James Sterngold

 

James Sterngold is an author and communications and media relations strategist working with academic and non-profit organizations. He spent more than 30 years as a journalist and foreign correspondent, largely with The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, working in New York, Los Angeles, Japan and China. At the Times, he shared in a staff Pulitzer Prize for coverage of 9/11, and has won journalism awards for his investigative magazine writing.

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Looking Toward an Alchemy for Arts Organizations Post-COVIDGP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>​​What is a “universal story”? </p><p>While many leaders of nonprofit arts organizations have, out of necessity, made financial stability a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic, some have been driven to explore even more fundamental questions about the stories they choose to tell in their performances, and how to make sure the stories have meaning to their audiences. The goal, ultimately, is to broaden their audience base as well as strengthen their financial bottom line. </p><p>Michael Bateman, managing director of the A Noise Within theater in Pasadena, California, for instance, says he has focused on connecting with and finding relevance with communities beyond the organization’s more traditional audiences in Los Angeles, which had been predominantly white. The organization began by questioning the so-called classic plays they presented from the Western tradition, which touch on what are intended to be universal human themes—the artists ranging from Shakespeare and Dickens to Moliere. Did these plays really touch and move the kinds of diverse audiences the theater wanted to reach, particularly in communities of color? </p><p>To answer that question, the organization found opportunities to hold discussions with artists of color and asked them to define what a new “universal story” might be. They’d begun this effort before the pandemic, but Bateman says it gained new importance as the organization began to rethink its mission and increase its outreach to new communities as the pandemic and national reckoning with racial justice took hold. </p><p>“We know it’s hard for all to feel welcome here,” Bateman says of the traditional plays and other performances and events at the theater. “We want to tell stories where the audiences see themselves. We want to make people feel more welcome. We’re engaging with other artists in our community. What we’ve done is go back to our community and say, ‘What do you need from us now?’”</p><p>Bateman was one of three panelists in <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/reimagining-the-future-of-the-arts-a-webinar-series-from-the-wallace-foundation-session-2.aspx">the second conversation</a> in Wallace’s <em>Reimagining the Future of the Arts</em> series. The other participants were Zenetta S. Drew, executive director of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre, and Kim Noltemy, president and CEO of the Dallas Symphony Association. Zannie Voss, Ph.D., director of SMU DataArts, one of the country’s leading centers for arts research, moderated the panel. </p><p>Voss is co-author of a recent study for the Wallace Foundation, <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/the-alchemy-of-high-performing-arts-organizations.aspx"><em>The Alchemy of High-Performing Arts Organizations,</em></a> which analyzes the elements that produce financial stability by looking at two groups of high-performing arts organizations, one group that had consistently strong financial track records and a second group that had been in financial distress but recovered. The study summarizes its lengthy analysis this way, “The cornerstones of high performance appear to lie in the alchemy of high standards in the creation of work that is meaningful to the local community.”</p><p>Simply put: high-quality art + community relevance = success. </p><p>In the panel discussion, and in later conversations with the panelists on their efforts to adapt to the current environment, all three emphasized that finding those meaningful community connections was an immediate priority, in the hopes that the results would eventually help them build new business models. Each admitted to a combination of excitement and anxiety.</p><p>Drew of the Dallas Black Dance Theatre describes this as a moment of validation for her organization and the company’s vision. She says it is a time of great challenges but also opportunities that we have waited years to implement. Since 1996, she says, the theater has tried to build a digital audience, previously with little success, due to historical barriers to online expansion. She has leapt at the greater interest in virtual performances now, with theaters closed, both to try and sustain revenue but also to connect with audiences and communities beyond Dallas. </p><p>A starting point, she says, is the role the arts are playing in helping people manage in the pandemic. “As a result of the pandemic, the arts are finding relevancy for our individual and collective work,” Drew says. “Everybody now, novice and professional, has become art makers and are putting things online. Art has been validated in its relevance. Artists are essential workers to our nation’s social, emotional resilience and recovery. It is enriching us. It changes lives. It heals.”</p><p>The theatre has been charging for popular digital events, a model that Drew says she intends to aggressively pursue. She stresses that it’s not just an alternative way to add earned revenue, but a core element in the mission of an arts organization that, she says, has long confronted an array of deep challenges. DBDT has never had the kind of broad and deep donor base that some other arts nonprofits have, making for a precarious and lean structure well before the pandemic. Also, its focus on Black artists and Black audiences has meant the organization encountered resistance from some white members of the community and sponsors, she says. Some had urged the organization in the past to remove the designation as a self-declared “Black” theater from the name, which it has to this day refused, since that is the group’s identity and identifies a core community it serves.</p><p>“I’ve always been working with the pandemic of racism,” Drew says. “That’s been true for us from the beginning. COVID is just another issue on the list of issues we have to deal with, and that’s why we’re ready, we’re resilient, we have ideas. I have the same panorama of problems as everyone else, but we are focusing on the opportunities.”</p><p>Audiences have embraced DBDT’s online events and performances, which are earning revenues and expanding not just in Texas but in surrounding states and even overseas. “I have someone from Australia on every virtual event we do,” she says.</p><p>“I’m trying to lead the industry in thinking outside the box,” Drew says. “We’re not just doing things until we can get people in seats again. We can’t go backwards. We’re building a new paradigm for our existence. This was great news for DBDT.” (To read more about DBDT's digital efforts and vision for the future, read <a href="/news-and-media/blog/pages/can-pandemic-be-catalyst-for-new-global-arts-ecology.aspx">Drew's recent essay​</a> for The Wallace Blog.)