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Did they just say that? Embedded Sexism in Daily Life

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A number of weeks ago this post got me thinking about my time waiting tables throughout my high school and college career.  Yep, there were times that it sucked because of the sexual harassment some men felt was their right as a paying customer of the restaurant.  I’m delighted this particular pub owner publicly said, “enough.”  I’m also delighted his rant was shared so many times; more visibility is better when it comes to these things.

However, the post also got me thinking about the less blatant sexism that is around us and tolerated (or celebrated) every day.  It is time to shed some light there too; start another, possibly more complicated, conversation.

Exhibit One:  Last month, on the first “shorts weather” day of the spring, I was walking away from an Earth Day celebration downtown, one kiddo holding each hand.  A guy passing us in his truck slowed way down, made eye contact with me, let his eyes drop to my toes and then back up, smiled, and then picked up speed.

Exhibit Two:  A few weeks ago a talented artisan presented a program at a local civic club on the gorgeous Native American flutes he carves by hand.  He mentioned that originally they were used in courtship.  A male voice from the back yells, “hey, can you carve one for me?  I need a wife!”  Another voice responds, “How much for one that will get me a pretty wife?”  A third, “You can’t afford that!”  General laughter.

Exhibit Three:  Just days ago, sharing a picnic with a group of friends.  A couple of them started talking about teenage boys they knew and how only one had a girlfriend.  “How’d he get a girlfriend?” “Oh, you know [insert name of school] girls.”

None of these instances are earth-shattering.  None of them caused me permanent psychological damage or extended grief.  And I can hear the cry from a certain sector already saying that this is all ‘political correctness’ B.S.  However, each and every one of them points to a bigger, foundational problem in our society.  Female objectification is not just a problem of pop culture or the mass media, it is with us constantly.  I used to brush these  things off as generational…that’s the way “those” men were raised, the younger generations know better.  My experience at the picnic, for one, shows that is not true.

The beliefs underlying these situation, unconscious as some may be, have real consequences.  They affect who we hire, who we elect, how we raise our children…

I want to raise my daughter knowing to her core that she does not exist to provide an attractive resting place for the male gaze.  I want to raise my son knowing to his core that the girls and women in his life are equals and should be treated as such.  In order to do this fully, I (we, women & men) need to stop giving a pass on these seemingly small slights.  The uncomfortable silent acknowledgements across the lunch table with other women aren’t enough.

It is not about shaming, it is about educating.  It starts with individual conversations, in the moment, so that we all start to open our eyes to the effect our words have on others.  I absolutely recognize how charged this approach can seem.  We all want to be accepted, part of the ‘club’.  And when it feels systemic, we look at it as a problem too big for any one person to conquer.  A few years back I did pull a civic club President aside and suggest that, since his club included a strong contingent of women, perhaps he should not tell sexist jokes from the podium.  It was challenging for me, and I know I blushed to the tips of my ears, but I did it and he changed his behavior.  I’m disappointed with myself for not saying anything over these past weeks when the examples have been piling up.  But, there is a new chance every day.

I also recommend a wide distribution of the Women’s Media Center’s Name It Change It Media Guide for gender neutral coverage of women candidates and politicians. (really, this isn’t just for journalists, it highlights all sorts of sexist language that is used in and outside of the media).  So much of this issue is a result of pure ignorance, not malice.  But we need to shine a light on that ignorance in order to change it.  One person at a time can change the tide.

Please comment below if you have found ways to shift this ignorance to wisdom and understanding.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2016 in feminist theory

 

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Artists and Administrators: we really are all on the same team

I’m not sure why Mike Daisey’s article from February 7, 2008 has been making the social media rounds again, but I’m reminded enough of the ire I felt when I first read it in 2008 (and saw his production of “How Theatre Failed America” during NPAC in Denver that same year) that I am back here blogging again.

