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Grantmaking Guru
Episode 48

Grantmaking Guru

CI to Eye with Ben Cameron

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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Erik and Ben talk about keeping a board in their optimal purview, the importance of defining the values that underlie an organization’s mission, and how the arts can help create unity in our divisive political climate.

Erik Gensler: Ben, thank you so much for being here.

Ben Cameron: Thank you for having me.

Erik Gensler: You appeared on the Metropolitan Opera Saturday afternoon quiz feature for 15 seasons.

Ben Cameron: Uh-huh (affirmative).

Erik Gensler: What did that entail?

Ben Cameron: It’s a trivia feature that used to happen at the intermission between acts. So, generally, there would be a luncheon before. You’d go sit in this lovely box. You’d be seated next to Renée Fleming or somebody really fantastic. Right before the big aria in the middle act, no matter what it was, they would come and pull your sleeve and say, “Now you have to go down to the studio,” and you’d think, “Now? Now you need me to go? Now you need-” But you would go down. There would be a table, there would be three people, there would be a moderator, as well. They run you through a few drill questions as a warmup. Intermission would start, people would walk in and you would do this game thing. It was amazingly stressful.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Ben Cameron: Especially because they would say right before you go on, “Now don’t get nervous but 40 million people will be listening to this.”

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Ben Cameron: And you would think, “Oh dear lord.” And I was sort of the class clown because they needed a ringer who really was not an expert. Everybody else was dramaturgs, they were parsing Italian. I would just ding in and say, “Parsifal,” no matter what the question was-

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Ben Cameron: … ’cause what did I have to lose? But it was a lot of fun.

Erik Gensler: You spent much of your career at foundations that fund the arts. What do foundations do well, and where is there the most room for improvement in how foundations fund and work with arts organizations?

Ben Cameron: You know, part of what I’ve really appreciated in my time in foundations is, I’ve worked really in three different kinds of foundations, in a certain way. I worked for the National Endowment for the Arts, I worked for Target stores’ philanthropic arm and then I worked for both the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Jerome Foundation. And each of those sectors has its own particular logic and its own particular priorities. You know, when we were at Target, of course, everything we did was with the guest. We didn’t have customers. We had guests. But everything was with the guest in mind, about what would the guest want. There was a kind of mentality of “fast transactional.” Our internal mottos were, “Fast, fun, and friendly.” Target stocked something; if it doesn’t sell, the contract’s over so there was a real rapid-fire mentality to it. A lot of what we did was short-term, high viability, customer-driven, priority given. So, we were doing family-affordable, family-accessible, family-appropriate arts events ’cause that’s what our guests cared about. The NEA, of course, when you work for the NEA, you’re in a government agency. Every taxpayer feels like you’re giving away their money. There’s a public accountability role that you don’t have in other sectors. Your budget is given once a year, you go testify before Congress, you have to make sure that you are defending the administration. So, what you’re doing is really designed to accord with federal legislation around the purpose of the NEA for excellence and access and at the same time to be responsive to the changing political winds. My current foundation and both the Doris Duke Foundation, as well … the great advantage, I think, of being in a private foundation is that you’re endowed. And what that means is that, of course, you theoretically exist in perpetuity, that your legal obligation is 5% of your assets you have to give away to charity every year, no matter what. But, theoretically, if you invest well, you’re earning much more than 5% in good year. So the corpus grows over time. What that allows you to do in a private foundation that you can’t do if you’re at Target or if you’re at the NEA is you can stand back and say, “What are the more systemic issues that we’re facing rather than the short-term gains? What are the longer term issues we need to figure out? How can we invest in people over multiple years or organizations over multiple years to begin to try to crack this open?” So, for me, I think where private foundations excel is in their ability to identify, respond to, and support thoughtful leaders, thoughtful organizations, thoughtful artists, in our case, that we believe have the greatest potential to effect change or to produce the best work over time. That’s just a great gift to be able to focus there.

Erik Gensler: And where are some of the ways that foundations like that can improve in how they work with arts organizations?

Ben Cameron: I think part of the challenges all foundations face, or that certainly nonprofits would tell you that they’re frustrated with foundations, would be my guess, would be probably three things. As a group, our attention strongs tend to be relatively short-lived. We offer, again, as a group, significant amounts of money to pursue particular objectives that then organizations over-leverage themselves to begin to achieve, that may be outside of their mission. So, it’s … Suddenly everything’s about arts education for kids. So, you need to start education programs, we need to expand our educational programs, we need to have more relationships with teachers. And after about four or five years, groups have begun to develop these big arms and then we all say, “Well, you know, now it’s not about education anymore. Now we have these other priority.” And with that switch, we’ve left groups theoretically, at worst, off-mission, in disarray, and without the necessary means to go forward. I think, secondly, what we do not well and what we should do better is that, theoretically … someone made the distinction between grantors that build and grantors that buy. Most grantors buy projects. They sort of go shopping. They say, “So who’s doing the best play? Oh, I’ll buy that one. Oh, who’s got the best education program? Well let me buy that one.” Et cetera. But we’re doing relatively little to build the ongoing capacity of the organization to do the work it’s called to do, which then, again, compounds the distress when we begin to turn our attention another way. So, the thoughtfulness with which we are building and cultivating both leadership and ongoing infrastructural ability or stability—which I would actually argue we should be cultivating now not stability, frankly, in this world but more “resilience and adaptability” I think is really what we should be trying to embed in organizations—but we’re not doing that well as a group.

Erik Gensler: Hm.

Ben Cameron: The third thing I think we don’t do well is we make inordinate demands on people who ask us for money both in terms of overly bureaucratic applications, massive reporting requirements, far more bureaucratic maneuvering than most nonprofits either have the capacity or the interest in doing it. So, there’s the real question about, for whose benefit is this? Really, who works for whom? One of the things that we’ve done at Jerome very consciously is we’ve stepped back to look and say, “What are our core values?” one of which we’ve said is humility. And part of what that means to us is we work for the nonprofits, they don’t work for us. And if we take that really seriously, then it has changed how we ask people for money, what we do, the kinds of questions, the procedures, et cetera, et cetera.

Erik Gensler: I remember working with an organization who got a significant multi-year grant—and it was, over a million dollars, this grant—but I think we spent almost as much time on the reporting for this grant than we did on the project itself.