<br></p><p>On of Drew’s fans is Kim Noltemy of the Dallas Symphony (the two sit on each other’s boards). She expresses admiration for how successfully the Dallas Black Dance Theatre has utilized virtual performances to earn more revenues and to create a sense of excitement around its events. It is a model, she says, that she is eager to replicate to some degree at the symphony.</p><p>“I think this is going to be a great turning point for the orchestra industry,” she says. “People are becoming accustomed to listening to music online and paying for it. It was such an effort before. People only wanted live music. But we’re changing the paradigm.”</p><p>Offering virtual concerts, about 20 percent of which are free, is a means of developing a more complete digital musical experience. Additionally, they have expanded the symphony’s free outdoor music events, mostly chamber groups, which allow it to reach into new neighborhoods and build relationships with more diverse audiences, particularly in communities of color. In those outdoor events, they have been offering a combination of classical music, pieces such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, popular contemporary music, such as music by the film composer John Williams, and jazzy ragtime pieces for a brass chamber group. In previous years, she says, the symphony did from 15 to 20 of those events a year. Performances have increased sharply to about 90 since the pandemic hit, and Noltemy expects they will offer 40 more before the year’s end, hoping that some of those audience members will turn into subscribers.</p><p>“This transformation is permanent, no matter what happens with the pandemic,” she says. “Now, our focus is creating high quality content for the online events and getting better at those productions. That takes experience.”</p><p>Additionally, Noltemy says they will be extending the kind of attention that the symphony has traditionally provided to donors, board members and subscribers to a broader array of audience members and prospective audience members. Once the symphony is offering indoor concerts on a regular basis again, this will include invitations to pre-concert discussions of the programs to post-concert parties attended by some orchestra members. For now, there will be more targeted marketing materials and digital outreach. “That has to be a high priority, like in business,” she says. “We need to use those tools much more than we ever have.”</p><p>Such ramped-up communications and personal outreach can help organizations interact more deeply with the diverse communities they seek to engage with. Some are even creating programs designed to prompt discussion and feedback. Bateman at A Noise Within points to new free online programs: “Noise Now,” started last year, and “Fridays@Five,” which began during the shutdown. Both involve a series of discussions with writers, directors and artists of color talking about their backgrounds and what special insights they may bring to their work in the theater, among other things. </p><p>“We have to dig up that part of our cornerstone and rebuild our foundation,” Bateman says, referring to the organization’s mission and its growing knowledge of what kind of stories might be relevant and meaningful to the different communities around Pasadena. In fact, A Noise Within has just written a new strategic plan with a goal of one day creating a new financial model that includes, among other things, more revenue from online plays and events—something that has come directly from these conversation about community and sustainability. </p> ​<br>Looking Toward an Alchemy for Arts Organizations Post-COVIDhttps://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Looking-Toward-an-Alchemy-for-Arts-Organizations-Post-COVID.aspx2020-12-10T05:00:00ZExpert panel says high quality art, community connection plus a strong online presence can help fuel future success in the arts
Reframing “Success” and “Failure” in The ArtsGP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>​​Pondering how nonprofit arts organizations can survive the pandemic lockdowns, Elizabeth Merritt, vice president for strategic foresight at the American Alliance of Museums and founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, turns to evolutionary biology for a model. </p><p>Organisms, she says, have developed two basic survival strategies depending on their environment. </p><p>Those that are known as K-selection live in generally stable environments, which reward steadiness, sturdy structures, slow change and long-range planning. Then there are R-selection organisms, which live in rapidly changing, volatile, hostile environments, that require a skill set centered on nimbleness, risk-taking and an ability to pivot quickly. The simple truth, Merritt says, is that arts organizations have generally moved from the K environment to an R environment due to the pandemic, and most are having to master unfamiliar, flexible strategies to survive in this new Darwinian period. </p><p>“In recent years, arts nonprofits have been pressed to be more like businesses: plan, focus on audiences, earn revenues, measure performance results,” says Merritt. “The irony is that just as that was taking hold, particularly in museums, the whole environment changes. It’s more volatile.”</p><h2 class="wf-Element-H2">Why Scenario Planning? Why Now? </h2><p>Merritt was one of the panelists in the third conversation of Wallace’s series, <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/reimagining-the-future-of-the-arts-a-webinar-series-from-the-wallace-foundation.aspx">“Reimaging the Future of the Arts.”</a> This installment, moderated by Marc Scorca, ​CEO and president of OPERA America, focused on <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/reimagining-the-future-of-the-arts-a-webinar-series-from-the-wallace-foundation-session-3.aspx">how arts organizations can adapt to uncertainty</a> by utilizing a planning model to develop a range of scenarios on what the future might hold and then preparing multiple strategies to thrive, no matter the environment. Employing a “scenario planning” process is one way of minimizing any surprises or paralysis in the face of unexpected circumstances while ensuring that institutions are creative and flexible enough to try new approaches. </p><p>In kicking off the panel discussion, Daniel Payne, managing principal at AEA Consulting, which provides strategy and planning for creative organizations, introduced a scenario planning <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/navigating-uncertain-times-a-scenario-planning-toolkit-for-arts-culture-sector.aspx">toolkit</a> that the organization had recently created. </p><p>While scenario planning, a strategy borrowed from corporate management, can sound liberating, Payne sounded a warning, echoed by other panelists: A scenario planning exercise can create tensions in arts organizations because some parts of arts organizations may be more comfortable experimenting than others. In practice, he said, there can be a disconnect between the artistic side of an organization and “the board mindset, which is frequently focused on preservation, conservation and protection.” This may fall in line with a K-selection (stability) versus an R-selection (risk taking) environment, but panelists agreed that in today’s environment it was essential to bridge the divide. </p><p>“By necessity, we’re doing things that are experimental, fleeting, transient, not permanent,” Kristina Newman-Scott, the president of BRIC, an arts and media nonprofit in Brooklyn, says in a conversation after the panel. “But that means failure must be a part of it. You have to do things even when you don’t know what it will look like on the other side. You have to realize that can go against the hierarchy we’ve developed, a hierarchy that relies on the money side, and money reinforces the rigidity. I live in that place, where I consistently bump up against that rigidity.”