Meet the Grantmakers – Funding for Individual Artists

EAP_blogpost_MeetGrantMakersThursday, October 17TH, 2013
5:00pm to 7:30pm

ProArts Gallery
150 Frank H Ogawa Plaza Oakland CA 94612

Gain insight from local grantmakers into the individual artist funding process.

Join us for this unique program featuring local Bay Area arts funders as they describe their organization’s funding priorities and guidelines, discuss regional arts and culture funding trends, and offer practical tips on how to apply.

Speakers include:

Doors open/Registration: 5:00pm
Program: 5:30-7:30pm

Meet the Grantmakers is a event hosted by Foundation Center San FranciscoPro Arts, and Emerging Arts Professionals – SFBA

Space is limited – RSVP today

Want to let your co-workers know about it?  Download the announcement and post it!

For updates or to reach out to the event staff pleas follow the event’s Facebook Page

Defining Open Systems: Diversity, Representation, and Equity

Defining Open SystemsBy Sunshine Lampitoc

As part of Emergence, Emerging Arts Professional’s daylong annual convening on June 3, 2013, a panel discussed what it means for a system to be open and healthy.

Defining Diversity and Open Systems

Defining and creating open systems involves many components but, for some reason, “diversity” has become the catch-all term for discussions about changing population demographics, inclusion, equity, and representation.

However, Lynn Johnson, co-founder and CEO of Glitter & Razz Productions points out that “diversity can’t be the only component, and it can’t be the lead component.” Each of these aspects requires unpacking on their own, both on individual and systemic levels, before any type of movement or change can be planned or enacted.

Defining these potentially loaded terms and concepts is the first process dancer and organizational equity consultant Tammy Johnson goes through with organizations.

“Let’s get clarity,” she states. What is the definition of diversity? Inclusion? Equity? What does all this stuff mean when the rubber hits the road?” To enact systemic change, it is immensely important for everyone to be starting on the same page and speaking the same language.

Parsing the diversity of thought that exists within diversity conversations is the first step in addressing how a truly open system can be created.

Re-imagining the Box on May 13 at SOMArts

Re-imagining The BoxEmerging Arts Professionals / San Francisco Bay Area invites you to an evening of open forum discussion to assess where and how R&D fits into arts and cultural innovation.

Join us on May 13 at SOMArts. Register today!

When other sectors are experiencing growth at exponential rates, how can we as arts leaders re-prioritize and re-imagine the R&D process to create impactful and innovative works in our communities? Does R&D necessary lead to innovation–and what does innovation in the arts field even look like at this point?

We’re conducting a little R&D about R&D, with plans to create a real resource for those in the field who are interested in the now, new, and next.

Who are the future thinkers in the field? How can we make forward thinking in the arts a higher priority in cycles of support?

We’ve invited some future thinkers of our own to get the conversation started, but we need you to bring you own ideas (#BYOID) to make it count!

Speakers include

Mat Dryhurst, Artup and GAFTA
Jess Curtis, Director/Choreographer/Performer
Jayna Swartzman, Bay Area, Center for Cultural Innovation
Julie Potter, YBCA

Our ultimate goal with this forum is to create a resource informed from your ideas. It will offer a space to share and learn about ways our peers continue to push the field into new directions–but to get things started, we need you!

Re-imagining the Box is supported by the SOMArts Cultural Center’s Affordable Space Program, which provides subsidized, large-scale affordable space and technical assistance to nonprofits.

SOMArts receives support from the San Francisco Arts Commission’s Community Arts and Education Program with funding from Grants for the Arts/The Hotel Tax Fund.

The mission of SOMArts is to promote and nurture art on the community level and foster an appreciation of and respect for all cultures. To find out about SOMArts classes, events and exhibitions, please visit


The Hybrid Challenge

hybridBy Emily Lakin

Strength in variety

My colleague at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), Marc Bamuthi Joseph, was recently featured in United States Artists’ online magazine discussing his role as a seeker and hybrid. It was perfect timing as I prepared to write this post about my experience with the NextGen Arts Leadership Initiative, a project of the Creative Capacity Fund, part of the Center for Cultural Innovation.

From my perspective, nonprofit employees work beyond what is narrowly defined by our job descriptions: we are nimble, multi-skilled professionals that do everything from setting up tables for an event to managing a grant-funded program. Bamuthi muses on that further, speaking to the challenges of fitting into discrete categories as a hybrid artist-curator-teacher (and many more hyphenates).