I’m not going to spill a lot of ink on the article itself or Mr. Daisey’s specific arguments because (1) it was written 6 years ago, before the “Great Recession” hit that autumn and changed much of the landscape, and (2) I feel Mr. Daisey makes so many leaps of ill-focused logic and presumptions that it is a waste of breath to enumerate all the flaws in his argument.

I do worry, however, about the perception that the resurfacing of the article may encourage: that (1) “large” organizations (broad and ranging definition depending on who is speaking) do not care about the art or the artists and (2) arts administrators are evil delusionary autocrats deliberately seeking to cheat artists (“they are a dime a dozen”) and fill their own pockets in the name of supporting the edifice of “the institution.”  Granted, I am an arts administrator, so it would make sense that I would take offense to this…no one, not even the most universally reviled criminals would probably paint themselves as a villain.  However, I have spent almost two decades in the non-profit theatre industry and I have yet to encounter one single person who was deliberately trying to find ways to cheat or devalue artists for their own gain.  The sooner we all stop demonizing each other, the sooner we will start to realize there are numerous theatres existing right now that are trying to do what’s right by all their employees and the communities they serve.  When we do that, we can start talking about what works in various communities, why it works, and how these strategies can be modified and replicated in other communities that haven’t found their model yet.

The first, and most important, thing to note is that we really are all on the same team.  The vast majority of us, artist or administrator, came to this industry through a love of theatre.  We have a deep, burning need to share that love with our communities, to help them know how much more beautifully rich our lives are with theatre in them.  That love is why we put in the umpteen extra hours, work for significantly less pay that we would find in the corporate sector, and (for me, anyway) stay awake at night trying to find more ways to make our employees’ lives better.  In the years since Mr. Daisey wrote the aforementioned article, the answer to that last issue has rarely included increased salaries.  We’ve all spent the last six years finding our balance and learning to be better stewards of the public’s funds (we are, after all, by definition of “non-profit corporation”, in the public trust).  We know that our people are the backbone of our organization and, there is no question, most of our theatres rode out the recession on the backs of our people, artists and staff alike.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned in my career and I hear echoed in the conversations of my peers:

  • Your mission, vision, and values must be your guiding light.
  • Great employees (artists and admin) are the only way any organization survives, much less thrives
  • All great employees should be valued, regardless of title or union affiliation
  • Respect is the Golden Rule.  Why on earth would anyone put up with everything else related to working in non-profit theatre if they weren’t at the very least respected for their unique contribution?
  • When there is a choice, you should always prioritize people (we will give raises rather than getting a color copier until all our employees are paid fairly)
  • Sometimes it does come down to “we have to fix the air conditioner” and there is no other choice.
  • It is almost never a question of black and white; so many factors go into every decision (budget, casting, marketing, staffing) it is always a matter of degrees, timing, and competing priorities.
  • Transparency should be the law of the land.  Without accurate information folks are free to jump to whatever conclusions pop into their brains, just as Mr. Daisey did.
  • You have to bring in more revenue before you expand the budget.
  • Breakeven is never good enough.  We’ve allowed ourselves (often encouraged by funders) to believe that if we aren’t “re-investing” every penny we make this year into this year’s expenses then we are not using our funds wisely (and we don’t need their funding).  We must eradicate this thinking.  It is only by establishing cash reserves (not endowments) that we can take the artistic and programmatic risks we all want to support.
  • It should not be a question of “if” but “when.”  Just because you can’t fulfill the organizations wildest dreams (or even more pedestrian ones) tomorrow doesn’t mean you give up and condemn “the administration” for killing your dreams.  It does mean you need to plan out how to take all the steps needed between where you are and where you want to be.  We’ve all been so busy making sure our checks didn’t bounce, it has been hard to lift our eyes to the horizon and even think about dreams.  I’m encouraged by the fact that I am hearing more and more conversations about strategic planning and mapping out strategies to move our organizations to the next level (including the next level of support for our people).