</p><p>Stephanie Ybarra, the artistic director of Baltimore Center Stage, the state theater of Maryland, which produces both professional productions and educational programs, describes a similar tension. “Our idea now is to look to small experiments, to test them and then, if they’re working, scale them up,” Ybarra said in a conversation. “But a key point is that our measure cannot be ticket sales for Baltimore Center Stage. It’s our position in the community, our support for the community. We have to reframe the ideas of success and failure.”</p><p>Such reframing can often challenge any entrenched mindsets. “One of the biggest barriers to being nimble is the feeling that you have to be perfect,” says Merritt. “Lots of times perfect is the enemy of the good, but you don’t have to be perfect. Give us a break! You also have to realize that, sometimes, the risk of not changing is greater than the risk of changing.” </p><p>Any failure in experimenting, she adds, should be seen not as a dead end but a learning opportunity.</p><h2 class="wf-Element-H2">Community Arts + Education </h2><p>At BRIC, as the pandemic shut down theaters and other live venues, Newman-Scott says they were forced to come up with new ways to fulfill the organization’s mission of providing creative opportunities to their Brooklyn community and keep their staff engaged. So, they reached out to the NYC Department of Education and simply asked how BRIC could be of service.  </p><p>Together, they acknowledged the large digital divide affecting lower income families, providing special challenges for remote learning. They developed a plan for teachers to provide raw video from their online classes and lessons, which BRIC’s experienced media producers would then edit into videos played on BRIC’s cable channels. BRIC has six cable channels that reach 500,000 homes in Brooklyn. Even students without good computers or Wi-Fi usually have access to televisions.</p><p>“We know we can’t solve that digital divide, but we thought, we can help move the needle,” says Newman-Scott. “Once we were doing it, we were like, why weren’t we doing this before?”</p><p>And BRIC has gone a step further. “The teachers told us they wanted to learn how to produce those videos themselves, and we said, ‘We will train you,’” she says.</p><p>BRIC also tried to reshape its artists’ incubator program. Normally they would provide studio space to local artists, which allowed them the time to create new works and test them in front of one another. With the studio closed to face-to-face activities, BRIC tried to put the program online. “But we found that some of this just didn’t translate to a virtual environment,” Newman-Scott says. “By its nature, this art isn’t polished. It’s unfinished, experimental. It’s in process, not complete. So, it’s supposed to be educational about the process, but it doesn’t come across as well in the virtual setting.”</p><p>Lesson learned.</p><p>“This is a model that we can develop and that we can share with others,” she says of their own more experimental process. “It keeps challenging us. It challenges our own assumptions about our values and mission."​<br></p><h2 class="wf-Element-H2">A Theatre as Social Hub</h2><p>When the pandemic hit, Ybarra was pleased that the board of the Baltimore Center Stage quickly formed a small group that operated as a brain trust to help the creative staff develop new ideas and to support thoughtful experimentation. One of the early problems they faced was the need to shutter a program that offered matinees for students and the question of what they might do now to reach them.</p><p>The theater had been presenting a one man play, <em>Where We Stand,</em> a Faustian tale in which a man, sickened by years of backbreaking labor, meets a stranger one day on the outskirts of town and is offered a bargain—in exchange for giving the stranger the town’s soul and name, the man would receive health and prosperity. He accepts and then he and the town confront the impact of that choice. The play had just finished a run in New York City and was about to open in Baltimore when the pandemic hit.</p><p>The theater quickly developed a new plan. First, videographers filmed the play to be presented virtually, something that, Ybarra says, they had not done previously. Then they created an educational curriculum for classroom use tied to the Common Core; it was adaptable for 7th to 12th graders, though most viewers were high school students. That was new for Baltimore Center Stage. The investment amounted to just a few thousand dollars and a couple of weeks of work for the staff. </p><p>It proved popular, with about 1,500 students watching online and following the curriculum, with an audience that has now spread far beyond Baltimore, Ybarra says. That has encouraged the theater to build on the success, with board support, to invest more money and build a library of free student-oriented performances, with accompanying study aids. </p><p>“We might monetize it later, but not now,” Ybarra says. “The aim from the start was to learn from the experience.”</p><p>Another experiment involved offering virtual readings of parts of plays—for instance, from <em>The Glass Menagerie</em>—and using them in deeper conversations with an online audience about the crafts of writing, staging and acting. The theater was disappointed that only about 150 people tuned in but is thinking about how it might expand interest and is continuing the series, with a focus on getting “under the hood of a specific aspect of theatermaking,” Ybarra says. </p><p>“This has us thinking about shifting the balance between earned revenue and contributions,” she continues. “Now seems like the time to reposition Baltimore Center Stage as a cultural hub, a civic hub. We want to bring in lots of new stakeholders.”</p><p>Merritt sees continuing this sort of thoughtful experimentation as an aspect of developing strategies for a variety of scenarios. Both the successes and failures should be regarded as positive contributions to the process of adaptation and survival in the more difficult environment. “Being loose and flexible and experimental, it might make audiences happier, and we need to get even better at exploring that,” she says.</p><p>But when the pandemic eventually recedes and theaters reopen to audiences, will organizations simply revert to previous strategies? </p><p>While she can’t speak for others, Ybarra is firm about Baltimore Center Stage: “Absolutely not!” she says. “We’re just not going back.”<br></p>Reframing “Success” and “Failure” in The Artshttps://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/Reframing-Success-and-Failure-in-The-Arts.aspx2021-02-16T05:00:00ZWhat arts groups might learn from imagining many possible futures, experimenting and scaling what works