Ben Cameron: Absolutely. There’s a lot of monitoring. There’s a lot of studying. And sometimes those things produce great things, I have to say. But part of what I also think informs my willingness to do less of that was actually my years at Target stores, because, again, with the mantra of “Fast, fun, and friendly,”—my CEO at the time, who was a guy named Bob Ulrich, who really blew that corporation into a huge megalith—Bob’s philosophy was, “Don’t plan. Don’t sit and do all this planning and studying and study. Just get out and do it. Do it, do it.” He had a motto that was, “Ready, fire, aim.” And his idea was-

Erik Gensler: Hm.

Ben Cameron: … you could do study and study and study and research and research and research and maybe at the end of the year you would’ve done four projects and maybe out of that, two worked. Or you could just go out and do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, and by the end of the year, if you had done 50 projects, maybe, if five of them worked you were ahead significantly. So, a lot of this impulse about giving people the flexibility and the ammunition and the latitude to go and experiment and risk, I’ve tried to bring into the private foundation world from my corporate experience.

Erik Gensler: You’re relatively new in your role at the Jerome Foundation and have spent time building a new strategic framework, examining your values, and looking at how the foundation works with artists. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Ben Cameron: Sure. When I came into the Foundation, the Foundation had a very long and distinguished history of working with emerging artists, and that was the term we used. We were using “emerging artists.” And it was a moment where I followed a CEO who had been there for 37 years, I think, and she was fantastic. She did extraordinary work and was highly respected. But the board was also ready to say, “Let’s just take a step back and ask ourselves some hard questions of, no matter how valuable what we’ve done has been, is this the optimal activity for us to pursue in the future or should we think differently about what we wanna do going forward?” So, we did some surveys. We went online and said to people, “Tell us both what we have meant to you, what we could do better,” but mostly, the surveys were more, “What keeps you up at night and what are you struggling with and what’s the hardest money for you to find and if you had the checkbook what would you do with it?” So, we posted that online. We got answers from 600 organizations and probably 1200 artists, who responded and told us a lot. What we really heard was, not unsurprisingly, from organizations that funding was overly restrictive, it was of insignificant size, that really what they needed more and more was more flexible capital, especially to promote longer-term capacity. But they also needed multi-year grants and a different kind of relationship than we had maybe been offering them with every single-year grant, et cetera. Individual artists told us pretty much the same thing, with the additional exceptions of, most of the work we had done for them required them to access our money by going through organizations as sort of gatekeepers. And artists said, “We want a direct relationship with you. We want flexible money. We love the fact that we may get a grant from one of your organizations to commission a play, but who’s paying for me to do the research? Who’s paying for me, the dead-end? Who’s paying for all the other things I need that project grants don’t pay for?”

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben Cameron: So, that really has led us to devote a higher percentage of our foundation’s money to give directly to artists as individuals rather than through organizations. Especially, an additional impulse for that was we frankly heard from a lot of artists, “I don’t want to be a nonprofit organization. I don’t wanna necessarily work only in the nonprofit context. The way this is currently set up, you’re either forcing me to incorporate as a nonprofit or you’re making me make that alliance, and what about the other kinds of activity I might wanna pursue?” Grants individually to artists allow us to pursue that. So, we’ve just launched a fellowship program for artists called the Jerome Hill Artists Fellowships. We got 1200 applications in the first round. We will make 60 grants. In three days, I go before my board and say, “This is who the panel has recommended and it is your job as the board to ensure that the process was correct, that this was a fair process, that they truly do fit our early career phase.”

Erik Gensler: So, you moved away from funding organizations?

Ben Cameron: Well, we still fund organizations. The big change we made with organizations was really threefold. Number one is, we said, “Every grant we give is gonna be a two year grant. We’re not gonna do annual cycle grants. Everything’s gonna be two years.” The second thing we said was we don’t … our highest priority will be organizations that have an ongoing commitment to early career/emerging artists beyond the program you’re asking us to do. So, we don’t want to do the one-offs to bribe some organization, for whom it’s not organic to invest in emerging talent, to do that just because they can get our check to do it. So, that actually led to some groups of some long standing falling by the wayside that we had been previously funded. The third thing we said was we have identified our core values. Humility, I’ve already mentioned. We also defined diversity, and we’re currently now unpacking whether that diversity really is diversity, equity, inclusion … which of those that is. But in the short-term we said, “diversity.” We also prioritized innovation. The organizations we fund, we expect to share one or more of those core values and to be able to talk to us about how they pursue those values through their work. So, again, we’re trying to align more strongly-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben Cameron: … with the kinds of organizations that share our belief. We’ve also allowed every organization to take up to 25% of their grant in flexible funding for their infrastructural purposes unrelated to the program we’re funding for.

Erik Gensler: Oh, that’s wonderful.

Ben Cameron: So, even though our grants are small, relatively—our average grant’s probably $30,000, so it’s not huge money— but we are looking at that question about, “How do we build ongoing capacity?” You’ve got the right to take a significant chunk of your grant from us to try to pursue those goals.

Erik Gensler: So, in the 21st century, we’re in a really interesting time in terms of the evolution of nonprofits, and I think many arts organizations have been structured over the 20th century in almost the corporate model.

Ben Cameron: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: And we see this not working for a lot of organizations.

Ben Cameron: No.

Erik Gensler: I’m curious to talk a bit about boards and how boards work well for organizations and how they, in some cases, don’t work well for organizations. What have you seen … I’ve heard you talk about the power of an optimally funded, properly focused board and the power of that and then what happens when you don’t have that.