I honestly believe that most often the fault lies not in administrators’ motivations, nor even in the specific budgetary priorities of an organization, but rather in a severe lack of transparency.  Without transparency, there can be no appropriate oversight.  Without transparency, you lose vital opportunities.  Without transparency, there can be no trust.

Articles like Mike Daisey’s encourage and support a culture of fear in an industry where our best work can only be created in a safe environment.  We, as administrators, must lead the way to reverse this culture of fear and the surest way to do this is by sharing what you know and all the plans.  By doing so, we invite in every person in the organization to be part of the solution.  We are better together.  In fact, we can only exist as a team.  Let’s stop fighting and start working towards a better artistic world for us all.

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2014 in Arts management, risk-taking, theatre

 

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Interviewing for the big job

Michael Kaiser’s recent article in the Huffington Post got me thinking about what skills we need to make sure the future leaders of our arts organizations have; how can we help them be prepared to take the reins?  Then last week a friend asked for advice on interviewing for her first Executive Director position.  I’ve talked through this process with other friends over the years but this is the first time I’ve written it all down.  Much of this advice is applicable to the second round of interviews, but it is all good to think about even before your first talk with your potential new artistic home.  I hope this gives some framework to what I feel is important knowledge for an incoming ED/MD to have.

Interviewing for the job of Executive or Managing Director

Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you; you need to make sure you go into any ED or MD position with your eyes wide open. They may not have everything in formal written form, but what they do have will give you a good idea of the infrastructure you would be jumping into.

  1. Most recent two years’ financial reports (Income Statement vs. Budget, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow) … what is their revenue split between earned & contributed?  Do they have consistent earned revenue or have their ticket/event sales been erratic?  Within contributed, how much is in grants, corporate, government, and individual?  Are funds from a capital campaign artificially inflating their Balance Sheet or are they making the numbers work on the operating side in a straightforward manner?
  2. Current budget (and cash flow projections for the fiscal year if they have them; it would be very helpful to know how cyclical their cash flow is and what they currently do when faced with cash troughs)
  3. Latest audit
  4. Current Strategic Plan
  5. Development and Marketing plans for the current year.  What has been their approach to marketing, both event and institutional?  Do they see any issues with their current branding or brand awareness? (or do you?)
  6. If they don’t have a formal written development plan, then you’ll need to ask if they have any special campaigns going on right now or planned in the near future (is there a balloon debt they are going to need to retire in the next two years?  Do they have their hearts set on an endowment?  That sort of thing.)  What is the average individual gift? ($200k in $50 increments takes a whole heck of a lot of time & work!)  What is their current rate of retention for patrons and donors (churn) year over year?
  7. Ask about their Board structure: number of Directors, term limits, standing committees, how active are they?  Do they have a formal Board Promise or a specific give & get?  How much of the annual fundraising comes from the Board?  What kind of pipeline do they have for future Board members?  What will be your role in cultivating new members?  What is the term for the Board Chair? (will you be training a new Board Chair as you are learning the ropes yourself?)  What is the Board orientation process?
  8. Do the ED and AD report directly to the Board?  Are both leaders voting members of the Board?  What evaluation process do they have for the executive leadership?
  9. How big is the staff and how much is the Board a “working” board?  What about performance evaluations for the rest of the staff?

Be ready to talk about your experience with fundraising A LOT.  Be sure to have examples demonstrating your comfort level with engaging folks of all backgrounds in conversation and communicating the mission.  Be ready, if asked, to give feedback on their current marketing messages & materials.  Also, give thought to where you would want to focus when you first join the team:

  • Does their budget process need to be revamped? (are they consistently coming in under projections?  Do they have an accumulated deficit?)
  • Is there a segment of their audience that needs more attention?  Have their communications been consistent?  Have they become stale?
  • Do they need to go into a strong Board development phase?
  • What role does the AD currently play in fundraising and how can you use her/his “stardust” to the greatest impact?