The Pandemic is Transforming The Arts—and It’s Not All Bad NewsGP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>​​Last summer, with theaters across the country shuttered by the coronavirus, Kate Maguire set out to break through the pandemic fatigue. To succeed, the artistic director and CEO of the Berkshire Theater Group in Pittsfield, Mass., knew she would need to do something that had not been attempted since union performances closed down last March: bring a group of actors together in front of a live audience. </p><p>Maguire convinced Actors’ Equity to allow <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/05/theater/godspell-berkshires-coronavirus.html">an outdoor production of <em>Godspell</em></a> and devised an acceptable safety plan. She worked with local and state authorities to ensure everyone would feel safe and be protected—the stage would be under a tent, everyone in masks, and the audience size would be capped at 50. Still, Maguire hoped the play with its theme of community and spiritual unity would resonate with an emotionally battered audience—and she saw that wish fulfilled. </p><p>“People were weeping because they were in the presence of music, of language and of this story,” she recalled. “All of a sudden we were in the midst of really understanding what the arts mean to peoples’ lives.” </p><p>Maguire recounted this story for the more than 600 participants gathered online for <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/reimagining-the-future-of-the-arts-session-one-what-audiences-want.aspx">the first of Wallace’s five-part “Reimagining the Future of the Arts”</a> conversation series. She went on to explain that she’s thinking about reducing the number of plays the company typically produces in a season and examining artistic choices in order to offer audiences the kind of emotional connections they experienced this summer. Even after the pandemic fades, she says, she expects to continue with these changes. </p><p>“I think what happened this summer was really monumental artistically, and that freshness changes your focus,” she said. “I’m not so sure I’m going to build the circus as I have in the past. I would like to be able to concentrate on intensity, not variety.” </p><p>She is not alone. The coronavirus pandemic, coupled with an energized racial justice movement, has sparked an urgency among many nonprofit arts leaders to rethink their how their organizations approach everything from audience interaction to inclusivity and equity. </p><p>“We will never go back,” <strong>Lisa Richards Toney</strong>, president and CEO of the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, said on the same panel discussion. She and Maguire kicked off the series, along with <strong>Arthur Cohen, the founder and CEO </strong>of the LaPlaca Cohen, a strategy and arts marketing firm, <strong>Franklin Sirmans</strong>, president and CEO of the Pérez Art Museum in Miami; the panel was moderated by Wallace's communications director Lucas Held. While each of the panelists acknowledged the stresses pulling at an old system, they embraced this moment as an opportunity to come up with forward-looking ideas and determine how to carry them out.   </p><p><strong>Audiences Are Changing</strong><strong> </strong></p><p>Cohen kicked off the panel with a presentation based on the <a href="https://culturetrack.com/research/covidstudy/">survey</a> his firm conducted with Slover Linett Research last spring. More than 124,000 people responded, most through 653 arts organizations. Not surprisingly, the attitude expressed by most respondents was, in a word, glum. They said they felt isolated, anxious, bored and disconnected. Asked what they most wanted from arts events in this dark time, most said they wanted to laugh and relax, seek an escape, find hope, feel connected and discover educational opportunities for children.</p><p>“COVID-19, in every fundamental way, has disrupted our sense of what normal looks like,” Diane Jean-Mary, partner and chief strategy officer at LaPlaca Cohen, said in <a href="/News-and-Media/Blog/pages/what-we-need-from-arts-and-culture-right-now.aspx">an earlier conversation</a> on The Wallace Blog. “In a time of such great uncertainty, many are turning to creativity, perhaps as a way to regain a sense of agency, expression and enjoyment.” </p><p>The survey also provided powerful evidence that new patterns—meaning new opportunities—are emerging. Most striking, perhaps, is the diversity of new audiences. Digital events, many free of charge, are attracting people from lower income groups. Audiences are skewing younger and have different levels of education. Many of those enjoying digital arts offerings had not visited an arts institution in the previous year, meaning they were considered new audience members, now hungry for artistic stimulation. </p><p>There were other examples of this diversity. For example, those taking in digital orchestra performances who had not attended a live concert in the previous year were 15 times more likely to be Black, and three times more likely to be from Gen Z, ages 18 to 23 years old, than those who had attended a performance. Of the people viewing digital content from art museums, those who had not visited a museum in the previous year were almost twice as likely to have a high school education or less than those who had visited. [For more survey results, see <a href="/knowledge-center/Documents/Culture-and-Community-in-a-Time-of-Crisis-Slides.pdf">Cohen’s presentation from the event</a>.] </p><p>“This represents a really interesting opportunity to perhaps view the digital audience as a growth audience for us,” said Cohen. </p><p><strong>Digital Is Here to Stay</strong><strong> </strong></p><p>When the shutdown hit in March, Sirmans of the Perez Art Museum says he quickly pivoted to greater use of digital alternatives. “We went into it with abandon in the first few months of the pandemic without knowing exactly what we were doing, but we’re learning now,” he explained in a conversation following the webinar. Although it’s too soon to assess the full impact of these offerings on audiences, Sirmans said he expects that many of the changes will be permanent. </p><p>A new section of the organization’s website showcases its strong Caribbean art collection while a redesigned smartphone app creates a more robust mobile experience. “Digital is primary for us now,” Sirmans said. “Our community expects it and we know we have fans in the world, especially for our Latin American and Caribbean art. This is how we expand to them.”