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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Thursday, November 20, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 20: Advocacy Emails

Since I'm covering the Orange County Arts Commission office today to accept Fall Grant Applications, I thought I'd write a little about advocacy.

A lot of people get nervous when they hear the word "advocacy." Maybe it has to do with a fear of public speaking or of being rejected. Maybe it's about being scared of a perceived power imbalance. I think people are scared of "fundraising" for the same reasons.

But no one should be scared of advocacy. The verb "advocate" means simply "to speak or write in favor of." Advocacy isn't rocket science. It's communication.

Here are 3 tips on starting advocacy emails:

1. Know who you're emailing.
The best connection is with your local representative, be that a municipal or county commissioner, or state district legislator. Start your research with where they stand on your particular interest area (the arts, obviously). Then expand to their other special areas. There may be unexpected ways to discussing the arts through education, agriculture, business development, or tourism.

2. Start simple and upbeat.
A handwritten letter to begin is always a good idea, but start with an email if necessary just to get going. Introduce yourself and that you're in their elecorate, state simply that you're an arts supporter, mention one cool recent arts thing that they may be interested in, and that you're looking forward to working with them on this topic.

3. Repeat often.
Schedule an email to them every so often, every couple of months at least. These can riff on "this arts thing happened and thanks for your support" to "this arts thing is going to happen and will draw x number of your constituents." The keys here are brevity, consistency, and connecting the dots on how the arts help the community.

Eventually, the topic will be "we want this arts thing to happen and need your support." When the need for that email arises, it won't feel odd for you to write and it won't be out of the blue for your representative to receive, because they know who you are.

Do you have email tips? If you already advocate for the arts, how often do you write your representative?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 19: Rituals

A local theater acquaintance posted about her daily rituals and Forbes magazine recently published a list of 20 top-of-their-game-women's morning routines. At home, I am all about these things. At work, not as good.

In order to be successful, arts organizations should build routines and rituals into the work day/week/quarter/year. Especially for smaller organizations, where employee(s) must juggle multiple work task hats: deliberate, consistent routines can help ensure that the work actually gets done.

There are so many places to start or things to consider about setting up routines. Arts leaders need to have:

-clear short and long term goals
-strategies and tasks for achieving them
-strategic thinking and professional development time
-networking get-togethers
-donor touches

And other things to consider include:

-which 8 hours out of the day are you really/do you need to be working?
-familial commitments that require a flex schedule
-personal "best" working times
-when vendors/clients/customers need you to be available
-what tasks are "must do" and "now" vs "want to do" and "later" (hint: not everything is high priority/urgent)

As a solo leader, it's been helpful for me to designate weekly routines. That is, rather than trying to hit marketing AND development AND planning AND etc etc every day, I designate each item to a day in the week and try to go deep into that area on that day. And those tasks that I've earmarked as ritual--the things that need to be done every day in order to keep the ship moving steadily forward--get plugged into my daily schedule before and as breaks in between the other work.

Do have a daily ritual or weekly routines? Share them here! 

Monday, November 17, 2014

NaBloPoMo Day 17: Returning to Passion

I found my way into theater a little later than other colleagues, according to informal conversation. I had "theater" friends in middle and high school, but I was never intrigued enough to want to join them on stage.1

Until, that is, my local pro-am theater2 produced the Finn/Lapine musical Falsettos. Through a series of poor teenager life choices, I served community service time at the theater while the show was going on. Luckily. Fortunately. Serendipitous-ly. If you don't know the show, it's the story of a Jewish family and their friends, many of whom are gay. Themes include being true with yourself and loved ones, growing up and the pain of adulthood, loving someone through good times and bad, and the importance of family. 

I'm not Jewish. I didn't know any gay people (out, anyway). But I was moved to tears by every single performance I saw (including returning on my night off to actually purchase a ticket). I saw a story on that stage that not only connected to my personal life's quest at that time but also showed me how small my own world really was and how much larger it could be. 

Which is why we "do" theater, right? Why we participate or attend. For those with the "bug," it's a compulsion to understand ourselves and our world. It's not like escapist television or movies. It's about illumination. 
I got into theater because I want others to feel the same way I felt during Falsettos. I want to be a part of something that could so move another person that something in them would change and be better. Comedy or drama, contemporary or period, life writ large or small, theater that compels is what I'm passionate about. 

What's your theater passion? What is it about this field that keeps you being a part? What is your compulsion?

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1. Because I thought you had to be on stage to be a part of the theater. This is a gross injustice that should be corrected in lower schooling. 

2. Can I coin that term? It wasn't community theater but it wasn't a professional-day job theater. Boom, done.