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Words of Inspiration From 2018

Words of Inspiration From 2018

CI to Eye with 23 Cultural Leaders

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

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Since CI to Eye’s launch in 2017, Erik Gensler asks guests an important question at the end of each episode. He asks, “If you could broadcast to executive directors, leadership teams, staff, and board of 1,000 arts organizations, what advice would you provide to help them improve their business?” This is called their CI to Eye moment, and we’ve compiled last year’s moments in this special episode.

Erik Gensler: Welcome to a very special episode of CI to Eye. In 2018, I had the privilege of talking to some amazing leaders and thinkers. I interviewed the Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Chairman Emeritus of the Kennedy Center, the long-time Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and a number of experts on diversity, equity, and inclusion, among many others. I talked to arts researchers, practitioners and leaders of organizations small and large. In every episode, I ask my guests to share their CI to Eye Moment. The question I pose is, “If you could broadcast to the executive directors, leadership team, staff, and board of a thousand arts organizations, what advice would you provide to them to help them improve their businesses?” As we look back on 2018 and resolve to improve ourselves personally and professionally in the year ahead, here’s how our guests answered this very important question. At Capacity Interactive, we take workplace culture very seriously and believe that the secret to any organization’s success starts with its people. When a leader takes it upon themselves to educate and empower their teams, amazing things happen. Here are some of my guests weighing in on the importance of workplace culture and elevating and supporting administrative staff in the arts. Gina Gibney, the Founder of Gibney, in her episode, “Powerbroker of Contemporary Dance” says:

Gina Gibney: I think the secret to a good organization, a great organization, is to have a great culture. You know, we are all just essentially the sum of our networks and our relationships, and those relationships are so important. And they don’t happen automatically. They happen through care and tending and signals that are sent and the conscious and persistent cultivation of creating the kind of culture and the kind of organization that you want to have. It’s not magic. It’s not just from the top down. It’s from the bottom up and it’s about really bringing people together, aligning them around things that you all really believe in, and then really creating expectations of how you’re gonna work together. And to me, that is absolutely the critical element.

Erik Gensler: Harold Wolpert, the Managing Director of Signature Theatre Company in New York City, also talks about the power of people.

Harold Wolpert: I would say that we’re producing art. We’re not producing widgets. A play ends, maybe people will take home their program, maybe they buy a t-shirt, but they’re not really taking anything tangible home. What audiences see, whether it’s in a museum or on stage or at the ballet, is sort of an accumulation of human effort and communication. We always have to remind ourselves that it is a business that is very much based around people. Is it the only business? No, but it’s people standing up on a stage in front of an audience of people looking at them. So that human interaction and focused on each individual and focused on what we do collectively as people is critical. It’s not about hard skills. It’s not even about soft skills. It’s just being mindful. Now, that is our capital. We rely on the creativity. We rely on the energy. We rely on the innovation, the energy of people. We have to nurture that in this field. It’s just hard and you’re not going to be paid a lot and you’re going to work a long time and we have to elevate and value the people in our companies and continue to do that. That’s critical.

Erik Gensler: Multi-Cultural Marketing Maven Donna Walker-Kuhne talks about creating a workplace culture that is about flexibility to attract and retain the next generation of arts leaders:

Donna Walker-Kuhne: I think that the more nimble arts organizations can be, the more successful. The construct that was developed in the ‘60s when arts organizations were being formed, particularly with the support of the NEA, where you come in as an assistant, then you can become a manager, then an assistant vice-president and then vice president. The millennials, Generation Z, they’re not gonna stick around that long. We’re lucky if we get them for two years. So, if we wanna capture the best of our younger generation of arts administrators, we have to create environments where they can thrive, which means they enter in different ways. It means they don’t come in five days a week. It means that they’re going to work in a very creative way. But they’re focused on deliverables. They know what they have to give. And so, I think that as we build the team of who’s going to shepherd the arts for the next 50 years, we have to have this kind of thinking. You know, that’s fluid. You know, that’s dynamic, allows people to kind of bring who they are to the team, and absolutely has to be racially, ethnically, and economically diverse. We need all those voices to inform what will this look like.

Erik Gensler: To close out this section, Capacity Interactive’s Kathleen McFarlane talks about empowering employees to make real time decisions.

