Delay May Appear Wise, But Is The Outcome The Same?

Interesting short piece on the FastCompany website that points out the current uncertainty about the future created the the Covid-19 pandemic makes deferring on a decision seem the wise option, however there is always a cost associated with delaying on that decision. The author of the piece, Art Markman, says that because deferring the decision seems so attractive, people don’t actually think through whether the delay will make any difference or not. (my emphasis)

Leaders might think it prudent to wait for more information about the status of the pandemic before moving forward. However, it is always worth making a decision tree to determine whether a different decision would be reached in each of these conditions. Key leaders do not always take this step. In some cases, leaders might find that the best outcome is actually the same regardless of the status of the pandemic. In that case, deferring the decision would involve paying a cost to defer the decision in order to get information that does not change the decision that gets made. There was no reason to incur that cost.

I haven’t come up with a scenario other than capital improvements/repairs and staffing decisions in which this might apply to arts and cultural organizations. I may be too entrenched right now  in thinking about the pros and cons of re-opening venues in the context of economics and public perception/willingness to broaden my imagination. However, I figure some readers might be in situations where being reminded to make a decision tree might be useful for helping move things forward.

It’s A Good Time To Broaden Board Composition Too

Tyler Green’s tweet today about art museums acting like corporations rather than charities got me to look at the full series of tweets on the subject.  He is angered by the fact that instead of stepping up to support museums in a time of crisis, the billionaire members of boards are voting for mass lay-offs of staffs.

In brief, his argument seems to be that while museum boards are comprised of people who make the largest individual donations to museums, they are not the largest sources of support for those museums.

He notes that many charities have board members who represent the membership or community the organization serves, but institutions like San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) don’t have any.

All this is worth serious consideration as our organizations seek to move on to the next normal. Those who have supported our organizations in the past with their participation may no longer feel safe engaging with the general public. There is an opportunity to start working toward oft expressed ideals of engaging a broader audience with whom you haven’t had the time and resources to initiate a conversation. Because they are increasingly likely to be your new audience.

Their numbers may not be as large as your old audience, but social distancing rules have reduced your top capacity so you have some cover to explain the smaller crowds.

I wrote about Nina Simon’s talk on this effort earlier this month.

But perhaps most importantly in the context of Tyler Green’s posts, it is probably time to broaden the membership of the board. This is likely to necessitate a shift in corporate/board culture. Even if your board isn’t comprised of billionaires, it is highly likely that the group dynamics of the board are going to feel alienating to any new members chosen to represent the core demographics served by your organization.

You Don’t Know You Are In Water

Seth Godin made a post today that addresses the current climate of Black Lives Matter, policing, statues, etc without directly naming any of these things.  (A week ago he mentioned he generally tries to write posts that were evergreen rather than specific to the times in which they were penned, but felt he had to unequivocally state Black Lives Matter.)

Today he points out that when you are part of the dominant culture, you don’t see it around you like the proverbial fish that aren’t aware they are in water. It isn’t until you go to another country that you recognize every small assumption comprising your daily routine needs to be examined closely just to cross the street to get breakfast.

This experience can be part of what is fun and engaging about your visit. But part of what makes it fun is that you know you can return to a familiar environment later where you will have many stories to tell. The prospect of living in that foreign place for a longer time can be more daunting.

When media images, policies and corporate standards tell someone that they are an outsider who needs to fit in in non-relevant ways, we’re establishing patterns of inequity and stress. We need to be clear about the job that needs to be done, the utility we’re seeking to create, but not erect irrelevant barriers, especially ones we can’t see without effort.

Good systems are resilient and designed to benefit the people who use them.

If the dominant culture makes it harder for people who don’t match the prevailing irrelevant metrics to contribute and thrive, it’s painful and wasteful and wrong.

If you think about the above quote from Godin a bit, you might see that there are a good many times when the dominant culture shows little regard about alienating its own members. We have seen it happen often in recent years in both large and small ways. Currently we are in a period where many people are realizing their membership isn’t as secure as they thought or that they are no longer in synch with the terms of membership. The result is, they are finding greater common cause with those who have felt themselves outsiders.

But also, lest it get lost in the macro level big societal questions being wrestled with on the national and international stage, Godin’s admonishment about good systems being resilient and designed to benefit the users is just as applicable on the micro level of your organizational business hours and admission practices.

How Do Arts Administrator Practice To Get Better?

Sometimes a good headline is all it takes. When I saw a link to a New Yorker piece about “Bassoonfluencers,” I knew I had to at least take a look.

It turned out to be an article about a woman who posts her daily bassoon practice sessions on Instagram. She was inspired by violinist Hillary Hahn’s online posting of 100 days of her own practice regimen. The bassoonist, Morgan Davison, feels that being accountable to her followers to make a daily posting helps keep her motivated and evaluating the quality of her recordings has kept her on a path to improvement.

Readers may recall I made a post back in January about Hillary Hahn’s use of daydreaming as part of her practice routine.

I have long been interested in the process of practice and improvement so the article about Davison and other musicians using social media as part of their practice intrigues me.

On the other hand, it isn’t exactly a new idea for me. I have long felt writing this blog and having an accountability to my readers aids my effort to be a better arts administrator. The need to seek out new material to write about keeps me abreast of all sorts of developments in policy, theory, and practice. Additionally, it helps me perceive connections that wouldn’t seemingly intersect with arts and culture.

I would be interested to know if anyone else has a practice they feel improves their proficiency as an arts administrator.  Performers have long used recordings as a way to reflect upon and improve themselves. Posting those sessions on social media is only the newest manifestation of that.

Except for reading, going to conferences and networking, I am not sure if arts administration has had a similar tool to use. These things don’t provide for easy reflective assessment. Keeping a journal might be the best method.  It might be that there hasn’t been a perceived need for self-improvement in arts administration, but the challenges and speed of change over the last 20 years or so have revealed a need for it.

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