</p><p>Toney of APAP, a national service organization that supports and advances the performing arts presenting, booking and touring fields, carried the thought further, saying that by using online technologies, arts organizations could reach audiences globally, not solely the local audience members who can attend events in person. Moreover, the organizations can now expand time and run programming year-round, not just seasonally. This greater flexibility, she said, “should create an obligation to change” how the organizations conduct their activities. </p><p>Cohen agreed that the experimentation with online events in this new environment has transformed digital efforts from what had been decidedly secondary activities in the past to what are now a primary means of artistic expression and audience connections. They have taken on a new primary role, he said, side by side with the live event: “These are new pathways to connection with people who wouldn’t have come in the door.”</p><p><strong> “Outdoors Is the New Indoors” </strong></p><p>The need to protect audiences from the virus has encouraged some organizations to seize opportunities to use and transform outdoor spaces. Maguire says the outdoor tent used for <em>Godspell </em>normally holds 400 people but because the organizers could allow only 50 people to view the show at a time, they had to improvise with the space. “We’re going to have to think more about how we do that so it’s a good experience,” she said.<strong></strong></p><p>The Perez museum is using its space differently, too, Sirmans said, and is trying to turn pandemic necessities into benefits. For a show on the African diaspora, for example, the museum doubled the indoor space that normally would have been allotted. This, he said, allowed for new types of juxtapositions and greater use of illustrative written and graphic materials. </p><p>In addition, the museum is repurposing its outdoor sculpture garden, which features an array of steel and stone works by artists such as Anthony Caro, Gonzalo Fonseca and Edgar Negret. The museum is holding lectures, a film program and collaborations with other arts institutions and educational programs outside. </p><p>“Outdoors is the new indoors,” Sirmans said. </p><p><strong>From Equity to Activism</strong><strong> </strong></p><p>Arts organizations are grappling with much more than logistical improvisation. They are having serious conversations about what the national reckoning with racial injustice means for them.  Some organizations are considering fundamental shifts in their structure and the composition of their leadership to respond to the calls for greater equity and inclusiveness, according to the panelists. </p><p>Cohen, for one, called for organizations to better incorporate community and audience perspectives into their endeavors. “For some, audiences have been the ones least present in the planning,” he said, adding that reaching out to and including community input could be critical to organizations struggling to grow their audiences and maintain their relevance. “That’s your greatest opportunity going forward.” </p><p>This is true also in programming. For instance, Toney noted that it has become traditional that organizations offer every February—Black History Month—a Black-themed event or something created by Black artists. But artists of color should be integral to the arts events throughout the year, she said, so that organizations move away from the “white-centric canon.” In a conversation after the webinar, she followed up on that theme. “I know and have heard people in these organizations say, ‘Our audience won’t come. I know them,’” she said. “Then you have to do something about your audience. This is not easy to do.”</p><p>Toney also suggested that arts organizations might reimagine themselves as engines of progressive change. They could do this, in part, she said, by joining forces and speaking collectively, particularly on policy issues, more than they have in the past. “Really, it’s about positioning ourselves as one ecosystem with more joint action,” she said. </p><p>How much nonprofit arts organizations might embrace that advocacy model is unclear. Sirmans said he’s proud that Miami’s Perez museum has a staff and board as diverse as the city itself and features many artists of color in its collections and shows. How much the museum might speak up as a social advocate is a question, he said, that remains unanswered. </p><p>“We want to be that kind of place,” he said. “But we’re trying to figure out how we fit into that conversation.” </p>The Pandemic is Transforming The Arts—and It’s Not All Bad Newshttps://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/the-pandemic-is-transforming-the-arts-and-its-not-all-bad-news.aspx2020-11-12T05:00:00ZDespite the many challenges they face, arts organizations have some reason for optimism, according to a recent panel discussion
How Can Arts Organizations Better Serve the Communities They Work In?GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>​​​​​​​​​When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live performances last spring, Anna Glass, executive director of the Dance Theater of Harlem (DTH), said the company was thrown off balance but still needed to respond to its changed circumstances. So, despite having little technical knowledge, equipment or experience with virtual presentations, staffers quickly started to prepare and post online digital dance performances. Improvised though it was, this attempt to reach people produced an unexpected result: the discovery of a previously unknown global audience, stretching from California to the Bahamas and Brazil.<br></p><p>“What we were most shocked by was to see how beloved this institution is worldwide. That was a surprise because DTH has been through a lot of turmoil,” Glass said, referring to a period from 2004 to 2012 when financial difficulties shuttered the venerable dance company. “But we were surprised to find that having been out of sight for a while did not mean we were out of mind. There was a hunger to see what we are and what we do.”</p><p>Glass said the experience of creating those digital performances has now inspired a stronger desire to find and engage with audiences and to strengthen relationships within and outside of the company. “We had success,” she said of the quick pivot and changed operations during the pandemic. “Not from a financial standpoint, but in giving us a new platform to tell our stories. That lesson has been worth its weight in gold.”</p><p>Dance Theater of Harlem’s experience is not an anomaly. Many arts and cultural organizations over the past year have experimented with new ways to engage their audiences and, frankly, survive.<br></p><p>Under the stresses of the pandemic, economic insecurity and a national reckoning with racial justice, audiences, too, have been seeking out ways (especially in online offerings) to find community through the arts. This desire for connection was borne out in a broad survey conducted last year during the early months of the pandemic and described in a report, <a href="https://sloverlinett.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Centering-the-Picture-full-report-CCTC-Wave-1-findings.pdf"><em>Centering the Picture: The role of race & ethnicity in cultural engagement in the U.S.