Ben Cameron: You know, I think for me, the big thinker on boards that has just shaped so much of how I look at this is a man named Richard Chait who teaches about boards at Harvard in the business school. You know, Richard published an article that was the first thing that popped on my radar screen, which was how I got to know him, called “The Three Gremlins of Governance.” And he basically said, nonprofits run into problems when they confuse strategic plans with strategic thinking. That if they think, “Oh okay we did a strategic plan. Now our work’s done,” he would say, “Look, the issue isn’t making a strategic plan and putting in the check list. The list is how are you looking at strategic opportunity in an ongoing way that allows you to adapt and respond? Your job is about strategic thinking, not a strategic plan.” Secondly, he said boards confuse organizational structure with organizational culture. So that when they often say, like, “Oh this isn’t working. Well we must not have the right committees. Oh well we need a development committee. Then it’ll work. Oh, no, no, no. We need a marketing committee. No, no that’ll work.” His point is, if it’s not working it’s not the structure, it’s generally the culture of the organization it needs to look at. And the third thing he says is they confuse philanthropy with governance. They think their job is to raise money—and that is part of their job—but raising money does not equal governance. And so, what he tries to unpack is, what does really governance mean in a nonprofit? Where I’ve found him incredibly rich to think about is, he’s actually identified three jobs for a board proper and he said, “Of course, oversight is one of your jobs.” You have to approve the budget, you have to fire or hire the CEO. There are certain oversight functions you must exercise. But more than oversight, your jobs are also insight and foresight. And as a board of active thinkers dealing with insight and foresight for the organization, what I’ve seen is boards that can take on that mantra, not only pull themselves out of inappropriately getting in the weeds from management, but they’re also animated in an entirely different way about visioning the future of where the organization’s going to go. They give more money, they’re more engaged, they show up at more meetings, et cetera. So, it’s really that question of, where are we asking the board to pay primary attention? A lot of organizations, for understandable reasons, restrict their boards to the function of oversight. They spend the board’s time doing infinite committee reports. They don’t ask, which I think is the most basic question, is everything you bring before a board is, what’s the animating question that you need the board to talk together to solve in the room, not just that you coulda read the report and gone home? So, we don’t use their time well. I think that what I’m seeing in really good boards is that spirit of futurism that’s animating them and letting them be far more generous. I have to admit I am also blessed. I have one of the single greatest board members in the world in a woman named Kate Barr who is from Minnesota who runs a thing called Propel which used to be called Minnesota Nonprofit Assistance Fund. Kate, because she’s so skilled at board culture … I have a board member who will sit in the room and, when the board starts to go in a direction that maybe is not optimal for the board, Kate will say, “You know, I really think that’s a management issue. That’s not a governance issue.” And hearing that from one of their own colleagues reminds them of, “Oh, dear God, we’re trying to slip.” Because, ultimately, as we know any time there’s a vacuum in a problem, the board will rush to fill it. And once they sort of begin to fill management problems, it’s very hard to get them out. So, I’ve just had a fantastic time with my board, not only because they see, I think more and more, we’re getting better about keeping the board in their optimal purview, but we’ve also recruited the board for their values, and so there’s a real value alignment. They’re there because they believe in humility, they believe in innovation, they believe in diversity. And so, there’s an accord that binds us together no matter what we’re thinking, that’s really a rich conversation.

Erik Gensler: In your experience working with so many arts organizations, how often do you see a functional board like that?

Ben Cameron: Not as often as I wish. You know, I think that most boards focus primarily, and for understandable reasons, on mission and there’s a lot of work done about, “What’s your mission statement?” and, “Let’s revise the mission statement,” et cetera. My own take, for whatever it’s worth, is when organizations fall into disarray, it’s rarely because people don’t agree on the mission. It’s because there’s wild disparity of opinion about the values underlying that mission, and those have never been articulated or explored. And even, sometimes, when they’ve been verbalized, there’s never been a deep understanding about what that really means and what that will mean for us as an organization. I remember being at a very large theater that shall not be named that had dismissed an artistic leader rather summarily after a short period of time who had been brought in based on that artistic director’s profile as a real innovator in the field. And as the board began to debrief and rehash what had gone wrong, one of the board leaders said, “I just don’t understand what the problem is. I totally believe in innovation. I’m a champion for it as much as anyone else. I saw Elton John’s Aida on Broadway three times.” And I thought, “Okay we’ve all said the “innovation” word. What we mean by that in this room is all over the map. So how do we begin to unpack that so that we really understand that?” Because, really for me, the value of values is to be able to have an intentional organization that is being thoughtful, deliberate, strategic, and intentional in pursuing its future. Without that isolation of values, it just can’t be done.

Erik Gensler: Is that the executive director’s job, to help the board work optimally, and same with the staff?

Ben Cameron: I think, certainly, it’s the leader’s job. And I only make that caveat because, depending on your organizational structure, sometimes the leader is the Artistic Director. Sometimes it’s the Managing Director. But I think one of the functions of leadership is to be able to galvanize and pull people together under a common vision and a common understanding about what the future is. You know, we used to work with a guy named Richard Evans from EMC Arts, and it was just really telling to me that, after many years of their saying, “Innovation began with new pathways to mission fulfillment,” they changed that to, “New pathways to value delivery,” because the focus on the mission can blind you to the possibilities of the future. The classic example that we would always talk about was, you know, March of Dimes’ mission was to solve polio. Well, we beat polio. March of Dimes shoulda gone away. March of Dimes, however, began to see that they had a bigger value in terms of animating the public, working with scientists, working to fight prenatal disease, and by focusing on their value they found a whole new chapter. So, I think part of the leader’s job is to unearth, articulate, and to gather the energy around a central set of values and a deep understanding of what the value of the organization is.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben Cameron: And not only of the organization, especially in this time, if I were a symphony, it’s one thing to say, “What’s the value of the New York Philharmonic in this society?” but I think every organization also has to say, “What’s the value of orchestral music in this world?” So, it’s not just the organization. In this competitive environment, you have to know the value of the field and then what values underneath that you serve to make it come to fruition.

Erik Gensler: It’s a good segue into your TED Talk. It was on why live arts matter and technology dismantling the arts and how technology is a top competitor for our leisure time and when we’re coming to live arts, you have the inconvenience of parking, seating, high cost. And then you layer in the, I think you said, “seismic realignment of culture and communications with technology.” And I’m just curious, do you still think that?