Do your homework and you will know if you and the organization are the right fit.  You will also show your potential employers that you are serious about the commitment you will all be making to each other if a job is offered and accepted.

As I mentioned in my earlier post on the next generation of arts leaders, if you are an emerging leader and you see items in this list that confuse you or areas in which you know you need more experience, start now.  Join a non-profit Board to see things from the other side.  Take fundraising and/or marketing courses.  Take a look at the Nonprofit Finance Fund and BoardSource for help in beefing up your financial and Board relations understanding (also, read Governance as Leadership.  Really.  Do it now.).  The great thing about being a Managing or Executive Director is that you get to be involved in every facet of the administrative side of the business.  The hard thing about being a Managing or Executive Director is that you need to be familiar and comfortable with every facet of the administrative side of the business.

Please continue this conversation in the comments below!

 

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Fiscal responsibility: the sine qua non of general operating support

During the last few weeks of complete radio silence on this blog, I’ve been getting my brain wrapped around my new position as Managing Director at The American Shakespeare Center in Staunton, VA.  Thank you all for your patience with me!

Just because I haven’t been writing doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking and tweeting (@amywratchford) about all the issues and opportunities around our industry.  One thing that has been top-of-mind for me lately is the general lack of General Operating Support (GOS) in our industry.  I’ve heard over and over from theatres and arts organizations that GOS is what they need, and I know the funders are hearing it too.  And yet we continue to see a preponderance of project funding and a scarcity of GOS.  This has gotten to the point where projects are specifically created in order to attract funding, even when basic financial needs of the company are not being met.  We, as an industry, tend to shake our fists and rage against out-of-touch funders who won’t recognize what would truly help us be sustainable.  I, however, think we only have ourselves to blame.

We have trained the foundations and major donors to give us project-based support.  In fact, we’ve trained them on multiple levels:

  • A consistent inability to talk about why we matter outside of the impact of specific projects
  • A consistent approach to documentation, especially financial documentation, of only sending what they ask for and then only in the broadest possible terms
  • Avoidance of explanations of how stable (or not) we are as organizations and what we are doing to make ourselves better (I mean this from a fiscal as well as an organizational/managerial standpoint)
  • A general lack of drilling down to details about who our audience is, how we will reach them, and how we expect to impact them
  • Avoidance of long-term strategic planning (which would make fixing the two bullets immediately preceding actually feasible)

In 2009 in Atlanta, we saw a funder take the leap into the great unknown of GOS.  The Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund (MAAF) listened to the organizations they had supported for years with capacity building grants and heeded the call to convert their funding to GOS.  As Executive Director Lisa Cremin stated when MAAF announced the changes, this was not an easy decision nor was it a cinch for the Board of MAAF to feel at ease with judging who was worthy of what level of GOS.  Lisa said again and again that MAAF had to look at the overall picture of the organization, they had to buy into the company’s plan.  How, I ask you, can we demand that funders provide us support that is open ended in terms of uses if we cannot communicate that plan?  And, how can we truly create that plan if we can’t even speak internally about the realities of the challenges and opportunities that face us on a fiscal and organizational level?  It is our responsibility to define our paradigm and then clearly communicate that to potential funders and constituents of all kinds.  I won’t even go into the impact of fiscal and organizational transparency on the staff, artists, and volunteers of an organization, that is for another post!

If we want General Operating Support, we must be generally and specifically accountable for where we are and where we are going.  Only then can we begin to ease the terror that funders feel when thinking about donating large sums of money to which no specific project tied.  Once we get our ducks in a row then, and only then, can we begin to petition for GOS in earnest.

As always, I’d love to know your thoughts!

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2010 in Arts management, theatre

 

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Give and Get, vital to the board promise for any theatre’s board of directors

I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about the role of a board member within a theatre company’s board of directors and how the Board Promise successfully (or not) communicates that role.  In case you couldn’t tell from the title of this post, I am a HUGE supporter of including a formal, specific dollar amount within the board promise as a “Give and Get.”