</em></a><em>,</em> by Slover Linett Audience Research and LaPlaca Cohen, an arts marketing company. The researchers surveyed 124,000 people from different racial and ethnic groups from April 29 to May 19, 2020, to find out how they interacted with arts and culture organizations and what changes they might like to see. The responses generally struck three overriding themes:<br></p><ol><li>Organizations could become more community- and people-centered; </li><li>They could offer more casual and enjoyable experiences; and </li><li>They could provide more engaging and relevant content that is reflective of the communities they serve. </li></ol><p>Further, BIPOC (or Black, indigenous and people of color) respondents were even more likely than white respondents to express an interest in changes in the arts and cultural organizations they frequented, reflecting trends that had already been under way in many communities. </p><p><img src="/News-and-Media/Blog/PublishingImages/Pages/How-Can-Arts-Organizations-Better-Serve-the-Communities-They-Work-In/desire-for-change-in-cultural-sector.jpg" alt="desire-for-change-in-cultural-sector.jpg" style="margin:5px;" /><br><strong><br>​At the Nexus of Art and Community</strong><br></p><p>These themes and the survey itself provided an anchor for the <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/reimagining-the-future-of-the-arts-a-webinar-series-from-the-wallace-foundation-session-4.aspx">fourth edition of Wallace’s Arts Conversation Series</a>, which began with the question: How can organizations respond to what their communities need most, especially in light of the continuing pandemic? Glass was one of the panelists. </p><p>Nancy Yao Massbach, president of the Museum of Chinese in America, in New York City, and also one of the panelists, said the theme of being community centered resonated with her organization as well, adding that the museum staff felt a keen need to remain connected with a community suffering under the lockdown. “It’s not just a desire for changes to make the museum more accessible,” she said. “It is an urgency.”   </p><p>Noting  that the museum’s online offerings on the Chinese community’s experience in the United States and artifacts relating these Chinese-American stories, all free, had experienced a 10- to 20-fold increase in viewers since the pandemic, Massbach said she and others at the museum did not want this new engagement to be temporary but to continue once venues reopened. Massbach’s words were echoed by Glass and Josephine Ramirez, executive vice president of The Music Center in Los Angeles, the third panelist. All suggested that their organizations had successfully pivoted from survival mode toward a rebirth of sorts, devising creative ways to connect with their audiences—and with their peers. </p><p>Ramirez said that The Music Center’s efforts to find innovative ways to offer virtual performances, such as turning traditional live summer dance events into online dance-teaching sessions, gave the organization a way to provide useful content to audiences while keeping the dancers employed, an important institutional objective. It has also led to a greater degree of internal communication and collaboration among staff members at The Music Center, which houses four resident companies and produces a variety of performances and educational experiences. In a follow-up conversation, Ramirez said it was essential for staff members to become “unstuck” and break free of their tried and true ways of preparing performances to better respond to, engage with and build audiences during the shutdown. This often involved tweaking some job responsibilities. </p><p>“Everyone had to learn something new and different,” she said. “Under those circumstances, we had to communicate more than ever with staff, to make explicit all the things they needed to do that before were always implicit. We’d never had to do that before. Now we had to communicate more and better on what was expected and new methods. Old expectations were exploded. We had to help people get comfortable with constant change and that meant a lot more and better communication.”</p><p>Massbach said that the Museum of Chinese in America had benefited too from new levels of staff inclusiveness and brainstorming, which has produced innovations such as using the museum’s street-facing windows for exhibits, something not done previously. The organization has also revamped its website to more effectively promote the museum’s recent initiatives, including its response to anti-Asian attacks, the launch of a series how to be an ally and presentations on unsung aspects of the Chinese diaspora in the United States. </p><p><strong>It Takes a Village</strong></p><p>Another key to building audiences and strengthening arts organizations overall has been to seek out greater collaboration within the arts and cultural sector. That has included ideas such as sharing useful information and replacing competition for grant dollars with cooperation, i.e., having nonprofits, particularly those operating within the same racial or cultural communities, jointly apply for—and then share—funding.   </p><p>To accomplish that, Massbach suggested that funders consider providing grants to what she called a BIPOC “fund of funds,” adapted from a model used in the financial sector—creating an umbrella organization that could collect grants and funds and then allocate the money more equitably among multiple organizations in a particular community. </p><p>“If you have, hypothetically, a thousand small cultural organizations applying for money, and foundations are trying to discern between a thousand, it’s really, really hard,” she said. She went on to elaborate during the panel discussion that if a group of organizations could create that “fund of funds,” or “foundation of foundations,” to guide money toward many different organizations, the money could be distributed more equitably and sustainably. “I don’t want to be the ‘check the box’ Chinese-American organization that gets the funding when other people don’t because it was easier for people to do that work,” she said. </p><p>In another example of field collaboration, Glass said that she has benefited from a spontaneously created forum for New York-based arts and cultural organizations to meet, share ideas and collaborate on advocacy. Launched in March 2020, the virtual meetings were dubbed Culture@3 for their start time. “For the first few meetings we talked about things like how to get hand sanitizer,” Glass said. “Then we started discussing whatever problems came up, things like insurance problems and city funding. It turned into a place of advocacy and support, sharing information. For this field to survive we need to keep these lines of communication open.” </p><p>Lucy Sexton, the executive director of New Yorkers for Culture & Arts, an advocacy group, and one of three people who help run Culture@3, said the effort was having a big impact on the hundreds of organizations that have become regular participants. While meetings were initially held seven days a week, given the enormous need early in the shutdown, they are now on a four-day-a-week schedule. In addition to running the general meetings, the organizers have spun off working groups on such topics as fundraising and human resources. Recently, Sexton said, the group brought in an expert to explain changes in the tax rules for unemployment benefits, and one of their working groups raised $150,000 to provide emergency grants, as much as $500, to artists in need. </p><p>“This has helped us build stronger advocacy for the cultural field,” Sexton said. “We never talked like this before. There was no collaboration, no communication like this.” </p><p>Glass added that her hope was that this collaboration might prevent the sort of panic she recalls experiencing when the shutdown first hit. The sense of helplessness and being caught completely off guard without a viable game plan is something she says she wants to avoid in the future.