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December 18, 2006

Time for a break...

I'm off the weblogging habit for the next few weeks to refuel and decompress. I wish any who read this post have a joyous and safe holiday season. In fact, I wish the same for those who don't read this post, I just don't wish it quite as much.

See you in the new year!

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December 13, 2006

Creative connections as practical necessity

Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times that the American public education system is preparing students for a world that's fading fast, or long gone. Paraphrasing Marc Tucker from the National Center on Education and the Economy, Friedman suggests that an increasingly global and integrated world economy will make traditional ways of learning and doing less and less competitive:

That means...revamping an education system designed in the 1900s for people to do ''routine work'' and refocusing it on producing people who can imagine things that have never been available before, who can create ingenious marketing and sales campaigns, write books, build furniture, make movies and design software ''that will capture people's imaginations and become indispensable for millions.''

Tucker's upcoming report, ''Tough Choices or Tough Times,'' calls for public education and the curriculum that drives it to emphasize creative thinking. Says he:

''One thing we know about creativity is that it typically occurs when people who have mastered two or more quite different fields use the framework in one to think afresh about the other....'' Thus, his report focuses on ''how to make that kind of thinking integral to every level of education.''

While this may seem a boon for arts education, it suggests a certain kind of arts education may be required. Certainly, the context, history, rules, and semantics of cultural expression will remain part of the mix -- as they should. But truly creative thinking requires creation of creative work, not only the study of other people's creative efforts.

And while ''labor-force readiness'' always makes me a bit woozy when flagged as the defining goal of public education, it's an argument that's worth having in the arsenal. I'm glad to have Thomas Friedman on our side.

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December 12, 2006

Fostering the healthy artist

The issue of health insurance is a complex one for any independent artist, small collective, or cultural nonprofit. It's certainly not a challenge unique to the arts (any small business or independent contractor is faced with similar strains). But the issue can be particularly problematic for creative professionals, who often do dangerous or physically demanding work, or do that work in less than healthy environments.

In response, the Future of Music Coalition has assembled a handy set of articles and links in their Health Insurance Navigation Tool (HINT). While developed specifically for musicians, the insights, glossary, and inventories of opportunities would be applicable to any independent artist or small cultural nonprofit.

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December 7, 2006

Watching your word-of-mouth

Marketing Pilgrim has a useful overview of how companies can and should listen in on conversation about them on-line. As more and more conversations by real consumers are being posted, there are more and more ways for you to learn from your audiences, or the people that might be your audience if you listened.

The post offers a bevy of specific suggestions, among them:

  • Create custom RSS feeds based on keyword searches:,,,,, MSN Spaces, Yahoo! News, Google News, MSN News and PubSub.
  • Monitor This allows you to monitor a single keyword across 22 different search engine feeds at the same time.
  • Filter all feeds into one RSS Reader for easy and time-efficient monitoring options include:,, Google Reader or
  • Sign up for Google and Yahoo email alerts using your desired keywords ( and
  • Determine message boards/forums to track:,,,, iVillage, Yahoo Message Boards, MSN Money
  • Determine groups to track: Yahoo Groups, AOL Groups, MSN Groups, Google Groups.

And if your organization isn't large enough, or your audience not techie enough, to generate a lot of on-line chatter, try monitoring talk about your city, your discipline, the other arts institutions in town.

[ Thanks to Donor Power Blog for the link. ]

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December 6, 2006

Generation C(ontent), Generation C(ash) has an interesting briefing on what they're calling Generation C(ash), a new phase in the life of Generation C(ontent). The first wave saw an increasing number of consumers taking on creative roles in their interaction with brands and services -- posting photos and videos, remixing media, blogging product reviews, even rewriting software. The next phase seems to involve actual compensation for this work -- in cash or credits. In essense, the creative consumer is slowly expecting to get paid for their input. Says Trendwatching:

If consumers produce the content, if they are the content, and that content brings in money for aggregating brands, then revenue and profit-sharing is going to be one of 2007's main themes in the online space. It's not like brands will have a choice: talented consumers are going to be too sought after to remain satisfied with thank you notes. Get ready for an avalanche of revenue sharing deals, reward schemes and sumptuous gifts aimed at luring creative consumers.

The briefing offers several examples, and suggests that this trend will not be only on-line.

GENERATION C(ASH) isn't only about content. It's not exclusively about the online space, either. It even surpasses the over-arching theme of consumers becoming more creative and participative. This trend is about consumers expecting ... to be rewarded for their input and their output. Which is a totally different world from the one many brands still inhabit.

Not great news for nonprofit enterprises that hoped to ride the wave of Generation C(ontent). But certainly a call to understand the true value customers gain from participating in your work, and to emphasize the values that are beyond economics.

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December 5, 2006

Hercules, Atlas, Sisyphus, Garland, Rooney

A friend and colleague was honored last week with a Governor's Award in Support of the Arts (in Wisconsin). Lynne Watrous Eich is certainly deserving of the award, after three decades of thoughtful, innovative, and responsive service to Dane County, Wisconsin, as Director of the Dane County Cultural Affairs Commission.

