Rome Was Built In A Day. But What Day Was That?

Seth Godin recently made a post that sort of wrapped the concepts of life long learning, creation being a process, and failure being part of any endeavor.

He starts by saying Rome WAS built in a day.

Rome was built in a day.

It wasn’t finished in a day. In fact, it’s still not finished.

But the day someone said, “this is Rome,” and announced the project, it was there.

Sometimes we get hung up on the beginning, unwilling to start Rome unless we’re sure we can finish it without incident.

I appreciate his suggestion that things come into being when they are acknowledged as existing and being named. Yet something can have an acknowledged existence and not be complete. In the process things are discarded and destroyed and other things remain just as there are parts of Rome which have endured as well as have gone from existence. Or like the Colosseum it both exists as a construction people visit, albeit in a partially destroyed state, but also has some of its constituent parts which were carted away contributing to other structures in the city.

Essentially a version of the Ship of Theseus where some discarded parts are recycled and others destroyed even as others have been added.

In that context as Godin says, we can’t go into the start of some endeavor with too much expectation about the form success will take lest we become paralyzed conceptualizing all of what will be required. That is as true about initiating a creative project as it is building a city or creating ourselves.

There was a day when you came into being. Was it the day of your birth or sometime later when your personality and personal philosophy developed? Are you still being built and who is doing the building?


Handling All Your Festival, Concert, And Theatrical Touring Needs

Earlier this month a piece on The Conversation site called attention to the often unseen contributions roadies make to the success of festivals, concerts, and theatrical tours.  There is often a lot written about the artists performing, but scant content about the people who literally do the heavy listing. The article’s author, Gabrielle Kielich, has recently released a book road crew on tours.

One of the things she emphasizes is that the catch all term roadie tends to obfuscate the diversity of jobs touring crews perform and creates the impression they only contribute physical strength rather than a high degree of technical skill.

The size of a crew is determined by the scale of a tour and the needs of musicians, but they typically include the following: tour manager, production manager, instrument technicians, monitor engineer, front of house engineer, lighting technician and merchandise staff (known as “merch”).


The term “roadie” falsely suggests that crew members’ roles are interchangeable and undifferentiated. For this reason, although “roadie” was once the accepted term, it has generally fallen out of favour. Now, many crew members prefer a more specific occupational title.

The rejection of the term “roadie” also represents a wider shift in the culture and professionalism of live music and distances these workers from the stereotypes and cliches associated with the mythologising of rock music culture.

WESTAF Celebrates 50 Years Developing Technology For Arts

The Western Arts Federation (WESTAF), the regional arts organization serving the western portion of the US turns 50 this year. They put out a series of videos on the history of the organization. I started watching them out of idle curiosity.

Some of the history is as you might expect with the different social and political influences which lead to their formation. The first headquarters being in Santa Fe, NM but the operational considerations of sending touring artists out resulting in the decision to move to Denver which was a bigger airport hub. Though Salt Lake City was apparently also under consideration based on a newspaper clipping appearing in a video.

What was really interesting was the story about how they decided to focus on technology for the arts. I knew each of the regional arts organizations has a different focus, but I hadn’t known that WESTAF’s focus on technology was based in a desire to diversify the organization’s income stream so that they weren’t entirely dependent on grants and donations. Episodes two and three talk about all the different products they have developed over the last fifty years.

I have been aware of many of their current products like Go Smart, their grant making and administration software, ZAPP which helps art festivals and fairs manage applications, CaFE (Call for Entry) which is built for applying to other types of visual arts projects (i.e. public art, exhibitions, artist-in-residence), and Public Art Archive, which is a place to document all the public art installations around the country.

However, there were a number of services they offered which didn’t quite succeed or were very useful but were phased out as needs of the industry changed. One of their first endeavors as the World Wide Web emerged on the scene was Circuit Riders, the goal of which was to connect arts organizations with consultants who could help them integrate emerging technologies into their operations. There was also a phone line, 900Arts which you could call for advice. In the first year Circuit Riders was in operation, they completed 144 contracts, but after three years it was closed down due to budget and staffing constraints.