</p><p>“That’s what’s making me look hard at our business model,” Glass said. “I don’t want us to hit the next catastrophe, and there will be a next one at some point, and I’m curled up in a ball unprepared. Before that catastrophe we need to create a system for when the Bat-Signal goes up, everyone knows what their role is and how to respond.”</p><p>Ramirez agreed and said that, while arts organizations always need to remain focused on financial sustainability, one of the lessons of the pandemic is that opportunities to bring in larger, more diverse audiences should be pursued even if there is no immediate financial return. “For us, it’s about expanding our family, for people to understand who we are and to experience our work,” she said. “It’s really about the expansion of our family more than anything else.” </p>​<br>How Can Arts Organizations Better Serve the Communities They Work In?https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/How-Can-Arts-Organizations-Better-Serve-the-Communities-They-Work-In.aspx2021-04-27T04:00:00ZPandemic sheds light on what audiences, particularly those in BIPOC communities, want from arts and cultural organizations—and how organizations are responding
What Can We Learn from High-Performing Arts Organizations of Color?GP0|#8056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be;L0|#08056f3bc-89c1-4297-814a-3e71542163be|Building Audiences for the Arts;GTSet|#a1e8653d-64cb-48e0-8015-b5826f8c5b61<p>​​For a few weeks in the Twin Cities last fall, the St. Paul-based Theatre Mu presented an interactive exhibit highlighting the work of Asian artists and performers. While audiences could view the exhibit online, it was created so that they could also walk through display stalls, with social distancing, at the Jungle Theatre. In an innovative twist, people could also view portions of the exhibit from the theatre’s street-facing windows. </p><p>The collaboration between the two theaters, according to Anh-Thu Pham, Theatre Mu’s managing director, allowed the company to keep many of its set designers, captioners, builders and others on the payroll during the pandemic, while offering some respite to a community in lockdown. </p><p>“We were founded with a dual purpose, as a community organization as well as a theatre, and those two threads are woven so deeply into our DNA,” Pham said in a recent panel discussion. “They are part and parcel of everything we do.” </p><p>Those threads, it turns out, are not exclusive to the make-up of Theatre Mu. According to a recent report, many organizations that have grown out of and serve the needs of BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) have managed to build and sustain a loyal base while audiences at more classical, or Eurocentric, organizations have generally been in  decline for decades. Zannie Voss, director of SMU DataArts and co-author of a recently published report, <a href="/knowledge-center/Documents/The-Alchemy-of-High-Performing-Arts-Organizations-Part-2.pdf"><em>The Alchemy of High-Performing Arts Organizations, Part II: A Spotlight on Organizations of Color</em></a>, said that it is in fact their origins in serving communities long ignored by the mainstream that can provide BIPOC organizations with a tangible degree of audience and community loyalty. </p><p>Yet Voss also emphasized that, despite those enviable strengths, BIPOC organizations have rarely been rewarded by funders that have for years sought to encourage precisely the qualities these organizations exhibit—serving diverse audiences, employing many artists of color and a diverse staff, creating more inclusive organizations and reaching into underrepresented and economically disadvantaged communities. “These local organizations are often in competition with the white organizations for funding and they usually lose out to them,” Voss says. “Organizations that are rooted in communities of color receive far less support, recognition and attention both from funders and from society at large.”</p><p>Voss presented these and other key findings from the new report, which is based on the experiences of 21 high-performing BIPOC organizations, with a median budget of $1.4 million (Theatre Mu was one of the organizations). The interviews were conducted in August and September of 2020 and included representatives from dance, music, theater, multidisciplinary performing arts and community-based arts organizations. An earlier report from SMU DataArt’s research, <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/the-alchemy-of-high-performing-arts-organizations.aspx"><em>The Alchemy of High-Performing Arts Organizations</em></a><em>,</em> focused on the successful practices of a wider range of organizations. </p><p>Voss and Pham were joined in the panel discussion by representatives from two of the other high-performing organizations in the BIPOC report: Juan Díes, the co-founder and executive director of Sones de Mexico Ensemble, a folk music group based in Chicago, and Blake-Anthony Johnson, the chief executive officer of the Chicago Sinfonietta. The conversation was <a href="/knowledge-center/pages/reimagining-the-future-of-the-arts-a-webinar-series-from-the-wallace-foundation-session-5.aspx">the fifth in Wallace’s “Reimagining the Future of the Arts” series</a>, which provides a forum to explore pressing questions in the field. </p><p>In addition to addressing the question of BIPOC organizations’ community orientation, the panelists discussed the quick improvisation and innovation that helped them navigate the pandemic, particularly the full-on embracing of digital content. They relied on the skills they’d honed working for years with tight budgets while retaining a focus on the communities they serve, and they expressed a vital need for increased funding to expand what organizations can accomplish.  </p><p><strong>Survival on a shoestring</strong><strong> </strong><br> Díes of Sones de Mexico told the panel that while his group’s performances have always attracted a broad audience, unbound by geography or culture, audiences have grown even larger with digital performances during the pandemic. But because he is the sole staff member, Díes said, “capacity is a big issue.” He runs the company’s website and educational programs and also arranges new music performances.