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.

Customer Desires: Always Complicated

The news JC Penney is closing a number of their stores and liquidating the inventory reminded me of a post I made eight years ago about the company’s efforts to deal more fairly with customers. Instead of having all sorts of sales and discounts that lead consumers to suspect something had been marked up last week in order to put it on sale this week, among other bits of trickery, JC Penny’s new CEO at the time pledged to offer completely transparent, low everyday pricing.

The move backfired on them leading a number of business reporters to observe that perhaps people liked to be cheated. That CEO was out, a new one was ushered in who restored the sales and coupons.

It was all a bit revelatory about consumer psychology and how you can’t always take what people say they want at face value.

As I pointed out in my post at the time, it also illustrates that money does not build relationships and loyalty.  I would suggest that most non-profit arts organizations are in the relationship building/facilitation business. If we weren’t, would people be donating the value of their tickets on cancelled events and increasing the amount they typically donate in a year? I say facilitation because participation in an activity with friends and family contributes to the development of relationships.

As much as your organization is struggling, those donations and other expressions of concern are what distinguish your identity and role in the community from larger corporations, even if you suspect you may be soon accompanying JC Penny on the road to dissolution. In that 2012 post, I also linked to a post I made about the expiration date of arts organizations. At the time I was speaking theoretically. Sorry to say it may be emerging into reality.

Back in 2012 when I first wrote my post, I quoted Collen Dilenschneider. She has since come out with much better research and advice for arts organizations use of discounts, but the basics still remain the same.

One thing of course, I need to point out is that price does not develop loyalty. You can not develop a relationship with your community if interactions with your organization are based on price. I stated that in the early days of this blog and as Dilenschneider notes this is true even in these days of social media:

“It is far better for your brand and bottom line to have 100 fans who share and interact with your content to create a meaningful relationship, than to have 1,000 fans who never share your message and liked you just for the discount.”

Dilenschneider also points to some data that there are diminishing returns from social media discounts. This may illustrate be where arts organizations and retailers differ. Retailers can offer myriad discounts annually and not suffer, but arts and cultural organizations offer a product valued entirely differently from that of retailers

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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