While it may be challenging externally – to the funder trying to slot your proposal into a program area, to the journalist trying to figure out where to list your show, to the hiring manager reviewing your resume – I propose that we are stronger candidates to become leaders if we have explored a diversity of experiences and taken advantage of the valuable learning and resources available outside our own specialties.

Crowdsourcing mentorship

With that in mind, in January 2011 I proposed a NextGen Grant for a project I must honestly admit I wasn’t sure would be funded. NextGen’s guidelines stated that the grant could be used for a workshop, conference, or mentor. For this project, I wanted to crowdsource a mentorship by meeting with professionals who are actively involved in some aspects of nonprofits, social practice, philanthropy, technology, arts and innovation, though not necessarily in the arts nonprofit sector.

Instead of a single mentor, I talked with multiple people in New York, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area, offering them lunch as a token payment for their time. In a time when most organizations have cut conference and travel budgets, this grant helped me greatly expand my network to exchange ideas and learn new information through its financial and credentialed support. And, much like my proposal to NextGen for an independent mentorship program, this series of lunches inspired me to engage in further self-directed study.

Making it together

I’ve also become increasingly aware of my role in collaborations, attempting to make something together instead of focusing on pushing my goal as the end result. I found myself seeking out opportunities for partnerships outside YBCA that would benefit both parties. In December I worked with Airbnb, a vacation rental service operating on the collaborative consumption model, to offer a week of free admission for anyone registered with their site. It was a boost for members of their community to engage in cultural activities in their own cities, or who were visiting as part of their Airbnb stay. It gave YBCA the opportunity to engage a vibrant user group, and the credit we earned in the partnership offset some of the cost to host a visiting artist during her residency in April.

Just recently I’ve been working with the artist David Shrigley and Kala Art Institute to create a limited edition print in conjunction with Shrigley’s YBCA show, Brain Activity, which runs through September.

Ideologically, these mentor conversations collapsed my perceived walls between sector silos to focus around the idea of “good” business – work that is sustainable, socially responsible, and which demonstrates an impact. I find myself ravenous to find studies or projects or companies that offer insight into the themes from this project: collaboration, philanthropy, social impact in nonprofit and for-profit spheres, and the relevance of the creative fields. As I feed myself information, I try to synthesize it into the work I’m currently doing or work I’d like to do in the future.

A call to be seekers and hybrids

As culture workers I think we would be doing ourselves a disservice if we ignore the trend towards the growing intersection of the public and private sector. We are primed to take advantage of all the resources out there to make ourselves and our organizations better and stronger.

I’d like to challenge my fellow emerging leaders to be seekers and hybrids as well. Build trust and integrity within your communities as you network far and wide and hopefully you will be inspired and strengthened to move forward. If you need help starting, below is a list of my areas of interest as well a few links and the list of people I’ve spoken to in the last year. I’d love to hear from the readers of EAP’s Blog Salon about what or whose work sparks their interests, and how it might inform your work as an arts professional.

Areas of Interest

  • collaborative consumption
  • partnerships and collaborations
  • alternative/continued education
  • citizen funding
  • social practice

Some things to read

Online resources

Some interesting people

About Emily Lakin

Emily has been involved in San Francisco arts and nonprofits for the past ten years, including holding positions at the 111 Minna Gallery and the Nonprofit Finance Fund. She currently works in Development at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Emily serves on the advisory board for Root Division, and has also volunteered at Intersection for the Arts and Southern Exposure. When not hands-deep in the arts in SF, you can find her @hazelbrown on Twitter, cooking up new recipes with a CSA from Eatwell Farm, and crashing startup offices throughout the city in search of skeeball machines. She earned B.A. in Anthropology from Smith College.

Image: Adapted from a photo by jaqian of artwork by Asbestos

Emergence Recap: The Working Process of Innovation in the Arts

Innovation in the ArtsBy Dania J. Wright

Pathways toward innovation

Being labeled an innovator is earned through extensive exploration and a bit of chance. “Collect programs and projects, learn some things, do it again,” recommends Marc Vogl, Executive Director of the Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) during the panel discussion on June 4, 2012, as part of Emerging Arts Professional’s annual convening, Emergence. His journey began upon founding Killing My Lobster (KML), with a collective of performing artists.

