Goin’ Mobile With The Orchestra

I was driving home a week ago when I heard an interview on the radio with a couple talking about founding the Orchestra of the Hawaiian Islands. (MP3 download) Now given that the Honolulu Symphony has just declared bankruptcy after years of financial struggles, this elicited a “say what?” moment for me.

It turns out this is a program of American Music Festivals, a once Chicago and now I guess Hawaii based organization. The organization was founded in Chicago and created project based ensembles to perform cultural exchange concerts in Russia and Eastern Europe in addition to the Chicago area. Apparently this was accomplished by contracting freelance Chicago Symphony Orchestra musicians.

American Music Festivals is run by a husband and wife, artistic director and executive director team. When she was offered a job at a school on the Big Island of Hawaii, they moved their operations to that state. Their intention is to utilize Honolulu Symphony musicians to increase the size of their projects from their current 12 piece string ensemble up to full symphony size.

They aren’t looking to replace the Honolulu Symphony at all. If the symphony is revitalized, they envision themselves complementing its outreach efforts. Much of their interest is in local and international outreach. Their plan is to institute cultural exchanges with Japan and perhaps other Asian countries. They hope to bring Hawaiian music to Japan and add the music to their existing exchanges in Eastern Europe.

What interested me about the interview was the concept of how technology, transportation and communications allows endeavors like this to be so mobile. Where they live seems to have little bearing on whether they can accomplish their goals.

Of course, part of this is due to the fact their organization has no fixed orchestra. When asked whether he might one day want to establish an orchestra with regular salaried members, Artistic Director Philip Simmons said, “Why would I want to do that though? Why would I want to create all those problems for myself?” The organization focuses on project driven events which provides them with the flexibility to do different things with a variety of groups locally and worldwide.

Simmons suggests that maybe the old models and formulas for a concert experience aren’t working anymore. He doesn’t say his structure is necessarily the new way, but offers it as an alternative.

Given that the Honolulu Symphony has talked about operating with a much reduced ensemble, perhaps a collaboration between them and the Orchestra of the Hawaiian Islands (OHI) can bring enough funding together to assemble the numbers the Honolulu Symphony had performing for them in the past. They wouldn’t necessarily be competing for the same funding pot. The OHI is serving an area of the state the Honolulu Symphony once did but really hasn’t had the funding to do so in recent past. OHI may be able to gain funding from people interested in supporting local performances.

Green Papers-Not What I Thought They Were About

Due to the imminent failure of my refrigerator’s compressor, I don’t have as much time to devote to the old blog as I had hoped.

With that in mind, I wanted to direct people’s attention to Americans for the Arts’ efforts at creating a conversation around green papers on topics of importance in the arts. Given the whole push for environmentally friendly activities, I initially thought a green paper was essentially an attempt to issue a white paper on good conservation practices.

It turns out, a green paper is actually a policy document similar to a white paper, only less binding. Who knew? I mean, there are ribbons of every color for every cause, I thought this was a similar attempt.

In any case, Americans for the Arts’ are making a big effort to have substantive conversations on many topics across the next year. In their definition:

“Green Papers are short, easy to read, visions of the future meant to inspire a nationwide dialogue on the future of the arts. As a way to celebrate the successes of the past 50 years in the arts field, Americans for the Arts has collected Green Papers from a variety of national arts service organizations and peer groups representing different perspectives and disciplines.”

Currently their topics include:

The Future of…

* Art Therapy
* Artists’ and Arts Organizations’ Preparedness and Emergency Response
* Artists’ Residency Programs
* Arts and Disability
* Arts Education
* Arts in Healthcare
* Arts Learning for Children/Youth
* Community Arts Education
* Cultural Democracy
* Dance Education
* Leadership for the Arts
* Jazz
* Preservation
* Private Sector Support for the Arts
* Public Art
* Public Voice in Arts Advocacy
* State Arts Agencies
* Strings
* Symphony Music
* Digital Infrastructure for the Creative Economy
* Theatre
* Urban Municipal Arts Agencies

They want people to get involved and contribute to the conversation. I wonder if they also need people to lead the conversations. You can’t tell from the list here, but there are no links to pages for Art Therapy, Arts and Disability, Jazz, State Arts Agencies, Symphony Music and Theatre. I don’t see a call for leaders, though I certainly may have missed it. Most of the Green Papers were rolled out on February 16, perhaps the leaders for the unactivated sections weren’t immediately available to discuss those areas.