Most theatres refer to this a give or get, but I think the and is the most important part of the phrase.  It may help my budgeting and ease the cash flow to know that you, as a board member, will be writing a $3,000 check to cover your financial responsibility.  However, it is actually much more useful to the theatre in the long run to get your friends to buy tickets to the productions and become invested in our future; get your company to sponsor a show, buy a table sponsorship at an event, or feature the theatre on your intranet; get your book club, mom’s group, Rotary Club, Toastmaster’s club, or any other to host a group at a show and have a networking reception before or after.

I think the problem is clear and the solution is also a vote in favor of a formal Give and Get.  The aversion most boards and organizational leadership have to the concrete number lies in the confusion around it’s purpose.  They say the board members will be scared off.  A lot of the responsibility for this confusion lies with the staff and leadership of the organization.  We spend so much time focusing on the board’s role as fundraisers that we completely neglect their role as marketers.  (why do you think it is that so many boards have nominal marketing committees that never find their feet?  It is because we don’t teach the board to market the way we do to fundraise.)

Yes, we need the board promise to state that the financial contribution of each board member needs to be one of the top philanthropic donations for the year (I like top three).  But, we need to get better at communicating (and tracking) the work the board members can do regarding marketing.  We can’t turn people into donors without getting them invested in our work.  Whether or not a member of the board can write a large check, their main duty is to evangelize for the company.  I would rather have a member without deep pockets who spreads our mission far and wide than someone who writes a big check once a year and never tells a soul about our work.  Of course, it is nice to have well-resourced evangelists, too!

What are you doing with your board?

ADDENDUM:  Just read this great article Chicago Business (powered by Crain’s) on why executive choose to (0r not to) join a board.

 

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Adjusting your initiatives today to turn tomorrow’s marketing challenges into opportunities

Chad Bauman over at the Arts Marketing blog published this post today as part of a series to have industry leaders express their thoughts on the biggest marketing challenges coming our way in the next decade.  While I find it intellectually interesting to hear what these folks have to say (he has an impressive list set to weigh in), I believe the exercise will only be useful if we take the challenges named and examine what we are doing now to prepare for / overcome them.  I think we, as an industry, have become skilled at naming problems from the past, present, and future, real and imagined.  However, we often stop there and wallow in what we couldn’t control (sound like the newspaper and music industry??)  Let’s try to avoid that this time, shall we?

So, I’m going to start by giving my thoughts on what we can do now regarding the challenges mentioned by Thomas Cott and Rick Lester in the current blog post.  Please, add your own thoughts.  And, please, let’s stay focused on concrete actions we can take and not get back into the “no, THIS is the REAL problem” conversation.

Thomas Cott: Thomas lists a number of challenges, among them the demographic shift in our country and the growing “minority majority.”  What are we doing right now with not only our marketing but our programming to embrace this change?  Refer back to Trish Mead’s 2 AM Theatre post on diversity and think about how you are approaching this issue.  I watched Babes on Broadway last night for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed its light, frothy feel right up until the last 20 minutes when Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney and the entire cast put on blackface for the minstrel number.  I was flabbergasted.  I thought, wow! I’m glad we are past the period in our history when folks thought that was OK!  Then, this morning, I thought, but what are we really doing today that is including all the voices out there in our conversation?  If they aren’t part of the conversation, you can bet they won’t be sitting in your seats.  What actions are you taking now?

Thomas also sites the change in spending habits for many Americans.  The only way we will get people to spend their hard earned dollars on our production is now and will continue to be that they see more value in the experience than they see in the money they spend.  What are you doing to demonstrate the value of your work in the lives of your patrons?  If we focus on the dollars we will lose, every time.  We must focus on what live performance provides that you can’t get anywhere else.  The visceral connection with the artists and the rest of the audience.  The emotional impact of communal experience and, yes, even ritual.  The lovely folks over at the Pew Internet and American Life Project published this report siting that people who are active on social networking sites are more likely to be out and about in their communities, too.  We are looking for more personal interaction, more real experience.  It is this experience that money does not dictate and it is this experience we need to sell.