Kathleen McFarlane: Give the people who have that hands-on impact in their marketing the fluidity and flexibility to make real time decisions so they can reallocate, you know, media and budget across channels, to provide the best results possible. And they can really only do that when they can make those decisions in real time.

Erik Gensler: In my opinion, what differentiates great organizations from simply good ones opinion is a focus on soft skills, or “people skills.” This comes with a relentless focus on improving yourself. Great arts leadership comes from people who work on relating personally and generously to their staff, boards, artists, and greater communities. In their CI to Eye moments, many of my guests discuss the importance of continued self-improvement. Jessica Schmidt, in her episode about privilege, diversity, and inclusion in the traditional orchestra world, talks about the importance of empathy.

Jessica Schmidt: Start from a place of empathy. Everything we do in our field is about relationships. It’s about a love of our art form, and it’s about love of creating together. Start from a place of looking around at your own team, your community, your artistic partners as human beings first, and their roles second. I think that makes all the difference. Connect with individuals and listen. Start with listening. Start with empathy.

Erik Gensler: In her second episode of CI to Eye, my executive coach, Jennifer Zaslow, talks about how leaders must self-reflect in order to develop themselves.

Jennifer Zaslow: Invest in their own development. I’d love to see leaders investing in their own development! Put your own oxygen mask on first. Of course, I want them to develop their people, but they won’t believe in the power of development until they development themselves. And in order to understand that they need to development themselves, they need to reflect. (laughs) Leadership requires reflection. It’s not just about doing. It’s also about being. So, that’s my dream for leaders of non-profits, but all leaders. I want to see them be porous. I want to see them reflect. I want to see all of us, reaching peak performance.

Erik Gensler: Broadway Press agent Chris Boneau also talks about the importance of knowing yourself:

Chris Boneau: I keep coming back to the word “honesty,”… but also part of my media training sessions involves this one sentence: the truth is your friend. And the more you stick with that, the better. You need to be truthful with yourself. am I a good speaker? Can I get better? Am I a good communicator? And that then goes into your relationships with the press. “The press is not your friend” because if they want a story and you don’t want to participate, they’re going to go after you. So, you just have to stick to the tenets of honesty, truth, clarity, thinking on your feet, and being prepared for just about anything.

Erik Gensler: To close out this section on self-improvement, Jane Chu, the now-former head of the National Endowment for the Arts, talks about clarity of vision:

Jane Chu: Well, first of all, I would thank everybody for the great work they’re doing. I don’t think I’ve ever run into anyone who isn’t totally dedicated and committed to wanting to be their best, wanting to do the best job that they can do and contribute to the organizations with which they work. But I would also say something that, again, I say to myself, which is, “Don’t lose sight of your vision.” So, when you get caught up daily into the things you must attend to, or when you meet something that you really don’t care for, there’s an opportunity to turn it around and say, “Well I don’t care for that, so what is my vision?” And you know, that, helped me make sure it was more clarified that I could go toward the vision I have. Don’t lose sight of what you want to be someday, and that vision is really important. That’s what I would say to boards, and staff, and myself as well.

Erik Gensler: Here at Capacity Interactive, we care so strongly about data and measurement that it’s written on our office wall as one of our core values. Many of my guests, for their CI to Eye moment, share their take on why data is crucial to improving arts organizations’ businesses. First up, sponsorship guru Jim Andrews talks about the value of using audience data to understand your patrons before hitting up sponsors:

Jim Andrews: I would say, first and foremost, make sure that your relationship with your audiences is as strong as possible before you embark on trying to cultivate, you know, some major sponsors. We have often counseled organizations who were just kind of starting down this road. I would rather see an organization spend a year or two building that side of things up and that can be everything from investing in their own marketing so that they, you know, they have strong ticket sales… and other aspects of audience engagement, because that is the bedrock of what these sponsors are going to be doing. And beyond that, not just building that audience, but understanding who that audience is; investing in the tools that will allow them to analyze the data that you have on that audience. Again, to really be able to paint a very specific profile of who that audience is. Being able to access and analyze your audience data is almost leveling the playing field with much larger organizations, such as a sports team. If you can show a prospective sponsor or a current sponsor that, “Hey, I know exactly who these people are. I know that they are either customers of yours or I know that they are customers of a competitor of yours.” And armed with that knowledge, we can plan some really great and interesting activation activities that will either increase their loyalty to your brand or your company or, perhaps, get them to switch. Those are the kinds of things that the marketing folks, the people who are controlling those significant marketing dollars are really looking to do.

