Too Preoccupied To Weed Your Fields

So I saw the recent Dr. Strange movie this weekend and one of the biggest takeaways I had (no spoilers) was that classical music is powerful no matter what universe you are in. Though, like anything the benefit or detriment depends on whose hands are wielding it.

While that isn’t the main thrust of my post today, the movie is somewhat pertinent. I wanted to direct readers over to Drew McManus’ Adaptistration post today where he reflects on an episode of the Hidden Brain podcast on scarcity mindset.

Since I was processing our end of fiscal year appeal letters this past week, I had some time to listen to the podcast. I recognized how a lot of the problems discussed manifest in the arts, which is always beset by a scarcity mindset. One problematic product of a scarcity mindset is tunnel vision which inhibits long term planning, rationale decision making, and awareness of repercussions.

If you have seen the Dr. Strange movie, a tunnel vision approach to problem solving is basically the central driver of the entire conflict. I felt like Drew knew about my weekend plans when he wrote the post.

However, in the less supernatural, non-fiction of our daily existence, it can also be a core problem degrading the lives of individuals and organizations.

As Drew writes:

While there are numerous examples related to the ways scarcity of resources impacts decision making, I found one of the most applicable chapters is how scarcity of time impacts professionals.

Given that the orchestra sector has a long history of staffers and managers being overworked, it’s good to have examples from Mullainathan and Shafir that quantify the dynamic impact of making this environment the norm.

Listening to the podcast episode, they made some compelling arguments about people how people living near the poverty line don’t necessarily need classes on time and money management to set them on the right track, they need support systems that recognize the impact scarcity has on people’s mindsets.

They provide some interesting examples of studies that have been conducted on the topic. I was especially struck by the observations of the change in the cognitive capacity of Indian sugarcane farmers, who go through cycles of plenty and scarcity due to when they are paid for their crops.

MULLAINATHAN: We found a huge difference. So we found that post-harvest, when they’re well-off, they have much more impulse control.

VEDANTAM: Farmers who were rich tended to think about things that would help them over the long term. This matched other research that shows, for example, that farmers who are well-off tend to weed their fields more regularly than farmers who are poor. Farmers who were poor mostly focused on how to make it to next week, short-term thinking. To be clear, it’s not that poor people focus on immediate needs because that’s all they want to think about. It’s all they can think about. Scarcity captures the mind, like it did with those starving men in Minnesota. In fact, scarcity can actually lower how you perform on an IQ test.

There is a book written on the subject which Drew links to.

All this bears thinking about because careers in the arts have always been beset by a scarcity of time, resources and money. The overall internal cultural expectation is that you soldier through and pay your dues. In the context of this book and podcast, that is the very approach which inhibits the ability to think clearly and carefully about ensuring the long term survival of our individual and collective arts organizations.

It may be why, despite the stress Covid brought to our lives, greater availability of time set into motion new ideas and practices related to programming, relationship with community, and business models.

Man Those Backseat Entertainment Screens Are Getting Bigger And Bigger

I am always interested in seeing the novel approaches people employ to present performances. I happened to catch a story last week on Vice about a guy who is bringing pop up movie experiences to public spaces in India on the back of rickshaws.  The project is somewhat cheekily called Rick Show.  The concept was adapted from a Japanese storytelling form called Kamishibai which I was totally unfamiliar with.

Kamishibai, literally translating to “paper theatre,” was a Japanese art form popular before the advent of television, where a narrator popped up on street corners with sets of illustrated boards that were placed on a miniature stage on their bicycles, and then changed each board to communicate the storyline.

The artist, who goes by the name Le Gentil Garcon, worked with an architectural college to design a container to store the stage, lighting, projector, sound system and audience seating that would fit on the back of a long rickshaw. They ship their container to their target city and pop it on the back of a rented rickshaw. Then they go around and set up in public spaces like gardens and parks.

They show short, 10-20 minute films that allow passersby to pop in and out as they like. The total length of the program is about two hours.The overall goal is to bring art house films that are usually only shown in museums and specialty movie houses to the public square mixed with an element of delight at finding something unexpected.

“I liked the fact that many people who didn’t think they were going to see an art film on this particular day start to see something made by an international artist, and it’s kind of interesting,” said Le Gentil Garçon.

Difficult To Heed Polonius’ Advice These Days

Some notable news via American Theatre, for those who have found it difficult to heed Polonius’ advice of “neither a borrower nor lender be.” (aka pretty much all of us)  The Acting Company has created a program to pay off up to $10,000 of student loan debt for any actor that is cast as in their 2022-2023 touring company.