I also am curious to know why there is someone leading Strings but not Symphony Music and why there is a Dance Education category, but no Dance. Guess I have to stick around, read and ask these questions.

Oh yeah, and where is the paper on environmental sustainability in the arts! 😉

Funny Thing Happened While Revising Bylaws

I was really surprised at some recent developments in my block booking consortium today. For about a year we have been scrutinizing our bylaws because people began to realize that practice was deviating from the specifics of the document. I had contributed some information on bylaws to the conversation based on material I wrote about in an earlier entry.

Since the last meeting a committee had met to discuss the bylaws. I wasn’t surprised to learn that people were leaning toward merging with the organization that “birthed” us. Most of the membership overlapped so we generally ended up having meetings together. The only defining difference between us were the genres of entertainment we booked. The discussion of merger brought up many technical questions that will require consulting a lawyer.

One of the interesting questions that arose was if we dissolved one organization and consolidated everyone into the other, could the funds of the dissolved organization be absorbed by the remaining organization. While non-profits’ assets are usually only transferable to other non-profits, an organization’s charter may specify where the assets should go if it ceases operation. Someone mentioned a group to which he belonged had stipulated the funds be split among some local music programs.

What surprised me was the amount of introspection that was occurring about the organizations. It turns out my experience as a member, that of a partnership to leverage our buying power and to collaborate on grants, is not the ideal upon which the groups were founded. There is a lot of history of which I am unaware. At one time there was a much greater focus on community education projects. And the membership was much larger. As coordinating tours started monopolizing greater amounts of time at meetings, the organizations became less relevant for many members and they started drifting away.

By the time the meeting ended, we decided to have a retreat prior to our annual meeting in May to examine the identity and purpose of the groups in addition to discussing whether they would merge or not. This was the last of my associations I expected to be organizing a retreat to contemplate its ideals. Everything has been very practical. Discussions have revolved around times, dates, hotel rooms needed, artistic fees and whether a group offered ed services.

Now people are questioning whether we can be a force for arts advocacy in our community.

I am starting to get a little excited about this planned retreat in May and what might develop.

Only 15 Minutes Of Fame For Tragedies?

Lucy Bernholz at Philanthropy 2173 makes some fascinating reflections on the impact of technology on giving vis a vis the Haitian earthquake relief efforts.

I confess a huge amount of skepticism when I had first heard that one could donate to the relief effort via text messaging on your cell phones. I wondered how much the phone companies were profiting off this and how big a cut the donation processors would be taking. Apparently I wasn’t the only one because according to Bernholz, the phone companies have waived the fees under pressure of public opinion.

She also talks about the possibility that those who received funds may be under greater scrutiny. I remember after Hurricane Katrina, many people were horrified to learn how great a percentage of their donations were going to administrative overhead at the Red Cross and similar organizations. The Red Cross has shown some transparency by tweeting near real time updates of the climbing donation totals. Bernholz suggests that Twitter may become the platform where this is not only reported–but where people also question what has been done with the money.

The suggestion that really grabbed my attention was her idea that technology might cause/allow people to acquire “Donor Attention Deficit Disorder”

That people all over the world can be so instantly engaged and moved to donate is certainly a good thing. But does it come with costs?

On Wednesday, January 13, #Haiti was a trending topic on Twitter all day (a measure of what the millions of tweets are discussing). By Thursday, January 14, it was gone. Does the ability to give instantly and painlessly (mobile donors won’t even see a charge for the gift until they get their next phone bill) make it extra easy to give and move on? Will “donor fatigue” be replaced by “donor A.D.D.?”

The concept that even tragedies have only 15 minutes of fame before people move on is pretty chilling. If the best tactic for successful fund raising is providing people with an opportunity to give at the point where the emotional appeal is greatest, it is going to be increasingly difficult to sustain any sort of long term support. And how long will it be before people become inured to solicitations of calculated to concentrate a great deal of emotional response in a short span. Such an approach might stunt efforts to gather support for true tragedies.

It probably doesn’t help that we are told to just give money. Granted, in this case, it just isn’t practical to become physically involved. Much less so that after Hurricane Katrina. There is also something of an underlying message that once you have given, you no longer need to be engaged with the problem. All you are being asked to do is just give money and you can accomplish that by doing something you enjoy doing everyday–text a number.