Following his immersion in the arts, Vogl transitioned and found opportunities in the technology sector. Working in startup environments, his entrepreneurial skills formed. Vogl credits much of what he learned in the private sector to his success in arts administration.

“Innovation is in the marketing,” Vogl states. He found that categorizing KML by the genres it encompassed (comedy and theatre) affected its engagement with media, funding partners, and patrons. This presented a publicity barrier. However, as Vogl’s marketing skills developed, he learned to think less about labels, and more about what KML wanted people to experience. It was then that he began to find success.

Passion and the courage to challenge the status quo are key characteristics of innovation, notes Cynthia Taylor, Assistant Director, Public Programs, Oakland Museum of California (OMCA). Similar to Vogl, Taylor credits the robustness of her arts administration skill set to exploration of a multitude of job functions and organizational settings.

She has contributed to the sector as an administrative assistant, an executive director, and almost every imaginable role in between. Focusing on the experience versus the title, Taylor learned the inner workings of the nonprofit arts organization — from the ground up. Regardless of the role, she advises emerging arts leaders: “Do your homework. Come with a plan, and be prepared to back it up with information. Put yourself in a position to be in that conversation, and give people a chance to join you.”

Taylor continues, “As a ‘changemaker,’ I was nothing without a posse. Everyone needs a team to navigate through this industry.” Recognizing the value of collaboration among internal and external stakeholders leads to success. Impact-driven work is work that is most gratifying. An innovator in arts administration must ask: What does a visitor/patron want? What will compel them to come to my institution? What will they gain from engagement with my institution and vice versa? Answering these questions creates a state of constant discovery, and community building.

Drawing by Todd Berman

Drawing by Todd Berman

The significance of innovation and the ideal environments in which it can flourish

The need and desire to remain relevant prompts arts organizations to foster innovation. On an individual arts administrator basis, Vogl shares: “We are all in this field because we want to create something that didn’t exist before.” Some ideal conditions needed to usher innovation include

  • Intent to change
  • Proactivity toward changes in the field
  • Time to reflect on the work
  • Transparency
  • Feedback from external perspectives
  • Flexibility in ideas and work allocation
  • Stakeholder buy-in

Vogl reminds arts administrators that there are times during which complete redesign is unnecessary. “Don’t change for the sake of changing,” he expresses. Organizations may feel pressured to repair things that aren’t broken, due to industry trends, obligations to funding partners, or even promising opportunities that present themselves.

Managing opposing ideas and rejection

Reflection on the work is important, as it is part of the creative process. However, many funders operate differently, making the project timeline much more rigid. This dynamic can be better managed by setting the tone at the start of collaboration. Vogl states that organizations should ask, “Is our project in alignment with that of our funders?” The project could possibly stray from its original mission, in order to meet funding guidelines. There should be an assessment of what an organization is willing to forego in the name of maintaining the partnership.

Crowdsourcing, although far from new, has become increasingly popular with the aid of social media. Vogl notes that many organizations utilize this resource to reach a wider audience in their fundraising efforts. This is the result of decreased success via traditional means of development (e.g. grant programs). Organizations should also explore opportunities in social entrepreneurship. Diverse revenue streams (admission/ticket sales, tuition, etc.) supplement operating and program costs. When considering profit-driven activities, Vogl advises to “find what you’re good at and what people would value.”

Goal setting and measuring success

QuestionBridge, a Black male identity transmedia project, is currently on exhibition at OMCA. Taylor recognized that QuestionBridge’s presence at the museum could positively impact one of Oakland’s largest at-risk populations, young Black men, as well as the larger community. Taylor exclaims, “I knew this idea was innovative because it was hard to fund!” However, as word about the project spread, the museum began attracting partners (including BAVC) to aid in bringing the exhibit to Oakland. These partnerships led to curriculum design in Oakland Unified School District, and the establishment of Black male achievement programs, panels, and community meetings, mirroring the outcome that Taylor originally envisioned. She notes that the museum as a whole made a conscious decision to create social change, and that was a major contributor to its success.

When developing organizational aims, consider the following:

  • How does cultural innovation address society’s value changes?
  • What happens when galleries and museums finally become inclusive?
  • How can your programs be more accessible to people?
  • What experiences are you creating for people?
  • How do you empower people?