Erik Gensler: Andrew Simnick, whose team created an amazing data model to help the Art Institute of Chicago predict weekly attendance, talks about starting with questions before using data to find answers.

Andrew Simnick: With all of the excitement and energy around applied data and analytics, the most important thing still remains the ability to ask questions and to act on insight. So, data is an asset; if used correctly it can provide a tremendous value to an organization. But even more important than the data, smart structured questions upfront and a culture that’s willing to put insight into action in a fast and responsible way. That’s never going to change to matter what trends happen around data information analytics. The start and the end, to me, are gonna remain unchanged, no matter what type of organization you’re in, and that includes museums like ours.

Erik Gensler: Just as historical data can help us to make informed business decisions, so can planning ahead. Sharon Gersten Luckman, former Executive Director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, talks about strategic planning, particularly using dollars and cents:

Sharon Gersten Luckman: Take the time to plan out what you’re doing, a year at least. Take that time. And take the time and make sure you have the expertise to know where the dollars are. What I’ve seen in too many groups is they don’t really know what each project … how much money is coming from in each project and how much money is going out. And though you don’t make the decision purely on financial grounds, it’s absolutely essential to know what those financial decisions are and where the money really is going. So, I’d say a plan and then making sure the plan incorporates very specific dollars, where they come from and where they go. So, those are the two. And then what we talked about, relationships, communication. You’re not working in a vacuum. You can do fabulous work and, if nobody knows it, then you’re not building trust, you’re not building a team, and if you have problems and you’re not sharing them then you’re also not leading. As I used to say, and it was true, no one can pay an executive director enough money, it doesn’t exist, to take the whole burden and responsibility on an executive director’s shoulders. You really have to share your challenges, as well.

Erik Gensler: Capacity Interactive’s Johnna Fellows Gluth brings home the power and importance of data in modern marketing:

Johnna Fellows Gluth: I think working on this study provided such a keen reminder that this whole process of marketing… It’s a marathon, and not a sprint. And one of the best things and the smartest things we can do is make sure we’re preparing well. And to do that, you know, we need data. And, a study such as this provides such rich audience data, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Within a given organization there is a wealth of data within website analytics, campaign results, and… I think coming at the marketing practice as a whole with a curious eye and really holding ourselves to a high standard of having data to back up the decisions we’re making, that’s the way to make sure we’re constantly evolving and responding to how our audiences’ behaviors are changing. And they will change. We are where we are right now, but it’s going to change in the coming years. So, we want to stay nimble and data is the way to make sure we do.

Erik Gensler: The fields of arts administration and digital marketing are constantly evolving. A number of my guests share their advice on how to embrace change (and the mistakes that come along with it). Allison Fippinger is a change management consultant:

Allison Fippinger: I would like to answer it for change, since that’s really what I represent here. There are only a few things you have to remember when you are executing change, and the first is that crystal clear vision. Whether you are the leadership, whether you are in a role of management, or whether you are working in the trenches putting that data in, you need to know why you’re doing it and what your goals are. If you don’t, if you aren’t clear on what the expectations are for you, if you don’t know what your world is going to look like at the end of the change, then you ask. And if, as a leader, you haven’t communicated that clearly, your staff won’t know what to do. So, making sure that you’re really verbalizing what the vision is, and where you’re going to end up. The second thing I would say, and this speaks specifically to leadership and to managers: you have to live the change. Because if someone in a leadership role is not representing the desired behavior, is not reinforcing the changes that we want to see, it delegitimizes the work that you’re doing. It erodes the trust in the team, and it taxes the process. I mean, it really literally costs you dollars if your team sees someone in a role of leadership acting outside of the direction of change. Whereas, if your leadership is living the change with intent and with integrity, you have now accelerated the rate of that change exponentially because your team knows that it is authentic and meaningful to the organization. And I can’t stress that enough. And the last thing that I would say is that while we’ve been talking about change as a project, it’s an implementation. It’s something you do for a fixed period of time. Everyone always asks, you know, when you’re in conversations about change management, “Well, how do you make it stick? You can execute it, but how do you make sure that it’s maintained?” And I always share with my teams, and everyone who is a part of that project, that this is not a one and done. We finish the implementation and then it’s your job to continuously integrate all these ideas in everything you do every day. So, you can’t let it go. You can’t forget about it. It’s a constant effort that is ongoing for the good of your organization.