Rick Lester: Rick highlights that we were actually once good at marketing to participatory audiences.  They may have performed chamber music in their living rooms whereas now we create music on our computers, but it is a participatory society nonetheless.  How do we harness this surge in the desire for arts participation?  (and, among those who we so bemoan didn’t have arts education in school … curiosity, if cultivated and encouraged, trumps formal training every time.)  How are you inviting your audience into the process?  Open rehearsals?  Reader’s circles for short-listed scripts for future seasons?  Classes?  Open mic nights?  Perhaps a series that brings talented amateurs in to showcase work they do that ties to your mission?  As I said before, you have to invite them into the conversation if you want them to come.

That is all I have time for right now, but I hope it gets the conversation for tactics started.  There are challenges in every era and rarely do people believe they are in a “golden age” while it is actually happening.  Let’s create our own golden age by adjusting now and prevent the need for reacting later.

 

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I’m a little tired of hearing about the “Arts Leadership Void”

When I started reading this article from Charles McNulty in The Los Angeles Times, I was more than a little afraid that it was yet another cry of hopelessness around this seeming lack of anyone fit to fill the shoes of the geniuses that began the regional theatre movement.  (It turned out to be a wonderfully written article with a lot of things to think about, in fact, I will probably refer back to it again tomorrow.  But the first paragraph set me off and I feel the need to voice my thoughts.)  Don’t get me wrong, the founders of our major (and some minor) regional theatres across the nation deserve the praise that they receive; they cut a new path and created a new way to produce theatre.  Many of us owe our ability to pay our bills through work in the theatre to these trailblazers.

However, to say that no one is ready to take the reins, or that those who are out there are woefully unskilled or under-qualified for the job is ludicrous.  Look around (you don’t have to look too hard).  We are the artistic directors, associate artistic directors and managing directors at small and midsize theatres; we are the regional theatre directors working at your theatres, or your peer theatres, for over a decade; we are the marketing and development directors within your own organizations who volunteer their time to serve on the boards of other nonprofits.  We are here and we are more qualified than you think.  Those years at smaller organizations have given us concrete knowledge of the same things that you learned as you grew your organizations into the multi-million dollar institutions that they are today.  The time we spend on these other boards have taught us to look at the big picture and developed our skills in board leadership.  We are passionate about the field and the mission-driven work.  We are more likely to take calculated risks that reaffirm that mission than the corporate folks your boards seems so enamoured with over the past few years. 

Worried about the lack of institutional knowledge?  Perhaps that isn’t what the organization requires right now.  We bring a new perspective, one that is sorely needed.  One that puts aside the things you may still only be doing because you’ve always done them and can run honest analysis of multiple options without the baggage of history.  A perspective that honors why you built this theatre in the first place: to create great art.  The financial and production history we can easily learn. We can read financial statements and examine budgets with a new eye.  We can also debate the finer points of the voice (or lack thereof) the organization is using on social media sites.

We may or may not be attending the fantastic Emerging Arts Leaders meetings that Americans for the Arts and local arts advocacy organizations facilitate across the nation.  We may not see ourselves as “emerging” at all, but rather fully present and arrived.  We may not be of your generation, your race, or your gender, but we are here and we are ready.

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Side note to those leaders who are emerging: if you look to take the reins yourself one day and currently see gaps in your skills, take action now.  Check our the emerging arts leaders groups, here’s the link for more info about the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts & Culture Coalition’s meetings. There are fantastic classes that can teach you the knowledge base, but, also, get yourself onto the board of an organization you love.  Your skill set will grow and your perspective will broaden in ways you can only imagine.  Set yourself up for success.  Your passion will take you the rest of the way.

 

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