Ben Cameron: I would say that the way my thinking has evolved a little bit in this terrain … I’ve found myself standing back more, which I may have said in the TED speech—I’m so sorry—but it’s resonated with me more and more to say, “What if our job really is no longer to produce plays? What if our job is social orchestration? You know, what if our job is not to make products to be consumed? What if our job is to provide springboards to our audiences on imagination? And what will we do differently”—I’m using theater examples—“What would we do differently if we stopped calling ourselves a theater and started thinking, “We’re a platform for narrative energy”? I think, then, it begins to just open and expand the possibilities beyond the traditional locution that just boxes us into a certain model in a way that we need to think more expansively than that allows us to do. I think, more recently, where I’ve really landed in terms of why I think the arts are important is really based on this book I read called The 5%. it’s got a subtitle like, “How People Solve the World’s most Intractable Problems.” And it’s a book that says, we have a lot of problems in the world. About 5% of the problems we get into, we get so stuck, we can’t get out. So, the middle least is an intractable problem. Abortion rights in this country is an intractable problem. Gun rights, in this … are an intractable problem, and how do we get it out? And the author of the book began to look, a guy named Peter Coleman. Peter Coleman looked and said, “So, what do all those intractable problems have in common?” He said, “There’re really three things that go on.” He said, “First of all, it’s a win/lose winner-take-all competitive environment.” Secondly, he said that there’s no nuance. There’s no shade of gray. People are oversimplifying complex ideas into soundbites. And then the third is, people surround themselves with people and voices like them that reinforce, on a kind of sound loop, their initial point of view no matter what’s been said in the interim.

Erik Gensler: The echo chamber.

Ben Cameron: Yep. It’s an echo chamber effect.

Erik Gensler: Echo chamber.

Ben Cameron: So, what I’ve started to think about, again coming from the theater field is, look, we are the alternative to intractability. Instead of it being a win/lose … instead of a competitive context, we work, essentially, in a cooperative context. It’s how the work is made, it’s the audience/actor contract. Instead of complex black issues being- black and white issues being simplified, we revel in nuance and ambiguity and shades of gray and complexity and, at our best, which we don’t do often enough, instead of surrounding ourselves with people like ourselves, we bring people not like each other to look at their fellow human beings with generosity and curiosity. In this context, when our Congress can’t even abide to sit in the same room together, calling strangers with different points of view together into a common space is a critically needed function that I think we overestimate our power in and I think we need to be more nuanced about. I think we’ve got three options in this as arts organizations. We can preach to the choir—and the choir needs preaching to, as well, and, absolutely, let’s get all the organizations that are gonna scream and yell about what’s going on in the world to people who already have that point of view. We can also say, “Let’s just get people in the same room to laugh together or to cry together or to cheer together, because there’s something about just seeing people that you don’t think you have anything in common with-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben Cameron: “… sharing an experience with you that in a profound way begins to shift and alter the social contract beyond how we’ve articulated that.” But the third and the hardest one, which is the one we say we do but I think we don’t do as well as we should, is we bring communities together to have deep, meaningful conversations and exchanges. And I think where we fall short about this … Frankly, I remember reading … There’s a famous Laurence Olivier story where Olivier talks about being in Arms and the Man and he’s awful in it. He’s just terrible in it and he knows he’s awful. And he’s a very young man and he’s backstage. He does a performance and Ralph Richardson comes backstage and he says to Ralph Richardson, “Why am I so bad in this?” And Richardson says, “Because you don’t love the character.” You can’t play a character you don’t love. And in an odd way, when we say we’re gonna bring people together, it’s an ingenuine contract to say we want the other political side, whatever that is, to come into this space so we can tell them what’s right. No.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm. (affirmative)

Ben Cameron: If we have to find something in them to love, genuinely love, not cosmetically love, that leads us to say this is why we need you in the room with us and this is why we value you and treasure you, that if we can find that, then the possibility of a conversation happens. But if we genuinely just have predetermined what their point of view is and what their contribution is, there’s not gonna be a real conversation and we need that conversation. I was always inspired by Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, DC. They, under their former artistic director who just retired but who was great, a guy named Howard Shalwitz … Anytime they did a new play they would bring the playwright in before they did the marketing and they would say, who has to be in the audience for this play to combust, for this play to go, “Whoosh!” and realize its fullest potential? Who has to be here? Not, who might buy a ticket? Not who … The first time they did it, a- a playwright named Robert O’Hara who wrote a play called Booty Candy about African-American drag queens. Robert said, I need African-American clergy. If that’s … if you want this play to combust, that’s who needs to be here and that’s who the marketing campaign went after and that was electric. And when I saw a play called Clybourne Park, which was about gentrification and turnover, they had done a campaign all over the city saying, “Is your neighborhood Clybourne Park?” Because Bruce Norris said, “It’s the people being shoved out that we need in here.” I just remember going to the theater and we saw the production. It was a great production. And at the end they said, “Okay we’re gonna do an audience talkback.” Most of the time when I got audience talkbacks, when they say that, 95% of the audience stampeded for the door and there are 20 people that inch down to the front two rows and usually they have questions like, “How did you learn all those lines?” or whatever. You know, it’s just not a very rewarding encounter. At Woolly Mammoth they said, “Okay we’re gonna have the discussion.” Maybe ten people left. Maybe. Everybody else in the theater sat right back down and they brought people out … the staff basically sorta said, “Look, we’re here just to help you through it and these are people in housing,” and that discussion was electric for the next 45 minutes. And they finally had to say, “You know, the actors need to go home (laughs). It’s very late. We hope you’ll come back.” But it was fantastic and it just made me think, there are other ways to think about this than we have thought about.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Definitely. Well, it goes back to this question of this nonprofit corporate model that is incredibly expensive to keep going.

Ben Cameron: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: You’re employing … say for like a, you know, not about people losing jobs but just, like, when you look at the picture economically, where you’re maintaining a building, you’re maintaining a full-time staff, if you’re a symphony, you’re maintaining an entire symphony of people. Like, is that sustainable? And if you can change the meaning of what an arts organization is, it opens up flexibility and more realistic economic models.

Ben Cameron: You know, I’m sure I said this in the TED Talk … One of the things that’s just struck me at this moment is we are in a moment that’s not unlike the religious reformation which has some common factors that led to it in terms of changes in technology, changes in business models, and especially changes in the role that the lay-person played in their own destiny. So, you know, “I don’t need a priest to intercede with god for me; I’m gonna be a protestant and pray to Jesus myself,” or whatever, and that just up ended the whole model. In that comparable moment, I think we’re in a reformation moment in the arts scene. But the thing I always take away from that is, the Catholic church didn’t go away. It didn’t change for 500 years. It had less power, there was less of it, there was fewer of it, they had a lot of money to get ’em through the transitional time, but women still aren’t clergy. In my lifetime, I remember the Latin mass going to English. So, it’s been a slow change. And on some level, I think we will always need symphony orchestras in the kind of way that they have existed historically, and that big sound … there’s something special and thrilling when you hear a Mahler 8 that nothing else is gonna do when you’re in the hall, but do we need 500 of them?