In 1998, the Arts Computer program, was created to provide computers and sophisticated software to arts organizations at a low cost. Apparently the approach was to lease the computers and software to arts organizations. That only lasted a year. One interviewee suggested that the program was difficult to administer and the narration suggests that the exploding availability and use of personal computers decreased the need for the service.

WESTAF saw more success with their online job board, which started as a monthly newsletter in 1991, was distributed by email in 1993, and became a website that ran from 1998 to 2015. The video also talks about Artist Register launched in 2001, which pre-Google searches was a place for visual artists to market themselves. Based on the success of that service, WESTAF created WritersRegister and PerformingArts Register to serve artists in those areas.

Current and former staff interviewed for the video series credit former WESTAF Anthony Radich with the vision to offer these services, accompanied by a supportive board who allowed space for some of the initiatives to fail.

There are currently three videos in the series with a short intro video and the promise of more to come. They videos are each only about 10-15 minutes long and are fun to watch. Not every product WESTAF created was an exercise in trying to anticipate an unmet need in the arts industry. ZAPP apparently was a response to Kodak discontinuing the carousel slide projectors that so many arts festivals depended on to jury artist submissions. (I am sure artists are immensely grateful they don’t have to mail off piles of slides any more.)

If You Are Apt To Overlook It, How Do You Know Enough To Track It?

Seth Godin made a post a week or so ago about the need to track things that are really important, but invisible to us or transpire gradually. I sense there is something valuable for arts and cultural organizations in what he has to say, but I am having a difficult time trying to figure out how to accurately track these things. I am hoping readers may have some idea.

In his post he writes:

Gas-powered leaf blowers would disappear if the smoke they belched out was black instead of invisible.

And few people would start smoking if the deposits on their lungs ended up on their face instead.

We’re not very good at paying attention to invisible or gradual outputs.

The trick is simple: If it’s important, make it visible. If it happens over time, create a signal that brings the future into the present.

One of the first things that occurred to me as important, but may transpire gradually is employee or audience dissatisfaction. But how do you accurately track and signal this situation? How do you know whether a dozen individual complaints are related to each other or independent rumblings? In hindsight it is easier to see that comments made in a series of staff meetings over the course of a months culminated in the departure of multiple people, but at the time those comments may not have seemed to be related.

Obviously, it is good to have supervisors who are responsive and emotionally intelligent enough to head off these issues, but if the supervisors are only seeing what is happening in their area, they may not feel there is enough of an issue to report it to those with a more global view of the organization.

Conversely, you may notice a gradual increase in audience satisfaction with their experience, but may not be able to pinpoint why. Is it the new ticketing software? The receptions for audiences under 40? The advance emails telling people where to find parking? These are all great ideas and making people happy so let’s keep them and continue to make everyone happy!

Except what you didn’t know was that it was a front of house manager whose infectious enthusiasm and good training transferred through the staff to the audience. When their parents got sick, they moved back to their hometown. Gradually, that lack of leadership and energy seeps out of the experience and audiences aren’t as satisfied. Having no idea this is the cause, you try new innovative programs to which people may respond, but it isn’t quite like it was. Even if you recognize that the departed staff member was a valuable asset that had been lost, you may not realize their work sent imperceptible ripples through the organization.

Godin uses examples where the link between cause and effect is pretty well known. So there are ways to measure leaf blower exhaust that don’t depend on sight and you can monitor lung health in different ways. But there are other situations where there are multiple factors which may contribute to outputs so it is difficult to know which to make visible. What might be relevant in one community may not be in another. The social dynamic of one region of the country may enjoy the enthusiasm of the front of house manager, but it may come across as insincere and cloying in another part of the country.

But I may be overthinking this and/or coming at this from the belief that just because you can measure it, doesn’t mean it is meaningful. Some readers may immediately identify the type invisible or gradual issues Godin may be referencing that are associated with the arts and some relatively objective measures that can be used to track them.