</p><p>Although Díes is used to wearing all of these administrative hats, he said he has received no additional funding to do so and sometimes finds it a challenge. </p><p>Pham added that Theater Mu shifted to producing digital performances just days after the shutdown. Since then the company has produced more than 40 events, but she said it could not keep up at that pace. “We needed to take a breath,” she said. </p><p>Chicago Sinfonietta, too, has succeeded in extending its reach internationally, finding new audiences for virtual performances in more than 40 countries and enrolling interns digitally from Lebanon and Dubai, according to Johnson. But, he said, the strains on the organization are a constant concern. This has led the Sinfonietta to drop some priorities, while remaining true to the its mission of training BIPOC musicians and organizational leaders to increase the diversity of orchestras. </p><p>He compared the exercise of contending with these limits to juggling balls, some made of glass and some of plastic. Because glass balls would shatter if you let them fall, you keep them up in the air, while you can drop the plastic balls since they will bounce and can be picked up at a later date. “You can do everything, but not all at once,” he said. “You determine what is fundamental and what can wait. You look at what are essentials and what can go for now.” </p><p>All of the panelists stressed how challenging it has been to squeeze more from their organizations, which are already stretched thin, and urged funding organizations themselves to pivot towards supporting increased organizational capacity rather than just performances and programs, the traditional focus. “The top challenge we heard in this research was organizational capacity,” said Voss. “It’s a serious issue that brings concerns of staff burnout, low compensation levels, recruitment and retention issues that can inhibit the organizations’ ability to capitalize on the short-term successes and get to a sense of balance.”</p><p>She added, “Exclusion from equitable access to capital means many organizations of color that want to grow are denied agency.”<br> </p><p><strong>Toward equity in arts funding</strong><br> According to <a href="http://notjustmoney.us/docs/NotJustMoney_Full_Report_July2017.pdf">an article</a> Voss cites in the BIPOC study: “People of color represent 37 percent of the population, but just 4 percent of all foundation arts funding is allocated to groups whose primary mission is to serve communities of color. It is estimated that approximately one in two Americans is low-income or living in poverty but less than 3 percent of arts foundation funding is directed to cultural groups whose primary purpose is to serve these communities.”</p><p>Voss said the inequities in funding for BIPOC arts organizations were particularly unfortunate because these organizations have succeeded in achieving some of the critical goals various funders have supported in recent years. For instance, many white organizations have struggled to fulfill goals such as increasing diversity in the art they produce and their audience base, while widening access to underserved communities.</p><p>“I heard repeatedly how profoundly relevant these organizations are and that brings me back to how they were founded in the first place,” Voss said. “Usually, there had been no opportunities for artists of color in these communities and these organizations provide that programming. They filled a void, and that sets up a particularly dynamic relationship between the organization and the community. They are funded not just by a few people with deep pockets as much as the whole community having a sense of ownership.”</p><p>Johnson said he has learned that when seeking funding, he must devote a great deal of time to educating funders about how the Sinfonietta trains artists of color, helping them launch careers in music, and helps develop administrative leaders of color, as well as how their support of BIPOC organizations can help organizations achieve such important goals. A key, he said, is making funders aware of the strength of the Chicago Sinfonietta in bringing greater diversity and inclusivity to the orchestral world. “It’s a matter of educating people,” he said. “It’s letting them know that there are options for supporting orchestras, people like us. So it’s a matter of access to those funding organizations and then having the time to do that educating.” <br> </p><p><strong>Building increased capacity</strong><br> One of the consistent challenges, Johnson said, is making the case for funds to expand staff and organizational capacity, not just programs. “Yes, a few funders have been mindful of that need, but it’s such a rare thing,” he said. After giving it some additional thought, he said there had been but a single instance when his organization was offered such funding. </p><p>“These are communities that do not have a lot of high net worth individuals,” Voss said. “They don’t have wealth to pay high ticket prices, rising ticket prices, and they cannot provide high levels of funding. But in the more Eurocentric, white organizations, individual contributions are plentiful and fund growth.”</p><p>She added, “These organizations are in a vicious cycle: we’ll give you less money because you’re smaller but without that money they can’t grow bigger. This is affecting underrepresented communities.”</p><p>Díes agreed, recommending that funders consider providing more multiyear grants to build stability into organizations and offer greater opportunities for them to achieve long-term expansion. He also suggested that the requirements built into some grants that recipients attend financial management courses be dropped. “There’s distrust built in there, like we don’t know how to manage money,” he said, insisting that that was incorrect after 23 years of experience, in his case. “The foundations should trust us.” </p><p>Pham noted a particular problem: While many funding organizations are willing to support youth education programs, they have been reluctant to fund programs for adults. These sorts of adult-education programs can be especially helpful in training BIPOC artists who are eager to develop careers as actors or stage designers. “That’s a disparity that I run into,” she said.</p><p>Voss said the funding challenges are serious but she was still optimistic about the path forward, especially as lockdowns lift, arts venues reopen and arts organizations are able to build on the lessons they have learned from going digital during the pandemic.</p><p>“There has been a lapse in how the model is supposed to work,” Voss said. “But the field at large has so much to learn from the strong BIPOC organization leaders. What we don’t want to see any more is one kind of organization pitted against another.”<br></p><p><em>Top photo: Sones de Mexico Ensemble by Henry Fajardo​</em><br></p>What Can We Learn from High-Performing Arts Organizations of Color?https://www.wallacefoundation.org/News-and-Media/Blog/Pages/What-Can-We-Learn-from-High-Performing-Arts-Organizations-of-Color.aspx2021-06-02T04:00:00ZAs the arts sector looks toward re-opening, a new report offers lessons from successful organizations run by and serving BIPOC communities