In closing, innovation can be fostered in a multitude of ways. However, arts administrators should be conscious of when to practice innovation versus iteration. Perhaps a simple tweak is necessary instead of a total program reconstruction, Vogl remarks. There must also be balance in the exploration of projects. Vogl warns, “Don’t be a hoarder.” When it comes to arts administration, some projects must be dropped in order to strengthen those that have the greatest potential. The purposeful innovator constantly asks, “How can we make it better, and how can we get other parties in the conversation?” To which Taylor responds, “If you do it well, people will come.”

About Dania J. Wright

Dania J. Wright is a San Francisco Bay Area-bred artist. She is a Loyola Marymount University School of Film & Television alumna; having earned a BA in Animation, and Studio Arts minor. Wright’s professional experience ranges from art direction to visual art instruction. She previously interned for The Clorox Company, BET Networks, and MTV Networks. As a freelance artist, her clients include: Stanford University, Keetsa Mattress Company, and Loyola Marymount University. Wright also taught visual arts in K-12 schools, and a host of community-based organizations. Currently, she works in communications and development at The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and serves as Art & Education Program Co-Chair for the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) Vanguard. Wright is pursuing her Master of Public Administration degree at the University of San Francisco, and will graduate on December 13, 2013 (woo hoo!). She enjoys discovering and creating new methods of fusing the arts, education, technology, and community development.

Todd Berman’s work can be found at The Art Don’t Stop.

Emergence Recap: Equity in Placemaking

Equity in PlacemakingBy Tyese M. Wortham

What is placemaking?

Emerging Arts Professionals (EAP) 2011-12 Fellow Katie Fahey opened the Equity in Placemaking session at the Emergence annual convening on June 4, 2012, by explaining that there is a consensus surrounding the term placemaking. In my mind, I’m thinking, “A general consensus among whom?’ By the end of the session it was clear that placemaking was still trying to find its “place” in the disparate worlds of arts and urban planning. Even after the question and answer period, it was apparent that each of us has our own understanding of the meaning of placemaking.

As co-moderator with EAP Fellow Katherine Canton Titus, Fahey’s initial questions to guest panelists Karen Chapple of the Center for Community Innovation and Michele Rabkin (sitting in for Shannon Jackson) of the Arts Research Center included the following:

  1. Where does cultural competency fit into placemaking?
  2. What are the demands and roles of artists in placemaking?
  3. How do community revitalization and nonprofit efforts relate to placemaking?

To be an artist is a privileged PLACE

When questioned about her experience as an administrator with Pro Arts and Rock Paper Scissors Collective, Canton Titus exposed our relationship to art and place. You have to have the time, the money, and the space/place to create art, which is a privilege.

As one audience member sought understanding, she shared with us Wikipedia’s version of cultural competency. She further added that race and class seem to be the underlying issues of placemaking.

Audience member (and keynote panelist of another session) Ann Markusen passionately explained that her understanding of the session revolved around the inequity in placemaking for community arts organizations. Markusen sparked a brewing conversation specific to gentrification, privilege, race, and class.

Why do we arts professionals continuously forget to include privilege in the conversation? How do we discuss placemaking, neighborhood revitalization, or community development without understanding cultural competency and first addressing race and class?

Whose perspective? The urban planner vs. the artist

With her background in community and economic development, Karen Chapple clearly laid out three examples of the varied perspectives and values of the artist and planner. Considering outcomes, Chapple asks how equitable are these models, whom do they (really) serve, and are they sustainable?

  1. She calls the Berkeley Arts District the “trickle down” equity model. The hope? The benefits of building an arts district would eventually “trickle down” to artists.
  2.  The “equitable moment” model exemplifies Oakland’s Uptown/Art Murmur. Though the neighborhood/arts district is thriving culturally, artistically, and economically at this moment, over time sustainability is a concern.
  3. With built in equitable mechanisms and community benefits in place, Chapple considers the Mid-Market Arts District of San Francisco as the “equity-for-the-few” model. Businesses, artists, and community arts organizations seem to be at the mercy of the City Administrator, still creating winners and losers.

Though Chapple questions who is really being served, it is clear that the focus of this session is limited to the relationship between the planner and the artist. Is it not our responsibility as administrators to include our neighborhoods and local residents in the conversation of placemaking as equal partners?