Erik Gensler: Right.

Ben Cameron: I’m not wishing ill on anybody, but I think the industry is likely to contract-

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Ben Cameron: … for people that aren’t gonna change.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Ben Cameron: So, I think it’s that moment of, you’re either gonna reorganize or you’re gonna persevere recognizing that you’re persevering in a constricting market. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get through it.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. The scale’s gonna evolve.

Ben Cameron: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: And perhaps, the portion of it becomes streaming or a portion of it becomes podcasts or something else. There’s still … You know, do you think someone watching a live stream of the New York Philharmonic is as valuable to the New York Philharmonic as someone who buys a ticket?

Ben Cameron: Oh, I think they’re very much as valuable and I think they’re having an experience. I don’t think the experience is the same experience and I’m not making relative judgment about which one’s the authentic one or not. Part of what I’ve always found interesting about the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts to the movie theaters is I’ve always thought, okay it’s … I think it was originally envisioned as getting … This would be something that would pull people into the opera house. I think I’m right when I’m saying that their attendance has been going in the negative direction but I always thought, “But this won’t pull people into the opera house because this isn’t the same experience.” When you’re at the movies, you can see Ana Netrebko’s tonsils because you’re in such closeup. You can get up and go to the bathroom anytime you want. You can have popcorn at your seat. It’s a different experience. It’s a rich, it’s a wonderful experience. But it’s not the same experience.

Erik Gensler: But they’re sold out. (laughs) Like, you can’t buy tickets to some of those movie theater operas.

Ben Cameron: Oh you can’t. You can’t. And part of, I think, the real challenge that arts organizations are gonna face in the future is I think, I think, maybe wrongly, what audiences increasingly want is epic imagination in an intimate encounter. And that’s a contrary monetized model. They want bigger-scale imagination but smaller audience intimacy, which is, in an odd way, why I think Ivo van Hove has emerged as such a great force because Ivo does work on a huge scale, but the way he integrates technology and closeup, when you’re in that theater, you do see Bryan Cranston’s face in closeup that you’re used to. There’s an intimacy about that, even when you’re in there with 2,000 people. So, he’s found a way to broker intimacy and epic scale in almost a unique way. But there’s something about that dialectic-

Erik Gensler: Hm.

Ben Cameron: … that I think is gonna be increasingly critical. That scale, that-

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Ben Cameron: … the ability to see that closeup … Because that’s how we’re trained to view now. We’re trained at home on TV.

Erik Gensler: That’s right.

Ben Cameron: We’re not trained at the Shubert Theater to sit on the back row and to see actors that we’ve never heard of this tall. You know, we’ll put up with that if it’s Meryl Streep or Julia Roberts. That’s a different transaction. But especially actors we don’t know, without epicness-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben Cameron: … the three- or four-character play is gonna really be a hard sell unless you’ve got an intimacy to it, I think.

Erik Gensler: I think you’re right, and I’ve almost got to the point where I go to see less theater because I only wanna go if, you know, I know … I’ve some sense I’ve heard from someone that I trust that I’m gonna like it and that I can get a decent seat.

Ben Cameron: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: Because if I’m sitting in the back of the balcony, I just don’t … cannot get that intimate experience that you’re talking about.

Ben Cameron: Yeah. Yeah.

Erik Gensler: Unfortunately.

Ben Cameron: I know. Oh, and the architecture for theaters is really hard. It’s always made me nervous about people with major capital campaigns because my own sense is, we’re still trying to figure out what the ideal transaction is between actor and audience and I literally don’t know if the future is a 30-person studio with a feed-out or if it’s a 2,000-seat amphitheater with … I just don’t know.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Ben Cameron: And you’re ossifying an architectural relationship to tens of millions of dollars now at a moment when we don’t know what that dynamic ultimately is gonna need.

Erik Gensler: That’s right.

Ben Cameron: So it’s a perilous moment.

Erik Gensler: And then when you go to like a, see a live concert like I, you know, go to see … I saw Kathy Griffin at Radio City Music Hall. You end up watching the screen the entire time anyway.

Ben Cameron: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: And you’re like, “Oh yeah! There’s a live person here.” (laughs) It’s like, “Well, I could’ve had a better experience probably just watching this on TV at home.”

Ben Cameron: Well and what I … What happened to me recently which really reinforced that for me is I went to a Minnesota Vikings game—not that that’s my usual stint, but actually a theater director who loves the Vikings took me. And it’s in, well, whatever it’s called, the Vikings Dome or whatever which is where the last Super Bowl was and it’s huge. And there are these big screen TVs and you watch the screen.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. (laughs)

Ben Cameron: The whole time, which is they’re showing you what’s going on in the field but you’re not watching … you’re watching the screen. There’s a lot about how we’ve been subliminally trained to receive information that’s really gonna challenge us in this moment.

Erik Gensler: I think so. But then there’s studies around people going to cultural events to have the experience with the person they’re going with or the connection of-

Ben Cameron: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Erik Gensler: … the person they’re with, which I think is valid.

Ben Cameron: Well, we’ve always known, you know, when people do audience studies about, “Why do you go?” “Because a friend asked me.” “Why didn’t you go?” “There’s nobody to go with.” I don’t know if you know, there was a group called the Metropolitan Group in Portland, Oregon, um, Eric Friedenwald, who did some studies in a thing called Public Will Building where, really the three most dramatic findings that he came back with that I’m recalling, one was the way we talk about ourselves in the arts is deeply alienating to the public.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben Cameron: And the word “arts” and the word “theater” is, “Oh that’s what those people over there do. You know, we have no relation to that. Oh, that museum.” But if you talk about creativity or creative practice, people say, “Oh I do that and oh those artists do that.” There’s a bridge there. The second thing was the primary value people put on the arts is social, that people said that the arts connect me more deeply to myself and to other people. And so, it was less about the product than it was about the social exchange. There was a great woman who just spoke at ISPA from South Africa who talked about part of the way she tries to combat racism is there are people still in South Africa that don’t want to sit with people of different races and she deliberately intersperses them in the seating chart so they have to sit with people in a way that she is promoting a different kind of context which I thought was really interesting. And then, the third thing that- that Friedenwald found out was, the people who care most passionately about the arts were people under 40 and people of color, and that just knocked my socks off ’cause I thought, “Boy, if this is the case, if this is who’s really hyped about what we can do, the world should be our oyster. Are we willing to stop talking about ourselves like we have been? Are we willing to think more about the social orchestration than just the product? ‘Cause if we are, there’s a world out there that’s wanting us.”