Erik Gensler: Aubrey Bergauer, the Executive Director of the California Symphony talks about the concept she calls “is do something not nothing”

Aubrey Bergauer: Do something, not nothing. I think so much of what we talked about today and all the things in general, we always think about as arts leaders … We talk a lot about things and we’d have so many discussions and conferences and all of this and that. And … Just do something. Run that pilot test. Run that A/B test. Take the smallest, babiest step possible, because, again, so many of us desire to make change and make progress. And I see this in my staff sometimes where they say to me, ” Where do we start? How do we even begin to fill in the blank?” And the answer is, “Do something not nothing.” Even if it’s the littlest, tiniest thing of anything you’ve heard us talk about or anything else, whatever the thing is on your mind as an arts leader, just do something, not nothing, because nothing means no progress, no forward movement, whatsoever.

Erik Gensler: Finally, Capacity Interactive’s Ashley Dunn Gatterdam talks about taking risks and making mistakes in the spirit of change.

Ashley Dunn Gatterdam: I love the catch phrase that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. So, I think that one of the keys to breaking that cycle in our approach to digital is that we have to be willing to be wrong. And that a lot of tactics that worked for a really long time may no longer be working. And if we’re in positions of power in those organizations, we have responsibility to create cultures where it’s okay to make mistakes and that instead of asking for flawless perfection in our digital marketing strategies, or anything else for that matter, that we’re all making a commitment to taking smart and calculated risks. Some of those are going to end in failure, but that is how we’re gonna learn what works.

Erik Gensler: Every arts organization’s work revolves around its audience, whether that refers to donors, ticket buyers, or the community at large. A few guests used their CI to Eye moments to offer their insights into the importance of listening to and serving your audience. Colleen Dilenschneider, the publisher of Know Your Own Bone, talks about seeing your audience as partners and not pawns:

Colleen Dilenschneider: It’s that your organization may declare importance, but the market determines relevance. In other words, it doesn’t matter how loudly we scream that something is important. If we can’t make it relevant, if we can’t make it connective, then it doesn’t matter to living and breathing humans and thus, it’s not important. The market determines how successful we are. To a lot of people that sounds obvious. One of the superpowers of cultural organizations is that we’re trusted more than newspapers. That’s an incredible superpower. We have to find ways to communicate that education in a way that inspires, or that, you know, whatever it is we have to offer, that inspires real-life humans and is relevant and meaningful to them. I hope since the digital revolution, we’ll be able to think of audiences more as partners than people that we’re trying to, … You know, than some kind of pawns or … and anything else weird that we could … I think audiences are partners and audiences determine if we sink or swim.

Erik Gensler: Eduardo Vilaro Artistic Director and CEO of Ballet Histrongico, discusses the importance of listening to your community:

Eduardo Vilaro: To think community. To think beyond the model of the art and think about your community and how you gather your community around you. And it’s concentric, right? There is the community you build, the community in the staff … so they are a vital sounding board and there’s give-and-take there. You have to listen as community. You must share. You have to allow for ideas. And that leads you into the larger community and how that art form is being given, is serving, is taking, also, and how you’re allowing those voices to come in. And I could tell you many different ways but that’s the general idea. I think we forget that we are not here just to be ivory towers. We are here to give this form over to the people, not take it away from them or exclude them because they can’t pay for the tickets or because their child can afford this class and this other child can’t.

Erik Gensler: Researcher Dr. Zannie Voss, the Director of Data Arts at Southern Methodist University, puts it very simply: our programs must meet the needs of our communities.

