Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ignoring our nose to spite our face

What information are we not seeking?
R-O-B/Structural Oscillations
NYC Dept of Transportation
Creative Commons license
What feedback delays are we not paying attention to?
What incentives are we ignoring?

As well and artistically fantastic as subsidization is (through direct patronage or tax relief), it harms our organization and system because it severely weakens or removes several feedback flows necessary to a stable structure.

-the oscillations of ticket sales do not provide a reinforcing loop to performance decisions (when, where, what, marketing)
-the constant stock of free labor serves to reinforce the dangerous growth of itself, of unpaid labor
-the reasons companies collapse are ignored because of ease of new company creation

Yes, artistic growth can be hampered by the vagaries of market forces inclining artists to make comfortable choices.

But it is also stymied by an inefficient support structure that is incapable of properly responding to market forces.

Too little of a good thing is as problematic as too much.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Is there even a system here really?

I find myself pulling out Donella Meadow's Thinking in Systems: A Primer again, as I read the hundred billionth blog/newspaper/magazine post about the (admittedly) amazing local food scene we have here. I will own up the truth: I am bitterly jealous, an emotion I have tried to root out in all other facets of my life. And it's not even jealous for me, it's a jealousy for my beloved field, all those hard working actors and directors and designers and theater lovers. The irony, of course, is that because we do what we do, restaurants, food trucks, all sorts of food-related night-life related establishments spring up around us to take advantage of OUR audience, of OUR casts needing some place to grab a quick bite before a show call or gather together after the performance to discuss meanings, nuances, or how great the energy was in the house. 
So I go back and ask "What have they got that we ain't got?" (to coin a phrase). And that's when I get back to the whole system thing. While I think we are part of a system, and could conceivably be a micro-system unto ourselves, I have been able to identify that we lack the sheer number of stocks and flows that the local food system has. So that's one leg up they've got. 
It's also easy to discuss food. I mean ,food isn't necessarily easy (having attempted gardens, I can't begin to imagine a farm), but while we can attempt to put nuance to food, it mainly boils down (no pun intended) to "did it taste good? did I enjoy eating it?" The same cannot be said about Theater (and, by extrapolation, the Arts). By our very nature, we are a nuanced field, with shades and layers and differences and experiences that go into whether someone thinks a show is "good" and has an "enjoyable time" attending. And that's not to say we shouldn't be doing all we can to overcome that perception (and therefore stigma). But it's a hurdle that we have that the food scene doesn't.

There's more of course, but it'll take time to "get the beat of the system." It's easy to parse a system I'm not in the middle of. A lot harder when I have to keep the lights on in a venue and sell tickets for shows to audiences that we still have yet to identify.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Pie charts are fun

The teeny tiny beginning shoots of data capture/feedback to use for future planning. Can't wait to share with my production team.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 30: 10 Things I'm Thankful For

"Perspective" by Flickr user Justus Thane, licensed
under Creative Commons
It is the end.

Wait, that's not one of the things.

But it is the end of this blogging month. I remarked to a friend, "I was surprised to find out how much energy it took to write, being unaccustomed to it any more." Said friend, a writer by trade, chuckled and agreed.

I didn't hit my daily goal, but I did blog more than I have, well, ever. So I'm calling that a success.

So, without further ado and in no particular order, 10 Things I'm Thankful For:

1. Live theater 
2. A job in live theater 
3. My family who make possible my job in live theater 
4. My friends who encourage my job in live theater 
5. The interwebs, which make working in live theater something immeasurably different than it once was 
6. The best graduate program ever for those of us working in live theater who also have families 
7. Coming to terms with how I can best support live theater 
8. Learning how to advocate for live theater 
9. The donors and patrons with whom I've built relationships around supporting live theater 
10. All of the experiences and decisions I made (or didn't make) that led me on this particular path into live theater

I love what I do. I hope to be able to do it for more theaters, more patrons, and more artists.

Thanks for sticking with me for the month. I've still got six or seven (or more) writing prompts. So who knows where we'll go next?

Monday, November 24, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 24: The Most Important Lesson from Graduate School

I recently graduated with my Masters in Arts Administration from Goucher College's MAAA program. 

I'm not writing today to talk you into or out of applying for a graduate program in arts administration. I could espouse either side at length. 

I would like to tell you, though, my personal most important lesson learned from graduate school. 

Keep Asking Questions. 

