Yeah It’s Hot, But Very Little Sustenance Consuming The Roiling Steam Of Culture

Seth Godin made a post today that advocates for the value of the journey over the destination:

TL;DR is defensive. Not simply because it defends our time, but because it defends us from change and from lived experience. A joke isn’t funny because it has a punchline. It’s funny because something happens to us as the joke unfolds, and the punch line is simply a punctuation of that experience.

“Orange you glad I didn’t say banana,” isn’t funny by itself.

Godin cites an article by Ted Gioia that I saw about a couple months ago in which Gioia uses the term “Dopamine Culture” to argue that people want to experience the hit rather than the journey.

In a chart from Gioia’s piece Godin includes in his post, Gioia charts the trend away from participating in an activity to spectating to essentially just consuming the short tail end of an experience.

Among Gioia’s examples which go from Slow Traditional Culture> Fast Modern Culture> Dopamine Culture:

Play A Sport> Watch A Sport> Gamble on A Sport
View in A Gallery > View On A Phone > Scroll on A Phone
Newspapers> Multimedia > Clickbait

Godin points out that what seems to be in demand is the metaphoric boiling water of all these short bits of experience we can consume, but that sort of diet doesn’t provide long term sustenance. Long time readers will know I approve of his sentiment that about not everything that can be measured matters:

Cavitation happens here. We’re at a rolling boil, and there’s a lot of pressure to turn our work and the work we consume to steam.

The steam analogy is worthwhile: a thirsty person can’t subsist on steam. And while there’s a lot of it, you’re unlikely to collect enough as a creator to produce much value.

[…]

And now we live in a time where the previously informal is easy to measure.

But just because it’s measured doesn’t mean it matters.

The creators and consumers that have the guts to ignore the steam still have a chance to make an impact.

The Work Doesn’t Get Any Easier At The Top

The Chronicle of Philanthropy had an article written by the co-executive directors of the Building Movement Project (BMP) which focuses on non-profit leadership issues. I have been writing about their various studies since 2008.

I haven’t yet read the full results of their recent study which asked the same questions of leaders in 2016, 2019, and 2022, but the Chronicle of Philanthropy article shares some seemingly contradictory findings.

BMP found that the number of people interested in assuming leadership roles in non-profit organizations has been dropping in each study since 2016. What really surprised them was that previously non-profit staff of color had increasingly expressed an interest in leadership positions, but that reversed and dropped significantly in the 2022 survey.

Upon further investigation, BMP found that the context in which aspiring leaders had assumed their roles wasn’t the most constructive (my emphasis):

… we found that aspiring leaders, especially those of color, weren’t being pulled into leadership through support and positive role models but were more often pushed into top positions to escape difficult work circumstances and improve the situation for themselves and others.

…We assumed that removing barriers would translate into a positive desire to move into leadership.

But the data showed the opposite. The more challenges respondents faced in nonprofit workplaces, including inadequate salaries and a lack of mentors, the more likely they were to express an interest in the top role, particularly people of color.

Basically, the assumption that things are better at the top didn’t hold true. This was especially the case for persons of color who worked for predominantly white boards. They felt less supported by leadership and boards than white leaders or staffs of color who worked for boards and leaders of color.  While that does seem to indicate that persons of color can create an environment which will be more supportive of aspiring leaders, they actually need to feel like they can stay in the role long enough to cultivate younger staff.

Along these lines, BMP found:

“…leaders of color receive far less support from both their predecessors and leaders in other organizations than white executive directors do. Specifically, 22 percent of leaders of color and 30 percent of white leaders got support from their predecessors; and 33 percent of leaders of color and 41 percent of white leaders got support from leaders in other organizations.”

Among the suggestions BMP has for reversing the diminishing interest in executive leadership of non-profits are some obvious ones like making sure the work load is reasonable and borne by sufficient staff, cultivating younger staff, providing mentoring and networking opportunities from peers and retired executives.  Unfortunately, one of the biggest problems with this list is that fewer funders are willing to provide the financial support to increase staffing, education, mentoring, and networking required to empower leaders.

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

Cleveland Ballet Issues Turned Out To Be Much Bigger Than Initially Suspected

Back in November, I had written about allegations of harassment by the administration of the Cleveland Ballet of one of their teachers due to body weight issues. I thought that would more or less be the last time I wrote about that particular accusation. However, the results of the investigation by the ballet board has turned into a lesson about boards exercising better organizational oversight.

According to a recent news story, the CEO, Michael Krasnyansky, was essentially forced to resign when the board investigation started and credible accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching emerged stretching back over the course of years.

His wife and artistic director, Gladisa Guadalupe, was just fired after the investigation by the law firm Jones Day uncovered a culture of intimidation and retribution that aimed to obstruct the investigation and a wide range of issues related to financial impropriety and self-dealing.

From the Jones Day report:

-Description by Ms. Guadalupe of complaining dancers as “moles” or “troublemakers” and stating that once the investigation was over, “we will handle the troublemakers.”
-Proposal to lay off employees suspected of communicating with news media.
-Altering Nutcracker cast assignments to the detriment of dancers suspected of cooperating with the investigation.
-Dismissing from the Cleveland School of Dance faculty dancers who cooperated with the investigation.

[…]

-Commingling of funds of Ballet and Cleveland School of Dance, which are separate entities.
-Cleveland School of Dance expenses improperly paid by the Ballet.
-Ballet funds used to pay for personal expenses of Mr. Krasnyansky or Ms. Guadalupe, including personal car insurance, travel, meals, and lodging.
-Restricted donations used to pay for current operating expenses rather than the restricted purpose designated by the donor.
-Significant amounts of endowment donations used for current operating expenses but booked as expenses for the 2023 endowment campaign event

To add a degree of insult to injury, when the the interim artistic director who stepped in when Krasnyansky and Guadalupe were suspended in November was accused of plagiarizing the choreography for the Ballet’s Nutcracker production and ultimately stepped down herself.

When thinking about how this situation could have been avoided, you run into the question of balancing micromanagement by the board with the board exercising appropriate oversight. I suspect that on paper, policies and procedures were in place to avoid the misuse of funds, but the culture of intimidation magnified by the top leadership being married may have made staff reluctant or unable to enforce them.

Similarly, it sounds like it would have been difficult to conduct an investigation or even regular check-in conversations with the dancers about their perceptions of the work environment in the face of the pressure to keep quiet that was being brought to bear.

By no means am I excusing what happened. I am just observing that in hindsight, it is easy to say the board should have been paying more attention. It is difficult to identify what measures they could have put in place which would have provided them with accurate, honest reporting about the state of the the organization given the effort of obfuscate. The Jones Day report said despite all they discovered, they had repeatedly been denied access to most of the materials and records they requested so there are likely other issues which have remained uncovered.