living for.’ ”

Part of me was wondering if this was a “grass is greener” in the easy non-profit world and the folks moving into the field are in for a rude awakening or if the arts and culture world has performed a sufficient degree of self-reflection and will provide a better work environment for experienced new hires and new entrants to the field.

Around next October I would be interested to hear how things have been going, whether in SF or other parts of the country where a similar shift is playing out. Near the beginning of the article the authors mentioned that the inclusion of people from outside the arts and culture world might introduce some productive change. If new entrants are coming in at the early- to mid-career level positions, the ultimate outcomes may differ from when someone moves from the corporate to non-profit world at the executive level.

Is Your Talent Being Hoarded?

The Marginal Revolution blog linked to a really interesting study on talent hoarding a practice in which managers prevent productive workers from seeking promotions. The study author, Ingrid Haegele, found that when the manager is promoted, subordinates have the best opportunity to gain promotions themselves.

My findings indicate that talent hoarding causes misallocation of talent by reducing the quality and performance of promoted workers….Manager rotations increase worker applications for major promotions by 123%, indicating that talent hoarding deters a large group of workers from applying for promotions.

[…]

I find that talent hoarding has disparate impacts by gender. Talent hoarding deters a larger share of female applicants from applying for major promotions compared to men. Female marginal applicants are twice as likely to land a major promotion than males, implying that talent hoarding
is more consequential for women’s career progression. Conditional on landing a promotion, women are almost three times as likely as their male counterparts to perform well in their new positions, suggesting that the firm may be failing to realize potential productivity gains by not enabling
talented women to progress to higher-level positions. Female marginal applicants are much more qualified than males in terms of their educational qualifications and past performance, indicating that talent hoarding affects women at a higher part of the quality distribution compared to men.

Interestingly, Haegele found that talent hoarding was generally gender neutral. Male and female managers were equally likely to hoard talent and these managers suppressed the advancement opportunities of both male and female subordinates generally equally. She says credits the gender difference to:

“….the survey finds that women in the firm place more value on preserving a good relationship with their manager and rely more on managers’ career guidance when making application decisions.”

As a result, they are less likely to apply for promotions.

A couple things to note: First, this is only a study of the impact of talent hoarding. There are plenty of other factors which contribute to workplace inequities for everyone. The author had to control for a lot of factors in her study, among them being that managers have a lot of subtle tools that their disposal to reinforce talent hoarding that are difficult to detect.

The other thing to note is that she conducted her survey on a large multi-national manufacturing corporation with most of its employees in Germany. While she does cite other studies illustrating how talent hoarding occurs in the U.S. and other countries, her findings may not be entirely applicable to small non-profits in the U.S.

Talent hoarding in staff of 12 is certain to have entirely different dynamics, especially with the limited opportunities for internal promotions.

But if anything, during this Great Resignation period where people are looking for better opportunities for themselves, being aware that your manager has a disincentive to praise your talents, both within the organization and to you personally is something to consider.

Come For A Haircut, See A Van Gogh

It will probably come as no surprise to anyone running an arts venue that many attendees are over the mask wearing thing. At my venue, we actually had a more conservative mandatory policy for mask wearing than our university parent. At the beginning of December, we were prevailed upon to loosen those restrictions by my boss so for about two weeks we were at “strongly suggested” before the omicron surge saw everyone, including our parent organization institute mandatory masking again.  Still, it wasn’t long after the new year that we had people leveraging loopholes to avoid wearing masks.

Over the holidays I was amused to read that some landmark institutions in the Netherlands were chafing against restrictions there in a fairly creative way. The Van Gogh Museum, Mauritshuis gallery, and Concertgebouw concert hall engaged some barbers, nail artists and fitness instructors to provide services at their venues because those businesses weren’t restricted in the way that art institutions were.

“We wanted to make the point that a museum is a safe visit and we should be open,” Van Gogh Museum director Emilie Gordenker told AFP.

“The mayor called me last night and she said she’s not permitting this. We expect to get a warning at some point after which we will have to close, but we wanted to make this point very badly so here we are.”

One of the barber’s clients said he had come because he was “pro-culture”.

[…]

Nearby, the “Hair salon at the Concertgebouw” event saw two masked barbers clip hair on stage, while the orchestra played Symphony No. 2 by Charles Iver.

“After two years of patience and an ever-constructive attitude, it is high time for a fair perspective for the cultural sector,” Concertgebouw director Simon Renink said.

Fitness classes took place at the Mauritshuis gallery in The Hague, home to Vermeer’s famed “Girl with the Peal Earring, while the Speelklok museum in Utrecht set itself up as a gym.

No mention of whether the ubiquitous “Shave and a Haircut” riff was played anywhere.

While the pandemic is certainly going to force arts organizations to rethink their business models, I am not sure that salon services are going to become the next trend. Exercise and yoga classes at museums and galleries was a thing pre-pandemic so I wouldn’t completely discount the idea.

The story does remind us that arts people are very creative thinkers. If arts leaders are willing to exercise this skillset in defiance of governments, perhaps they will be more willing to try new ideas without fearing the reactions of funders and donors as much