Because this was the first year an administrator had received such an award (previously reserved for philanthropists and arts organizations), Lynne took the opportunity to express to the convened donors and dignitaries what exactly an Arts Administrator does. I thought her remarks were well worth sharing. So, minus the thanks at the beginning and end, here they are:

Being the first recipient in a succession of administrators who are ''long enough in the tooth'' to warrant [this recognition], let me tell you briefly who we are and what we do.

We are the left brains in a right-brain industry. We are the executive directors, the general managers, the curators, the development associates, the grants officers, the marketing specialists, and sometimes -- as in my case -- the utility infielders who try to cover all of the bases, most of the time. We run the orchestras, museums, dance troupes, theaters, opera companies and, at least in one case, a small cultural affairs agency in southern Wisconsin.

We straddle the creative and business realms, producing and presenting the arts to secure for them a vital presence in community life and Wisconsin's economy. We are the worrywarts. We work behind the scenes, away from the limelight, to bring to our nonprofit organizations our best business practices and management skills. We bring heart, vision, muscle and gray matter.

In truth, arts administrators are the direct descendants of Hercules, Atlas and Sisyphus, with collateral links to Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney (and we probably could be making a whole lot more money if we had listened to Uncle Fred long ago when he advised us to go to medical school).

Instead, somewhere in our star-struck past the arts worked their magic on us, and life took a delicious and dangerous detour. We pioneered other paths and emerged in a high-risk fast lane as the drivers of Wisconsin's cultural institutions, championing the audacious belief that, not only are ''the arts for everyone,'' they are key to a fulfilled life, a healthy society, and a civilized world.

In our profession, there is no greater reward than to successfully bring the arts into full flower and full force in our Wisconsin hometowns, and by our efforts -- in small but measured ways -- help to elevate and transform the human condition. This is our life's work. And we love it. Lucky us.

Lucky us, indeed, to have Lynne in our ranks.

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December 4, 2006

When does a work of art begin?

Liz Lerman Dance Exchange has always explored the boundary between artist and audience, between professional and amateur (it's right there in their public description of themselves). So, it's fascinating to watch them experiment with an even more public way of doing their creative work.

The Funny Uncles weblog is an on-going public discussion leading up to and following the premiere of a new work (you can see a video of Saturday's premiere on the Kennedy Center's website). The weblog hosts thoughts, comments, video, and still images from the creation and rehearsal process, written by choreographer Peter DiMuro. Says the weblog's purpose statement:

A key focus behind this blog is to transform the notion of a performance as a single event that takes place on a stage to an extended process of creativity, collaboration and experimentation that takes place over weeks or months.

This isn't the first weblog of a commissioning process (I recall an effort by Doug Varone back in 2004), and it surely won't be the last. But it's interesting to watch a producing company and creative artist dive into the new medium to test the waters.

At the heart of the project are three little questions that can only be answered after many artists give this type of initiative a try:

How will audiences relate to and enjoy dance performances differently if they have an opportunity to experience the entire creative process from start to finish?

How will the audience experience be transformed if blog visitors are given an opportunity to offer suggestions and feedback about the creation of a dance work?

And what does it mean for choreographers, dancers and dance enthusiasts if the general public is encouraged to contribute their own videos of movements and spoken word programs?

Technology always takes an interesting turn when artists get their mitts on it. Can't wait to see where this goes, and what DiMuro learned from the process. Thanks and congratulations to Doug Fox, who put the effort together.

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November 30, 2006

A good prospect for a (virtual) board member, perhaps

Anshe Chung has all the elements of a good prospect for your nonprofit board -- she's a millionaire, a real estate mogul, and an innovative entrepreneur with an eye for design and aesthetic value. While it's true that she's not technically a real person, but an on-line character in the virtual world of Second Life...her influence, and her money, is real.

virtual real estate in Second LifeChung is the construct of a Chinese-born language teacher living near Frankfurt, Germany, who has been developing virtual real estate in virtual worlds for a while now. The practice is well established in multi-user on-line environments, where users can not only buy ''land'' but create and sell ''objects'' to other users. The difference with Second Life is that the virtual currency used in the on-line universe is convertable to U.S. dollars (at about 250 to 1).

Chung amassed her millions by buying up islands and exclusive areas of the Second Life universe, developing them with mansions, landscapes, and other such virtual amenities, and imposing strict zoning rules to keep the riff-raff out and the paying customers in. The CEO of the company that produces Second Life describes Chung as ''the government'' for her sequestered islands and continents (more details in this Wikipedia entry, and this Business Week article).

Governor Warner speaks in the virtual New Globe TheaterStrange and brain-bending stuff, to be sure. But a glimpse, perhaps, into the multiple worlds -- on-line and off-line -- where creative individuals and entrepreneurs will be creating their work. And if you think this doesn't apply to the lively arts, think again. The proposed New Globe Theater in New York already commissioned and opened a virtual version of the venue in Second Life. Says their overview of the effort (scroll down the page to the August 14 news item):

Since opening its doors, the New Globe has become the rock star of virtual destinations and the it-stage for cultural and intellectual exchange. In-world guest speakers on the stage have ranged from the Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine to the Governor of Virginia. The opening performance featured actors from around the globe who had never met in person ... though time difference for rehearsals did prove a REAL problem!

The real governor of Virginia held a virtual town hall meeting in that virtual performing arts space back in August. Is the world weird enough for you yet?

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