The loan payment is made directly to the lender at the end of the repertory season. There is language about the available grant funds being split equally between all the actors, up to a maximum of $10,000 which makes me wonder if this is funded by an endowment whose value may fluctuate due to the stock market. Or perhaps they are projecting a set number of actors will have student loan debt and if the number exceeds their projections, the share of the pool will be less.

In addition to receiving the debt relief, the website says the actors will have the opportunity to:

  • Participate in a financial literacy seminar designed to ensure their understanding of the financial impact of grant funds, and to provide overall guidance on financial management and self-advocacy for theater artists. The Actors’ Funds, Artists’ Financial Support Group, or a similar organization will be engaged to conduct a program specifically for our actors.

  • Participate in teaching artist training sessions led by TAC teaching artists and education consultants. This will add to the pool of qualified alumni available to lead The Acting Company’s education programs and provide a potential new source of income to the actors.

  • Complete a season-end survey documenting their experience with the program and its impact on their artistic, professional, and financial wellbeing

Companies have long offered to pay the tuition of employees in order to help with their career advancement. The fact that The Acting Company is offering student loan debt relief is a reflection of national conversation about student loan debt. It will be interesting to see if the tuition payment benefit is replaced or joined by debt relief as an employment benefit.

I suspect it may not be offered to the degree college tuition is. Not every employee will be interested in attending college, but a large percentage of employees may be carrying student debt.  But companies seeking skilled labor may choose to offer debt relief in order to remain competitive.


Would You Pay For News In Return For Tax Credits?

There was a story last month on Nieman Lab looking at how successful a tax credit for digital news subscriptions has been in Canada.  The intent was to help news organizations stay in business and according to the article, there is a similar bill being considered in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the number of people taking advantage of the program, which allows you to write off 15% of your subscription, has been pretty small. Only about 1% of Canadian taxpayers claimed a credit and some news organizations didn’t apply to be part of the program.

Some news orgs that may have qualified have declined to apply. A number of those that were deemed qualified Canadian journalism organizations have pitched the tax credit to existing subscribers, and used it as a perk to entice new ones.

At The Logic, … information on the tax credit was sent to all existing subscribers and advertised to potential subscribers, …

The end result was “negligible,” Skok said.

Rather than prompting new subscribers to sign up, Skok said, “the people who would have subscribed anyway are using the credit.” Skok suggests that subscribers weren’t swayed because they wouldn’t see the benefit until tax time and because the 15% credit was too low to change many minds on paying for news.

That doesn’t bode well for the corresponding bill proposed in the US which covers 80% of the subscription cost, but requires a multi-year commitment.

…cost of a local newspaper subscription or donation to a local news nonprofit in the first year, and 50% in the subsequent four years. So in order to earn the full $250 credit, you’d have to spend at least $312.50 on subscriptions or nonprofit news donations in the first year, or $500 in the following four years.

That’s a lot more than what most Americans pay for local news currently. Just 20% of people living in the United States say they pay for online news of any kind,…

However, the news outlet doesn’t need to be digital print media. It could be a local television or radio station as well so presumably NPR and PBS stations could benefit by seeing larger donations over multiple years.

Unfortunately, since this is a tax credit, people in lower income brackets who don’t pay taxes wouldn’t benefit if they made an attempt to support local news outlets.

What caught my eye in the article about the US bill is that it incentivizes small businesses to increase their advertising. My first thought was that this would benefit arts organizations until making the obvious realization that most arts organizations don’t pay taxes. On the other hand, it might allow arts organizations to promote activities which generate taxable unrelated business income and bolster an additional income stream.

A tax credit of up to $5,000 for small businesses that buy ads in their local publications. Small businesses could use this tax credit to advertise with local news sites, newspapers, television, or radio. As with the tax credit for individuals, local businesses would foot 20% of the costs the first year and 50% in the following years. So a local business could quintuple their current advertising in Year 1 and double it in Years 2 through 5 at zero net cost. Under the Senate bill, to qualify as “small,” businesses must have no more than 50 employees.

From what I can tell, the House version of the bill went to Ways and Means committee last June. Unless it got wrapped up in another bill it may be languishing there.

As great as this bill, which has bipartian support, may sound in terms of reviving local journalism, the article notes that most local news outlets have been bought up and drained of assets by hedge funds. So a lot of the money would end up being channeled to large corporations despite the limits on employees in the bill’s definition of local news entity.

On the other hand, the opportunity to garner greater support may see the emergence of new news outlets on the local level.