The seven recurring puzzles

The Arts Research Center shared its “Seven Recurring Puzzles.” These questions surfaced as part of Shannon Jackson and the Art + Neighborhood Research Group’s investigation on placemaking’s various artistic stakeholders. Jackson’s blog, ARC Muse, has a complete listing of these puzzles. In the meantime, here are a few puzzles that piqued my interest:

  • Can a city planning language on the role of the arts in urban vitalization be joined to an artistic language of social engagement in the arts?
  • As more artists begin to identify themselves as “research-based” artists, how can urban planning research be conducted as part of the art process itself?
  • Can the Creative Class discourse think more about class difference?
  • How can equity in ‘placemaking’ also mean equity among arts organizations?

I see the importance of forming a common language and validating the artistic process as “research.” Can we also address the accessibility of the discourse? How can we create language that is inclusive for all stakeholders?

Impact, measurement, and community benefit
How are arts districts being evaluated? Culturally? Economically?
Which metrics are being used to measure outcomes?
Who benefits from placemaking?
Which communities are being served?
What is the role of neighborhoods in placemaking?

All of these questions were touched upon in some form throughout the session. I appreciated Chapple’s suggestion of using Northern California Community Loan Fund as a resource. She said it was important to think about shared spaces, such as schools and churches, to generate revenue for neighborhood-based spaces and to create natural collaborations.

What is equity in placemaking to you?

It is possible that this session has left us all with many unanswered questions. Placemaking is a new concept for study and exploration but has been occurring for years. Several conversations are taking place and considering the various viewpoints of placemaking as well as each individual’s PLACE in privilege. For me, you cannot speak of placemaking without addressing the challenging issues of race, class, and culture. Is placemaking not a new, fancy, PC, feel-good term for neighborhood revitalization, gentrification, and community development?

You tell me. How do you define placemaking? Where is placemaking taking place in your city or town? What are the costs and benefits of placemaking? Where is your PLACE in privilege?

About Tyese M. Wortham

As a passionate and community-based administrator, artist, and teacher, Tyese M. Wortham aspires to accomplish two goals as part of her lifework: First, she strives to advance the presentation, preservation, and innovation of local artists’ traditions and art forms. Secondly, Tyese strives to increase the presence of arts administrators of color. She has acquired over 20 years of dance experience from hip-hop to modern, from West African to Afro-Cuban. Currently, Tyese is a principal dancer with Emesè: Messengers of the African Diaspora and De Rompe Y Raja Cultural Association. She has had the pleasure and honor of working closely with her teachers and mentors: José Francisco Barroso, Carlos Carvajal, Teresita Dome-Pérez, CK Ladzekpo, and Gabriela Shiroma. Tyese has served as a program manager, panelist, consultant, facilitator, and committee member for various Bay Area arts organizations including San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival, Arts Council Silicon Valley, San Francisco Carnaval, Alliance for California Traditional Arts, Dance Discourse Project, Black Choreographers Festival, and the Isadora Duncan Dance Awards.

The Artist as Citizen and Public Arts Partnerships

The Artist as Citizen

and Public Arts Partnerships

Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Intersection for the Arts
925 Mission Street, Suite 109, San Francisco (map)

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EAP brings together dynamic panelists to discuss artistic citizenship and issues of engagement with place.


For this program, among other inquiries, we ask:

* To what degree have artists become agents of community revitalization and place-making?

* How are cluster initiatives in the development of city spaces facilitating the role of artistic citizenship and providing opportunities for partnership with the public?

* In what ways are cities, curators, and organizations utilizing elements of the New Deal/ WPA legacy to create a new model for artists as citizens?

David KasprzakArtist
Julio Morales, Artist / Adjunct Curator, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
Jennifer Parker, Professor of Art and Digital Art and New Media, UC Santa Cruz / Co-founder, OpenLab
Randy Rollison, Innovation Studio Director, Intersection for the Arts
Lizzie Wallack, envelope architecture + Design / Project Architect, ProxySF
Moderator: Sanjit Sethi, Co-Director, CCA Center for Art & Public Life

5-5:30pm Networking
5:30-7:30pm Moderated discussion and Q & A
7:30-8pm Reception (light refreshments will be available)

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This event is free and open to the public


Panelist Biographies:

David Kasprzak was raised in Knoxville, Tennessee. In 2000 he attended the Columbus College of Art and Design, Ohio, where he received his B.F.A. in Fine Arts. In 2003 Kasprzak was awarded a scholarship to Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy, where he focused on ancient art history and Italian cinema. During his stay in Italy, Kasprzak wrote and directed a feature length film titled Hitting The Same Car Twice. Upon returning to Columbus, Ohio, he began working for the Wexner Center for the Arts as a curatorial assistant and artist-in-residence. The final exhibition of his videos and sculpture was titled If Morning Never Comes (We’ll Be Just Fine). Kasprzak moved to San Francisco in 2005 to begin several curatorial endeavors, including organizing the group exhibition HYPERSPACES at Park Life, which presented the work of artists Sean McFarland, Paul Wackers, Orion Shepherd, and James Sterling Pitt. Kasprzak is currently pursuing his MA in Curatorial Practice at the California College of the Arts. His work has been exhibited in various galleries in California, Italy, Ohio, and Philadelphia, and often deals with subjects such as geometry, destruction, displacement, and paranoia in a humorous light.

Jennifer Parker is co-founder of Openlab and a Professor of Art and Digital Art and New Media at the University of California Santa Cruz. Parker’s research is rooted in sculpture, interactive art, new media, and kinetic art, including cross-disciplinary and collaborative research. Current projects explore new methodologies for art making that engage innovative, creative and collaborative research with art, community, design, technology, and science. Parker has exhibited internationally at a variety of venues including The War Memorial Museum in Seoul, Korea; the World Trade Center in Osaka, Japan; the Iskra History Museum in Kazanlak, Bulgaria; Califia Galerie and Skolska 28 Galerie in the Czech Republic. Locally Parker has exhibited, performed and presented at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, SF Camerawork; The LAB; Gray Area Foundation for the Arts; Southern Exposure; SFMOMA; Kala Art Institute; and ZER01 Biennial in San Jose. Parker’s work has been supported by NASA California Space Consortium; Art Matters; the New Forms Regional Grant administered by the Inter-Arts Program of the NEA; and the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts.

Randy Rollison (Innovation Studio Director, Intersection for the Arts) has served in a leadership role in arts organizations in New York City, Cleveland and Portland, Oregon before joining the staff of Intersection in 2008. A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, he is an award winning producer, director and actor. He is known primarily for developing and producing the world premier of Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues”, which has had a global impact and proves that art does indeed have the power to change lives.

Born in Rochester, New York, Sanjit Sethi has done a residency at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, as well as earned a master of science in advanced visual studies from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Visual Arts Program in 2002. His work consistently deals with issues of nomadism, identity, the residue of labor, memory, and movement in the urban sphere—all of which involve various disparate social and geographic communities.Having completed a Fulbright Fellowship in India on the Building Nomads Project, Sanjit continued his strong focus on interdisciplinary collaboration while director of the MFA Program at the Memphis College of Art. His dedication to diverse forms of artistic practice extends in his new position as CCA’s chair of the Community Arts Program and codirector of CCA’s Center for Art and Public Life. Sanjit’s current work includes a collaborative project, titled Urban Defibrillation, the Gypsy Bridge Project, and the Kuni Wada Bakery.

Lizzie Wallack, Designer and Project Manager at envelope a + d, received her undergraduate degree in furniture design at the California College of Arts and Crafts in San Francisco. After a brief stint as a photo stylist back in Boston, she returned to (the newly re-branded) California College of Arts to explore her curiosities concerning the built environment, people, and space. Her Masters of Architecture included several competitive distinctions: Jury Prizes, Design Excellence Awards, and the highly regarded Thesis Prize. She will be teaching her first course at CCA this summer. She remains hungry to envision the future of design while bookmarking images of late ‘60s-early ‘70s muscle cars, which one day she will have…in white, of course.

Incremental vs. Radical Change

After moderating last week’s EAP panel on “Building Community Through Technology” and live-tweeting this past Monday’s crowded “Beyond Dynamic Adaptability” conference, my brain is swimming in the blurry waters inhabited by words like audience, artists, network, and community.

James Kass (YouthSpeaks) and Robin Wu (ZeroDivide) agreed last week that the platforms for online engagement are changing so quickly that it’s unwise to invest deeply in one method or a specific tool. This message was echoed throughout Monday’s conference, particularly in the afternoon session I attended, which was hosted by social media guru Beth Kanter.