As time- and people- and resource- strapped arts organization administrators, we get caught in the mundane tasks of answering daily business questions. Did the press release get written? Did last week's box office receipts get deposited? Did we ever look into that children's programming? 

Graduate school gives an arts administrator space to ask bigger questions. Questions like:
--What if?
--Why do it this way? 
--What came before that I can learn from?
--Who cares?
--Why isn't there [insert idea here]?
--Why now?
--What happens if we don't do [insert action here]?
--the 5 Whys (my personal anathema but so so helpful)

Mundane questions require a yes or a no; answers that don't necessarily lead anywhere (unless there happen to be severe negative consequences). 

Graduate school (the good ones, anyway) set up space for the provocative questions, whose answers could potentially shift not only a particular student's course of life, but the very foundation on which our arts world sits. We never know where the next Nancy Hanks or Hallie Flanagan may come from. 

I did not graduate with all the arts admin solutions. All I have are more questions, and a daily desire to live into the answers.


Saturday, November 22, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 22: What is failure?

This post was ostensibly about "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?"

But I don't believe in failure. At least, not in the way this question means it.

Dictionary definitions of "Failure":

1. an act or instance of failing or proving unsuccessful; lack of success:
His effort ended in failure. The campaign was a failure.
2. nonperformance of something due, required, or expected:
a failure to do what one has promised; a failure to appear.
3. a subnormal quantity or quality; an insufficiency:
the failure of crops.
4. deterioration or decay, especially of vigor, strength, etc.:
The failure of her health made retirement necessary.
5. a condition of being bankrupt by reason of insolvency.
6. a becoming insolvent or bankrupt:
the failure of a bank.
7. a person or thing that proves unsuccessful:
He is a failure in his career. The cake is a failure.

So, what is "Success"?

1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one's goals.
2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
3. a performance or achievement that is marked by success, as by the attainment of honors:
The play was an instant success. (I find this context example humorous.)
4. a person or thing that has had success, as measured by attainment of goals, wealth, etc.:
She was a great success on the talk show.

Most of the time, when "failure" and "success" get bandied about in arts organizations, they are meant in the 2nd definition of each. That is, they are pegged to tangible, data-driven metrics.

Was the play a success? Yes, we sold out each house.
Was the marketing campaign a success? Yes, we sold 20% more season subscriptions over last year.
Was the donor meeting a success? Yes, they wrote us a check for $1000. 

Was the play a failure? Yes, we only sold 30% of the house. 
Was the marketing campaign a failure? Yes, we spent more than we earned.
Was the donor meeting a failure? Yes, they said no when we asked for a donation.

But what if, instead of thinking about these in the second definition, you think about "success" in the first definition and tweak your goals?

Was the play a failure? No, we learned that we putting a heavy drama on during this particular month of the year means not even our semi-regular audience will come. While we didn't recoup, we can make better scheduling decisions for next year. 

Was the marketing campaign a failure? No, multiple ticket buyers told us they didn't want to switch to subscription because they worried about being locked into a date. While this single campaign didn't earn much, if we run a campaign highlighting ease of switching, we can easily make up the margin.

Was the donor meeting a failure? No, because even though they said no to a donation, they said they would gather a large group to attend the next production. How can we engage all of those people and turn them into donors? 

Failing is easy. Don't sell tickets. Don't ask for donations. Don't tell anyone about your productions. Don't even start.

So let me instead ask this question: If you redefine your goal, what would you do if you knew you would succeed? 

Friday, November 21, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 21: Stop, Start, Continue

When it is organization reflection time, what criteria do you use to make sure you're doing what you want and need to do? (This is assuming you have reflection time. If you don't, I suggest you start that right away.)

One of my favorite guiding questions is a triplet: What should I stop doing? What should I start doing? And what should I continue (and/or increase) doing?

These can be macro or microcosmic.

Maybe your organization needs to stop.

Maybe you need to call one donor every day just to say thank you (2 minute call, tops).

Maybe you need to continue paying your artistic staff as much as you possibly can.

Here are some of my organizational things for the next quarter:

Stop:
-doing the technical design work myself.
-talking about payrates in a negative way
-leaving strategic work for after the mundane

Start:
-varied networking to grow our audience
-working the shiny new fundraising plan
-find a pro-bono pr agency

Continue/Increase
-providing excellent customer service/work on bringing box office in-house
-saying "yes and" to performance projects that push our artists and community
-working to pay myself consistently

What could your arts organization stop/start/continue? Or you personally? 
And check back with me in Feb to see how mine are going.

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