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Ben Cameron: But not the way we’ve been behaving.

Erik Gensler: Aubrey Bergauer, who’s been on this podcast and she spoke at our Boot Camp, she is the executive director of the California Symphony and she did this project that they called “Orchestra X” where she recruited people under 40 who should be going to the orchestra but aren’t and they haven’t gone. And she … all they had to do was agree to buy a ticket. She didn’t want them going for free, but they made the tickets very, very cheap-

Ben Cameron: Yeah.

Erik Gensler:… and then agree to, after they had the experience, do a focus group and talk about it. And they did the focus group at like a, you know, a bar with beer. Very informal. And the takeaway was, people love the music. They love the experience. They had a great time. What held them back and what they found very challenging was they felt very alienated, particularly around the ticket-buying process, because the language on the production detail pages was written with the assumption that you knew everything about orchestras. And so, they said they had to find themselves flipping back and forth to Wikipedia to understand what to buy.

Ben Cameron: Yep.

Erik Gensler: And with that information, she has completely redone all of the ways they talk about their works on their production detail pages and any single-ticket marketing, because her point is that that language is written for subscribers. Well, guess what? Subscribers aren’t going on the single-ticket pages. They’re buying their tickets in February, you know, six months ahead. And they did the same thing with the program books. So, they’ve really changed the way they talk about the music-

Ben Cameron: That’s fantastic.

Erik Gensler: … and the experience. And her single-ticket and subscription numbers have dramatically increased. It’s a fantastic case study.

Ben Cameron: That’s fantastic. You know, I always thought, you know, video games … When you play video games, part of what you do in some games is you enter at certain levels and you master it and you move up and you master it and you move up. I’ve always thought, if we had the latitude and the staff to do it, what would it mean if the program notes were printed for the explorer, the maven, and the emperor. Sorry, I mean, name ’em what you want, but that idea that you could lock into a strata of information that was appropriate to you. Because, at a certain point, you oversimplify it, you’re gonna alienate the people that already know, yes it’s in bar four, note seven that it goes to an F-sharp from an F-natural, or whatever. So, how you respond to the complexity and the many levels within your audience is a big challenge.

Erik Gensler: That’s great. At Jacob’s Pillow they put this playbill stuffer that would say, “How do I watch this?” and it said you could watch it from a sociological perspective. You could watch it from a archeological perspective. You could watch it from a historical perspective. And, like, all the different lenses of how you could experience dance, which was, I thought, when I read that, no matter what level you are in dance, it makes you think and it gives you a way to understand what you’re gonna see. And so much of dance and so much of all the classical arts is, I think, very intimidating for people who don’t go very often. So.

Ben Cameron: People don’t know how to behave, they don’t know what the rituals are, they don’t know … I’ve always wondered if we could come up with a rating system, sort of more like restaurants have. Because if you’ve never been to a theater, people typically wanna know, where do I go? Where do I park? What am I supposed to wear, and is there gonna be anybody there that looks like me?

Erik Gensler: Right.

Ben Cameron: And nowhere do we tend to make that obvious to people. You know, we tend to put images of the artists up there, not of the other audience members, et cetera. And so, there was a time when I was at TCG—we were testing a national marketing campaign, and we had two different campaigns that we were testing. The first one was Nathan Lane, Bernadette Peters, prominent actors in the communities where the event was gonna happen, so resonant actors in Philadelphia or whatever. People that were theatergoers, either currently or lapsed, said, “Oh, my God. I love the theater. Oh I can’t believe I don’t go more often. I need to go more. Where do I get tickets?” et cetera. People that thought they did not have an interest in the theater were just, “Oh okay.” Well, I mean, they didn’t know who those people were. The other campaign was a man with its arm around his wife as they watched a play together. It was an audience member with their child. It was people leaping out of their seats at the curtains and people who thought they weren’t interested in the arts said, “Where do I get that?” So, in terms of just even how we position ourselves as an industry-

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben Cameron: … I always used to think all the successful campaigns are about the consumer.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben Cameron: “Got Milk” isn’t about the farmer, it’s about the milk drinker. “Cotton the” … whatever that is, is about who wears the cotton. “Pork the white meat” is about who eats it. We do a theater campaign and it’s about the people who make the theater, so what would happen if we began to emphasize what the experience is for the consumer? Would that begin to open the door as a portal to people who don’t think there’s any interest that they would in have in crossing through the threshold?

Erik Gensler: Yeah, we see that a lot in social media campaigns, for example, like with children’s theaters. When we put pictures of happy kids, those campaigns do really, really well.

Ben Cameron: Oh I’m sure.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. ‘Cause with social, you can just test it. It’s just a post.

Ben Cameron: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: See what’s working and what’s not. But yeah. We go … It’s a great point. We go for the head shots of a recognizable actor that means something to a very small amount of people.

Ben Cameron: Yeah. Yeah.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. Where do you look for inspiration?

Ben Cameron: I like to read about industries that are different than the industry I’m in. Because I like to feel, like, what might be in that industry that I should be attentive to. You know, when we used to talk about innovation a lot, one of the things that Steve Johnson—in Where Good Ideas Came From, I think—pointed out was this idea of the adjacent possible, this idea that you know, Gutenberg made the printing press not ’cause he was hanging out with authors but because he was hanging out with- with people that made wine and the printing press was an adaptation of the wine press. And it was about how is it that we see things in adjacent industries that we can pay attention to and recognize, have the potential to transform ourselves. There’s a group in Minnesota called Springboard for the Arts that has adapted the agricultural share models, you know, where you buy a share in an organic farm and then they arrive on your doorstep and there’s a box of cucumbers and a box of tomatoes or what … You don’t even know what you’re gonna get. They’ve adapted that for visual artists. So, you invest in a community of artisans and here comes a box of pottery and blown glass and basket weaving and you get a new box every month and what they’ve found is people begin to collect the artists that they’ve discovered through the boxes. They begin to commission those artists. They sold all the shares, they doubled the price, they doubled the shares. They sold them all the next year. So … and in performing arts, I would say the biggest innovation of all time is the subscription model, which is a journalism model. It’s not performing arts model. It was, you know, newspaper subscriptions. It was, “Okay, let’s pull that in.” So, a lot of what I found myself interested in and invigorated by is this issue of what’s going on outside our industry that offers us the possibilities of attaching ourselves to, and trying to be thoughtful about that.