Zannie Voss: My advice would be: don’t forget to meet needs. You know, as, as nonprofit organizations, I think it was Phil who talked about, you know, the definition of marketing was to, to meet needs profitably and, for nonprofits, it’s about meeting needs. You know, we’re in the business of meeting needs of people in our communities and it’s somewhat easy to forget that and to focus only on the things that we want to deliver, you know, whatwe want to say, and then ask, “Well, what’s wrong with those people?” if they don’t respond to it. I love the old Yogi Berra quote that, “If people don’t want to come to the ballpark, how are you going to stop them?” What is it about their sphere of needs, that either is not being addressed by anyone, that we might consider meeting, or is not being met well, and how can we consider meeting it? Improving our business means consideration of what we offer that doesn’t meet needs and gets no traction, and should we let go of it? People-per-offering is one of our metrics and what we saw over time is that arts and cultural organizations, over a four-year period, added 15% more programs. Do all of them, always need to stay? You know, to some extent, we, we kind of look at them as, you know, that would be killing our children. We birthed something. How could be possibly let it go? But to think about if a program is either not meeting needs or not meeting needs well, it’s not generating enough revenue to cover itself, and it’s not close enough to mission, then is it something that we can should consider letting go to make room for meeting another need in the community that could fit with mission and is not currently being met? The meeting needs, or relationship development more generally, I think, just requires listening closely, listening more than speaking. And that’s really hard work. Listening rather than assuming, and I think it’s really the only path to relevancy and now, more than ever, you know, this building on the arts’ great legacy of relevance is really critical.

Erik Gensler: Andrew McIntyre, co-founder of Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, a cultural research agency based in the UK, talks about the importance of holding audiences close to your organization.

Andrew McIntyre: I think my advice would be to hold their audience as close as they can to their organization, to stop trying to sell tickets to them and start trying to get these people to be part of their organization, to feel a deep sense of connection. And our best work is where we’re helping the organizations to do just do that.

Erik Gensler: At the root of all of our organizations is the one thing we’re most passionate about: the art. As a few guests advise, while you’re taking your staff, your metrics, your finances, and your audience into account, never forget about the reason you’re in this business to begin with, nor the artists who make it possible. BAM’s Joe Malillo puts it simply:

Joe Melillo: I want to share with your listeners what Harvey Lichtenstein said to me, which was his final words as the outgoing both President and Executive Producer of BAM. He said, “Joe, always follow the artist.”

Erik Gensler: Karen Brooks Hopkins, Joe’s partner in crime at BAM for many years, echoes his sentiment.

Karen Brooks Hopkins: I would say that executive directors, in tandem with program directors- sometimes it’s the same person, sometimes they’re different- need to always begin and end with bold, visionary program. This sets the tone and is everything. Too often, because of the resource crisis, we are just phoning it in or just trying to stay the course. Keeping the lights on, paying the staff, keeping the building clean. And I understand that it is hard, many times, to go beyond that. But, again, I challenge all the executive directors to think about what it means to be their best selves as an organization and as a leader, and then challenge their people and their organizations to get there. And I believe when we do this, when we step out of the comfort zone, take some risk, but do it for the things that are really the great things, the things that bring the glory, that this brings us the most thrilling results.

Erik Gensler: Bonnie Siegler a graphic artist herself who wrote a book about getting what you want from creative people talks about the value that art and design brings to businesses.

Bonnie Siegler: I think being respectful and appreciative of what designers bring to any organization. When you click on a website, you decide in ten seconds or two seconds whether it’s the right place for you. You might just be like, “No, no, no. This … go away.” That’s what we’re bringing to it. We’re bringing that thing that connection with a person, and that doesn’t relate to the content on the page, necessarily. It’s the look and the feel and the emotion you get, just from that first look. We’re translating all the people, and all the thinking, and the mission, and everything into whatever the product is in the way, you know, the audience will see it. And it’s just, it’s huge, and I think people dismiss it. If you are a photographer and you take picture, if anyone wants to use that picture from forever and ever and ever, they have to come back to you and use it. And we have no rights like that, cause it’s just our profession is just not respected in the same way. My plea, my request, my wish is that design was respected for how much it brings to business, and especially arts businesses, where the way it looks is actually crucial.

Erik Gensler: Michael Kaiser, Chairman Emeritus of the Kennedy Center, brings us home with his simple answer:

Michael Kaiser: Look at budgets a little less, look at income statements a little less, and trust your artists a little more.

Erik Gensler: From all of us here at Capacity Interactive, we wish you a happy and healthy new year. As always, thank you for listening.

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