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.

First Creative Campus Class Reports In

As I have been reading blog entries about the recent Association of Performing Arts Presenters annual conference, (APAP) I have seen mentions of Creative Campus project presentations. Since this information isn’t widely disseminated, I thought I would give the projects and the participating organizations some publicity to share the news of their success.

First a little history, APAP administers the grants program but the original idea emerged back in 2004 at the 104th American Assembly. (The paper they produced on the concept may be found here.) The first group of projects is drawing to a close (though some were only one year projects and have been completed) and the granting for the next group is in process.

Many of the organizations in the first group created dedicated webpages to archive their efforts which you may be interested in visiting.

Dartmouth College dedicated themselves to exploring the class divide in the surrounding community as well as within the college community.

The University of Nebraska Lied Center worked with multimedia performance group Troika Ranch to create a new performance piece, bring the disparate departments of the university together in creative experiences, and most interesting to me, adapt motion performance software for modern dance for use with rehabilitation patients.

This is not to be confused with the efforts of the University of Kansas Lied Center’s project, Tree of Life Creativity – Origins and Evolution which involved a intra-campus collaboration as well as partnerships with other campuses.

The University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium, still displaced by the damage caused by the flooding of summer 2007, commissioned the development of a world premiere, Eye Piece, in cooperation with various departments. The work explores the process of gradually losing eye sight. The topic may seem a strange one until you learn that the university’s Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration was a project participant.

The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s current theme is Diasporas. I say current, because it the description implies there is a different theme each year. Indeed, the APAP website information about the project lead me to believe it was about the death penalty. The university’s some times controversial summer reading program is a partner in this project along with the departments of communications, dramatic arts and resident LORT company, Playmakers Rep.

I wasn’t able to find information about their respective projects on the Hostos Community College or Stanford University sites, so the final project is Wesleyan University’s Feet to the Fire on global warming. This project involved interdisciplinary learning that appears to have permeated every corner of campus activities and moved out into the surrounding community. From the video summary of the project, it sounds like people who attended their events felt the power of the arts was essential to getting the message across, as was suggested in recent posting.

Even though the project officially ended last June, the university has continued to provide the experiences they initiated. Like most grant programs, I am pretty sure this was the goal–that the funded initiative will be perpetuated. If you are inspired by what you see, it is unfortunately too late to get into the current grant cycle. But it is the perfect time to start conversations about what you might like to do–including prodding a local university member of APAP to get involved.