Erik Gensler: Hm.

Ben Cameron: I would say the other thing that I’m pretty good about in general is that I try to make it a disciplined practice to take care of myself and to be clear about what matters. You know, and that’s a hard thing to do, but it’s actually what I’m gonna go teach at Yale in the next few days is about how you come to greater … how you build renewal as an ongoing practice because it’s not remedial. It’s not like going to the gym. You say, “Oh, oh, oh I need to be really buff for the summer so I’m gonna go for a week and a half and then I’ll be really buff.” No, you go all year. You know, so how do you-

Erik Gensler: (laughs) Summer bodies are made in the winter.

Ben Cameron: Yeah. yeah.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Ben Cameron: They’re not made in the summer. They are not made in the summer. So yeah. So it’s … I do find richness with that and I find richness with friends.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Ben Cameron: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: And let’s talk a little bit more about the renewal and the wellness piece-

Ben Cameron: Yeah.

Erik Gensler:… and how you incorporate that and how you connect that to being successful.

Ben Cameron: I worked with a woman named Ronnie Brooks who used to be at a thing called the James Shannon Institute for Community Leadership before she retired, and she basically changed my life. She came to us with a list of 20 values that we had to rank order one to 20. So, what’s most important to you? Family, money, expertise, no ties, one to 20, most important to least important. And she would take that list several months later—’cause this was a year long promotion—she brought the same list back and said, “Now you rate ’em one to 20 in how you spend your discretionary time.” She said, “Okay, you gotta pay the rent, you gotta punch the clock 40 hours, but if you’re staying at the office the 41st hour, is that because you want the overtime and that’s about finance? Is that because by staying longer you’ll learn better and your mastery of the field will grow? There’s some motive that leads you to stay for that 41st hour, much less your discretionary time. So, how are you spending your time?” And then she made you put the two lists together and if you said family’s the most important thing to me on this list and it was number three on the other list, then fine. But if you said family’s the most important thing in number one but it’s number 17 over here, your life is out of alignment.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben Cameron: And her mantra, which I so appreciated, was, she said, “You have a choice. You can either change the way you live to live your values or maybe what you can do is you can own that the way you live is making you happy and if you owned your values in a different way it would lead you to be fulfilled.” So nonjudgmentally, but there’s a choice. Do you need to bring your life into alignment? And for me, personally, what I discovered was part of what we had to do in this program was we had to identify our life’s core values and then we had to— in front of a group of people— and then we had to talk about our life purpose. And in the course of doing that I just thought, “Okay, I can stand up and make all these profound proclamations of, ‘Oh, I believe in social justice. Oh, I believe in blah, blah, blah, blah …’” I mean I can believe in everything. I was a little suspicious of that and so instead, for about a month, I just started making short lists for myself about, what are the experiences that really nourished me? Not that were gratifying or … but that, like, fed my spirit, that really made me come alive in a different way. What were my experiences as a teacher? What were my experiences as a husband? What were my experiences as a son? As a student? And every aspect of my life I would just make list after list after list. And then I put them all out on the dining room table and I said, “What the hell do these things have in common?” And my values, like, popped and instantly I knew that’s what lines all these things together. It sorta … It’s kinda like I’ve said to people that I’ve talked to about this. If you’ve ever woven, you can’t see the pattern in the loom as you’re throwing the shuttle. You can only see it in what has been woven. And in that same way by becoming clearer about what those values are that I think I need to protect and that I need to align myself with, it’s made it possible to stay renewed in a different way. It’s also made it much easier for me to be clear and strategic about where I’ve worked, because I think a lot of people … You know Ronnie used to say this. Ronnie used to say it’s terrible when people burn out and leave. It’s worse when they burn out and stay. And she would say burn-out’s not exhaustion, burn-out is you’re disconnected from your core values. And if you don’t know what your core values are, how can you possibly avoid burning out and make the changes you need to make in your life? So, part of what’s kept me feeling invigorated is having the clarity to recognize an opportunity. My students often say, “Oh my God, you’ve had such a great career.” And when I say, “Yeah, okay, so I was here and then I was at the NEA and then I was at TCG and blah, blah, blah,” it sounds great. But I always say to them, “What you don’t hear in that narrative is you don’t hear the times I said no. And the times I’ve said “no” are even more important than the times I said “yes” because having the clarity to say this is a no for me even though it’s a great job and it’s a lot more money or whatever,” ’cause money is not in my top. If money were at my top, I woulda made a lot of different decisions. I’m grateful money was near the top for my dad ’cause I had a roof over my head, et cetera. It’s just not my top. But that’s a big part of that ongoing renewable is, I think, in that clarity.

Erik Gensler: Hm. I love what you said, that saying “no” is really so powerful.

Ben Cameron: Oh yeah.

Erik Gensler: And having the strength to say “no” and the … knowing yourself well enough, when to say no. I … the thing I like to say is, “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no.”

Ben Cameron: Yeah. Oh, that’s like the standing ovation. If, for me it’s, if you’re not on your feet the second the curtain goes down you don’t stay after. You don’t get up just ’cause everybody else does.

Erik Gensler: I subscribe to that school as well.

Ben Cameron: We’ll go to the theater together and be surrounded by-

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Ben Cameron: We’ll be dwarfed by people standing all around us.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. Well, in London they don’t stand unless it’s real good.

Ben Cameron: Well that’s the way it should be. (laughs)

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Ben Cameron: Yeah, no. You know, and in terms of the “no” stuff, too, I think sometimes, to get back to our original topics, I think a lot of what foundations have done badly is by tempting people off-mission, it’s makes it very hard for an organization to say no. Uh, and a lot of organizations haven’t much to their detriment. Additionally, think we keep coming at them as a foundation and saying, “Oh, now you need to do education. Oh, now you need to do this. Oh, now you need …” and we never say to them in a thoughtful way, “What are you gonna stop doing to give yourself the time-”

Erik Gensler: 100%. Opportunity costs.

Ben Cameron: “… and the resources to do this new thing?” So, we keep encumbering them with additional responsibilities that we don’t pay them enough money for, expecting them to come up magically with it. So, I think we need to be much clearer about, if you want to go in a new direction, the next question is, “So, what are you gonna stop doing?”

