Intricate Historic Valentines

I happened across an Aeon article earlier this month featuring a video by the Victoria and Albert Museum displaying and discussing Valentine’s Day. I thought folks might enjoy learning about this today.

Some of these cards are sweet, others are appropriately labeled “vinegar valentines” for their tart and sometimes nasty tone.

That said, the craftsmanship and intricacies of cuts that went into hand making these cards is entrancing. In one case the curator, Zorian Clayton, notes that they don’t use gloves when opening some of the cards because they are so fragile, you need the sensitivity of bare hands to be delicate enough.  He also shows off valentines made of ceramic.

At the 11:00 mark, Clayton discusses the secret meanings of flowers were attributed during the Victorian period.

Enrolled In Ones Work

Yesterday I cited a Seth Godin post about rethinking how we measure work productivity.  Around the same time he made a post along the same lines noting that while strictly following instructions might have been valuable in an economy that was focused on industrial manufacturing, the current economic model requires employees to be more autonomous and employ their own judgement.

He notes that when you did follow instructions, you were properly subordinate, but if you didn’t you were considered insubordinate. But obviously we don’t want to label people who are self-directed as insubordinate.

Complete subordination might have been the goal in an industrial setting. But now, it’s dangerous, expensive and inefficent. Because people close to the work know exactly what needs to be done.

The opposite of insubordination is now enrollment.

Someone who is enrolled in the journey doesn’t have to be told exactly what to do. Instead, given the goals, the tools and the culture, they will figure it out.

We have been seeing that those working in arts and culture have different expectations of their work environment. Some places have seen strikes, but many organizations started adjusting their work and rehearsal hours of their own accord. One of the most welcome developments of late was the revamping of apprenticeship and internship programs to add better payment terms and other benefits.

But there is still work to be done in the arts and culture work environment so Godin enjoining us to think in terms of enrollment can help reframe how the work of employees and contractors are perceived and treated.

Ouch! Non-Profit Board Structure Being Used As An Example Of What Not To Do

Tyler Cowen, the economist who write the Marginal Revolution blog linked to an interesting paper from 2014, Corporate Governance Without Shareholders: A Cautionary Lesson from Non-Profit Organizations Lesson from Non-Profit Organizations . The article basically says, as bad as some corporate board are, non-profit boards are worse.

The author, George W. Dent uses the example of non-profit boards to argue against corporate board governance models in which the board of directors is strong and the shareholder power is weak. As much as corporate boards of directors may prefer it if they weren’t beholden to shareholders, it is actually the shareholders holding the board accountable which ensures better governance.

But let me tell you, even though everything Dent says about the problems with non-profit boards has long been acknowledged, it is tough reading.

Under the theory of director primacy that pressure from short-termist shareholders wreaks havoc with long-term corporate planning, NPO boards (which are free of that pressure) should be models of prudent, far-sighted leadership. However, according to a virtually unanimous consensus of experts, this is not the case at all. NPO directors are generally uninformed and disengaged. “[B]oard members . . . are faulted for not knowing what is going on in their organizations and for not demonstrating much desire to find out.

Attendance at board meetings is often spotty and participation perfunctory.” The insignificance of the directors is even touted as a benefit of the job. “[S]ome boards actually encourage the disengagement they later lament: They promise prospective board members that there will be little work to do, in the hope that low expectations will attract more prospective board members.”

In analyzing why corporate board structure is better, Dent analyzes and discards corporate board members being paid and holding stock in the company as reasons why they perform better. He also notes that while non-profit boards fiduciary responsibility is only accountable to secretaries of state, corporate board members are very infrequently sued for improperly exercising their fiduciary responsibilities.

Ultimately, Dent settles on the fact that despite the hurdles they may face in doing so, corporate shareholders are able to exert influence over boards of directors to change policy. With non-profit organizations, the absence of shareholders means there is no possibility of doing so. He admits there are a lot of flaws with corporate forms of governance, but that the non-profit model “It does show, however, that freeing directors from shareholder control leads not to optimal governance, but to dysfunction.”

Now all this being said, I have seen bylaws for non-profits which have memberships where the members elect people to the board so there are some non-profit board structures which do have boards accountable to a larger group comparable to shareholders. I would be interested to know if anyone analyzed the effectiveness of non-profit boards elected by members vs. boards which are entirely self-perpetuating.

Studies Indicate Arts Degrees May Be Worth It

Recently on the NEA Quick Study podcast Sunil Iyengar, Director of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts shared data that indicated getting an arts degree can be worth it for artists.   For the purpose of these studies, arts industries were defined as “motion picture, video industries, sound recording, architecture, design services, performing arts and related industries, museums, art galleries, historical sites and similar institutions.”

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the most recent employment data (from mid-Covid 2021) showed that people with undergraduate degrees in the arts had an unemployment rate of 7.5% vs the 4.3% rate for general undergraduate degree holders.

However, those who had arts degrees fared better than artists who didn’t have specialized arts degrees in both employment and earnings. (my emphasis)

“…artists who lack a college degree are more likely to be unemployed than those who do not. Also, artists without college degrees have lower average incomes than non-degree holders. Again, not surprising. We know that education is highly correlated with income for most types of worker. But then Woronkowicz finds that artists who have arts degrees have higher incomes on average than those with a non-arts bachelor’s degree. She also finds that artists with arts degrees are more likely than non-arts degree holders to work in an arts industry. This tells us perhaps that when it comes to occupations and industries, the arts are very similar to other fields of specialized knowledge in at least this respect. The pursuit of a degree in an arts field improves on average the career prospects of those who want to take a job in an arts industry and stick with it.

It should be noted that the data for these findings came from pre-Covid period of 2015-2019.

What I really found interesting were the results of interviews with early, mid, and late stage artists regarding how their network of relationships that helped advance their career opportunities fared during the pandemic. Most artists worked on maintaining existing relationships during the pandemic rather than working on developing new connections. What caught my eye was that early and late career artists indicated having problems maintaining or developing their connections.

My theory is that colleagues of those in the early stages hadn’t yet developed foundational relationships that were useful to themselves and others. Late career artists may have relationships with people who were retiring or leaving their positions resulting in a loss of a useful relationship for an artist.

Reading the following from the podcast transcript emphasized the importance of networking and resource sharing is to developing a career in the arts.

But as Skaggs observes, there were different implications of these findings across different career stages. She describes early career artists, those in their 20s, as being socially adrift during year one of the pandemic. They were finding a hard time building new connections with others in their field and even struggling to maintain their current professional relationships. They also tended to gravitate to social media and online communities to access resources that could solve real world problems like financial difficulties. But those connections didn’t seem to help necessarily in advancing their artistic careers as a whole.

More established artists, meanwhile, in their 30s through 50s, were generally better connected than were early career artists, and often use these long-standing ties to, quote, gather in person or discuss art, network and socialize. Not only were these artists better able to draw upon their networks for support and for progress in their careers, they also reciprocated the support by sharing resources within their own social and professional networks.

…and then late career artists, here defined as in their 60s or 70s, felt largely isolated in their work and personal lives, even though they seemed adept at using social media during the pandemic, according to Skaggs. They expressed concern about losing touch with their professional ties during the pandemic, yet they persisted in their careers and interestingly, Jo, this is the only age group the researchers found where the artists said they were, in her words, losing touch with existing professional connections that they had before the pandemic.