8 Ways a Cultural Event Can Transcend Genre, Geography & Demographics

Posted by P. Scott Cunningham, Apr 24, 2013

P. Scott Cunningham P. Scott Cunningham

Three years ago, a group of friends and I started to dream up what a lot of people considered impossible: a festival that would bring poetry to all 2.6 million residents of Greater Miami.

At that time, Miami’s cultural scene was exploding. Art Basel was in full force, and we wanted to do a festival that was the opposite of the “pipe-and-blazer” readings that most people associate with poetry. We wanted to do a festival that reflected Miami’s diversity and personality.

Knight Foundation had just finished the first round of its famous Random Acts of Culture™ and we liked how those events turned everyday events into cultural occasions. What if did something like that? What if we did it every day for a month?

And that’s how O, Miami was born. In the poetry festival’s first year, we did 45 events and 19 projects in a 30-day span, and almost none of them had a recognizable headliner. (You can get a taste for it in a new report being published this week.)

As we headed into our second full incarnation of the festival this month, we wanted to share a few of the things we learned about engaging new audiences and creating a cultural event that transcends geography, genre, and demographics...

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Looking Like the People We Serve

Posted by Robert Bush, Jul 12, 2013

Robert Bush Robert Bush

Reading Americans for the Arts’ 2013 study on Local Arts Agency Salaries took me back. Way back to 1981 when I took my first position as executive director, and only employee, of a county arts council in North Carolina at what I thought at the time was an incredible sum of $16,000 per year, plus health benefits. Now my parents thought I was crazy for leaving the classroom with its pay (not much more than then LAA job) and benefits. I was still young enough to see the change as a great new adventure. Nearly 30 years later and a wonderful career, I know I made the right decision.

On the plus side, salaries and benefits have come a long way since the early 1980s. On the whole, salaries and benefits are better across the board. Some highly skilled positions demand a higher level of compensation, and rightfully so, than one might expect.  For example, Senior Public Art professionals are required to be a planner, have a keen aesthetic/artist eye, project manager, legal negotiator, financial wizard, and more importantly are hard to find. It is right that their compensation levels are rising. I know some of my colleagues still struggle with wages that are not commensurate with their education and skill level or the demands of what we all know can be a 24/7 job. So we shouldn’t take the survey results as any more than a snapshot in time and hopefully provide information to help boards and commissions understand how peer agencies are compensating their employees.

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A Diversity Problem in Arts Administration: The 2013 Salary Survey Reaction

Posted by Abe Flores, Jul 22, 2013

AbeFlores_Headshot Abe Flores

Artists and their art are as diverse as our communities, but arts administrators are not. After reviewing the Local Arts Agencies Salaries 2013 research report, one thing jumped out at me: The arts administration field has a diversity problem. It’s not shocking to me that the salaries of arts administrators are not commensurate with their skills, education, experience, and responsibility (I have friends working at a utility company as coordinators who make more than Art EDs) but the demographics, although somewhat expected, are disconcerting. Ninety-two percent of the report’s respondents who identified as Executive Directors or CEOs are white. Eighty-six percent of the overall respondents are white.

The American for the Arts national convention gave me a lot to ponder about race and demographics, particularly Manuel Pastor’s presentation and the numerous conversations I had with my fellow Emerging Leaders on the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy report Fusing Arts, Culture and Social Change.

Growing up in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles, a working poor Latino neighborhood, I did not know any white people (aside from those on television) until I started college. Even in college, I never felt like a “minority” because there were always plenty of people with backgrounds similar to my own. It wasn’t until I began working in the arts field that the label “minority” seemed appropriate for me. In the subsequent years at many of the arts meetings, conferences, and events, I was the only Latino attending.  I found it very strange. In Los Angeles, where whites make up only 27% of the population, they made up the vast majority of the local arts administration field. I came to understand that when the cultural diversity of a community is not reflected in the individuals attempting to serve the community, the very act of communicating becomes a barrier, which limits the knowledge of needs, wants, and opportunities.

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Navigating to a New Business Model – Part 2: Process & Creative Solution

Posted by Jeanie Duncan, May 19, 2011

Jeanie Duncan

(Continued from Part 1 posted earlier this week)

Process: Constituency Research Yields Insight

As we surveyed our situation, we knew our approach could not be a typical strategic planning process. Board and staff discussion charted an outside-in strategy for data gathering. Our selected consultant was a branding, PR, and market research firm whose representatives reminded us from the beginning that “it doesn’t matter what you think. What matters is what your customer – the community – thinks.”

With the potential for change to be significant, it was essential that the United Arts Council of Greensboro (UAC) communicate openly, early, and often to the constituents who relied on our funding, as well as their core audiences and supporters. For some agencies,our investment comprised as much as 20 percent of their contributed revenue. Regardless of the percentage, the resource was critical; we wanted to mitigate negative impact while giving historically funded agencies ample lead time for planning and preparation. 

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Navigating to a New Business Model - Part 3: Implementation & Outcomes

Posted by Jeanie Duncan, May 20, 2011

Jeanie Duncan

(Note: This post is a continuation of Part 1 and Part 2 posted earlier this week)

Implementation: A Strategy-Focused Business Model

Our closest stakeholders and constituents had been a part of the research and discovery process with us along the way, participating in information gathering and report-out sessions. While we had been together through this process, changes were going to be significant, and nothing makes reality more sobering than implementation. The change, while it wasn’t easy, was supported by the voice of our community-at-large.

We rolled out our new plan and its supporting tactics beginning in spring 2009. Most notably, we:

•    Recruited new leadership reflecting the diversity of our community.
•    Formed teams to work on launching advisory groups for Hispanic/Latino, African American, and young adults with the goal of building relationships and engaging people in these sectors. 

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Diversity: Not Just for White Guilt Anymore

Posted by Robbie Q. Telfer, Jul 29, 2011

Robbie Q. Telfer

An important principal to the Encyclopedia Show is diversity. I had mentioned earlier diversity of artistic genre – we try to get not only poets, but solo performance artists, visual artists, creative nonfiction and fiction writers, musicians, comedians, live animals, experts on the topic, jugglers, etc…

Demographic diversity is also extremely important to us. We have youth perform in every show, as well as people coming from as many different communities as possible – and in hyper-segregated Chicago, that might mean more. A larger goal of our show is to replicate all human emotions, so we’re trying to bring in all humans.

The key to diversity, though, is not to tokenize people from outside my demographic (white guy), but to try honestly to understand the values of the different communities I am pulling from and featuring only excellent representatives.

It makes for a bad show if you don’t care how the non-white guy’s pieces turn out just because you feel guilty about institutionalized racism. Also, tokenism is infantilizing and deeply insulting.

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