Here’s my thumbnail version of the major messages from that session’s featured speakers:

  • Anita Jackson (Moms Rising): Take an interweaved approach to engagement through “layer cake” marketing– multiple approaches and outlets with a unifying message.
  • Mark Taylor (KQED): Acknowledge and overcome fear of failure in order to innovate. Digital tools allow us to constantly reinvent; analog=finished, digital=in process.
  • Marc Vogl (BAVC): Consider carefully your audience’s expectations (especially creature comforts like ticket-buying experience and parking) and gratify them.
  • Tamara Alvarado (1st Act Silicon Valley): Make your space welcoming to people with a variety of backgrounds, and remember that existing norms might be preventing them from feeling welcome.
  • Michella Rivera-Gravage (CAAM): Integrate engagement strategies with programming process to attract audiences to the work of your organization throughout the process.
  • Annika Nonhebel (AXIS Dance): For small organizations, leverage the affordability of social media by making it a daily practice, and being smart about why you’re using it.

All great suggestions, but two questions popped into my mind:

1.) Is this glorified marketing, or is it fundamental change?
2.) Does anyone really know what they’re doing with social media?


Driving participation vs. driving sales

That afternoon session was framed with the question: “How can technology help enrich networks of participation?” Certainly Kanter’s proposal of a “networked nonprofit” and Nina Simon’s buzz-inducing discussion of her innovations at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History have both network and participation at the core of their being. Simon’s sticky-note driven community brainstorms and 72-hour program inventions prove that a new way of thinking (in this case, design thinking) can fundamentally transform and renew an institution.

But the dominant paradigm, especially for performing arts presenters, seems to swim against this tide. Conventionally, the creative artist and the show/art object are the locus of value, and delivering degrees of access creates the cost structure (think: donor dinner with the soloist). Much of the afternoon conversation proposed new answers to two old questions: how to attract customers, and how to retain them.

I might just be allergic to “tools and tips” conversations, but I was alarmed by the idea that our deepest response to social networking would be to now blast our message out in five channels instead of four. Not only do we often lack the resources to do it, it falls short of recognizing the radical transformation that Simon and others propose.


Keeping eyes on the mission

That said, one tidbit that caught my ear was when Simon characterized the changes at the MAH as transforming the place into a civic institution. She made it quite clear that she was “not there for the artists.” I’m sure, given the time for nuance, she’d include the artists as part of her community, but this point stung my artist/administrator heart a bit.

Certainly large institutions, especially those managing exhibition spaces, are a special situation. But since the majority of our arts non-profits do not run their own space, and are frequently run by a founding artist or a small group of artists, it may be a radical departure to posit that the organization is not centered around serving artists (or the Artistic Director) and their work.

On the other hand, Kass, Jennifer Maerz (The Bold Italic), and others stated with complete certainty that their efforts to build community online are ultimately intended to drive people to old-fashioned live performances. Going a step further, our panel posited that as an organization, knowing who you are is what allows you to embrace new tech tools, experiment with new ideas, and meanwhile never lose sight of the purpose of your work.

Recently Ken Foster (Yerba Buena Center for the Arts) came to speak to our EAP Fellows. One of the suggestions from his paper “Thriving In an Uncertain World” that seemed to strike a chord was, “Behave like an artist.” We heard the same message in different terms on Thursday’s panel, when Tanya Vlach (EyeTanya) suggested that engaging with negative or challenging comments on her blog had opened up new ideas and understandings. And again at Monday’s conference, Kanter and many others emphasized that experimentation and a willingness to fail were critical habits for innovation through incremental change.

We may not know where we’re going with our social media efforts, how precisely to measure our success, or whether creating more opportunities for participation will eventually do more than cultivate ticket purchases and donations. But if we have a deep understanding of our mission, it does allow us to embrace new possibilities, test new methods, and create new ways to connect and co-opt people into the work of fulfilling that mission. Do you want Facebook to be your “new focus group” or your theater’s back row to be full of “tweeps”? Doing a gut-check on how your leaders define your mission might make it easy to embrace those rather incremental changes, or in some cases reveal a need for changes far more radical.



EAP and the Foundation Center San Francisco co-hosted the Building Community Through Technology Creative Conversation on October 20, 2-4pm. The Beyond Dynamic Adaptability one-day conference took place October 24 at the Marines Memorial Theatre in San Francisco, and was co-hosted by Grants for the Arts, San Francisco Arts Commission, The San Francisco Foundation, and the Wallace Foundation, as part of the Wallace Foundation Cultural Participation Initiative.

Adam Fong is the co-founder and Director of EAP; read his bio here.