Erik Gensler: Hm.

Ben Cameron: Because I don’t know anybody in this life that sits around with extra time and extra money and they’re staring out the window ’cause they don’t have enough to do.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ben Cameron: You know, it’s hard to say to people, especially prospective grantees, but to try to impress to say we’ll be much more effective if we make hard, rigorous, and limited choices than if we … To try to do everything is to do nothing.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Ben Cameron: You know, so.

Erik Gensler: Right.

Ben Cameron: Yep.

Erik Gensler: Right. What’s something you’ve learned in the last year or so that’s been profound in how you work or think?

Ben Cameron: I would say, probably, what got confirmed for me this year was how the conversation shifts when you begin to recruit a board based on values, not on function. You know, because I’ve been down there for three years. You know, when I came … The board now, unlike the board when I arrived, which was a majority European, a majority male, is now a majority people of color, a majority women and we have our youngest board member in history who’s 29 years old. And that’s not been an easy change, necessarily, ’cause the board’s small—we only have eight on the board—so it’s been a lot of change for us, but the richness of the conversations when you sit somebody down and it’s not, “Do you wanna come on the board?” It’s more about, “So, what does emerging artist mean to you? Why is that important to you? What do you think the arts are about? What do you think the world’s gonna be like in 10 years? What do you think we need to be start thinking about to make the world in 10 years the way it’s gonna be?” That … Those conversations, it is instantly apparent who the right fits are for the board and who’s not. And that’s not to make any judgment. I remember going out with a great artist, a great artist, who we started to talk about technology and he said, “Eh, you know, I’ve got assistants that do all that and I’m not really interested in that.” And I thought, “Okay, that’s great. You don’t need to be. That’s a clear signal to me that we might have come after you because of your name value for the board but this would really have been a mismatch.”

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Ben Cameron: So, the richness of that conversation as a way to build a relationship has been really an important change. And I would say I learn things, small things, from my staff every day. You know, we’ve had some significant changes in staff. The staff’s small. There are only four of us. But we now have, a woman on staff who is Turtle Mountain native indigenous clan and I’m just learning to think about rhythms and work. I had a conversation with somebody about visual artists in a native context and our emphasis on innovation and travel and this person said, basically, “When you start out in our area”—and I don’t mean this to be true for all native people by any means—but he said, “In our area, when you start out as an artist, you’re walking door-to-door and knocking and trying to sell what you’d made.” The early-career artist is around the market. It’s not around innovation of the form because you can’t sell the innovation of the form. And you wanna send artists to travel for a month … Most of our artists have livestock. They have obligations at home, et cetera. So, just really, I find that right now I’m in the course. I don’t think I’ve learned in terms of what that implies about I’ve reached a point of clarity. I think I am learning on every day about how different the perspectives are in the world and how the perspectives I’ve had, which have been rich and nourishing, have had their cost for people, especially people not like me. And so, then, I need to be thoughtful about what those changes in perspectives are. That’s what I’m learning.

Erik Gensler: It’s amazing. Yeah. What’s something you’re really great at and something you’re working on improving?

Ben Cameron: I am in a moment, because in the off-time I mentioned that …. Now that I’ve signed up for medicare and I’m over 65, I am now trying to be more intentional about how I leave the organization that I will leave and not terribly much longer. You know, I don’t wanna work after 70, so I’m gonna be out of there at most in three years. So, I’m trying to be better at being thoughtful not just about the immediate problem in front of me, but what are the implications for, what’s the health of this place? What’s the porousness of this place? Who’s going to own this work? You know, we’re starting to move into, as I said earlier, unpacking these issues of equity and inclusion in addition to diversity more methodically, more deliberately. And it’s really important to me that the board owns that work. It’s really important that the board has a sense of deep investment in it because they’re the custodians of the place and they will- they’ll hire my successor. And so, thinking about who needs to own this is something I’ve never thought about before so I’m trying to get better at that. I would say what I’m good at … I’m good at walking the dog.

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

Ben Cameron: I’ve become a great bartender, I will say. I make a mean martini and a fantastic sidecar as anybody in Minneapolis who’s been over at the house will tell you. I think I have the capacity to be pretty good speaker. I know there are times I get in front of an audience and I think, “Okay that did it. That was of value for them and it was a deep pleasure for me to connect with them in this way.”

Erik Gensler: We’ve come to your final question and this is your “CI to Eye moment” and the question is, if you can broadcast to the executive directors, leadership team, staff, and boards of a thousand arts organizations, what would you tell them to help them improve their businesses?

Ben Cameron: I would say that, for me, the moment is upon us that I alluded to before, to begin to free ourselves from former structures and former values we pursued like stability to begin to think more about resilience and adaptability. The Mark Robinson work around this, I think, is fantastic but among the things I would tell leaders … There’s a lot that organizations do well that’s at the heart of this. Most organizations I know, yes, they have a mission. Yes, they’ve clearly defined roles for board and staff. Yes, they have a sense of what their purpose is to some degree, so, yes, that’s great. I would say, pay more attention to the external situational awareness and then the three things I think we’re not good as an industry but I totally believe in is gathering information from the external environment to making data-based decisions, is one. I think a second one is maximizing your staff’s capacity to work across silos and have tendrils into the community that connect them to others outside the walls. And the third one, of course, is to engage more in reflective thinking. It’s easy, especially given the pressure and the day-to-day and the millions of requirements to you are running … There’s that line in Alice in Wonderland about I’m running as fast as I can and if I wanna get anywhere I have to run twice as fast as that. You know, there’s that sense we’re all on this treadmill dashing for the finish line and we don’t have time to reflect. But if we don’t consciously take that time to engage in reflective thinking, we can’t possibly digest what we’ve done. We can’t learn. We can’t redirect. We can’t grow. And so, as hard as it is, if there’s only one thing you can do, is make the commitment to engage in reflective thinking and reflective time.

Erik Gensler: Ben, I can’t thank you enough.

Ben Cameron: Thank you. This was fun.

About Our Guests
Ben Cameron
Ben Cameron
President, Jerome Foundation

Ben Cameron is the President of the Jerome Foundation and former Program Director for the Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which received the National Medal for the Arts from President Barack Obama. Ben also has extensive expertise in grantmaking for the arts.

Read more

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