Category Archives: Work

Idaho Falls Mom’s Blog!

Photo by Katie Wells Photography for the Idaho Falls Moms Blog

I’m incredibly proud to be a contributor for the new Idaho Falls Mom’s Blog, which launched today! I’m hopeful it will be a great motivator for my writing, but also a way to meet local moms. I’m useless at meeting new people and this group should force me to be social – it already has once when we took our headshots (which look amazing, btw). Writing a post or two each month for the mom’s blog means I will definitely be neglecting this site – so check out my posts over there. I plan to write about ARTitorium stuff, crafting with a toddler, and general parenting topics (next post – potty training!).

Changed Leader; Leader of Change

I just participated in the Idaho Change Leader Institute. This is a professional development program organized by the Idaho Commission on the Arts for leaders in arts administration across the state of Idaho. The concept began in Utah in 2003 (formally implemented in 2005), and is currently available in several states across the western U.S. There were twelve of us in this year’s Idaho program, which took place in Boise. Executive directors, program directors, and all kinds of manager-types from arts councils, performing arts centers, and other arts orgs. Twelve strong, opinionated, passionate, sometimes-theatrical, funny, outspoken, overworked, creative leaders in one room for three days. It was interesting to say the least.  I didn’t really know what to expect going in, and was mostly nervous about having to spend (i.e. waste) time participating in ridiculous ice-breakers and team-building exercises. I needn’t have worried, however. While there were certainly group activities (some of which had an element of the ridiculous) there was an identifiable purpose to every component that eliminated most of my frustration or reluctance.

Day One: 

I didn’t experience any ground-breaking revelations on the first day, but it did give me a few things to think about:

  • Mindful Listening. I am terrible at this. I get bored, I formulate my response way before it’s needed, I get distracted, I daydream, etc., etc. A couple of exercises that we did helped me realize my shortcomings here and gave me some pointers in fixing them.
  • What it means to get, have, use, and keep power. “Power is the ability to get all of what you want from the environment, given what’s available.” This one was a no-brainier for me. The lessons helped validate/reinforce some of my personal beliefs, but didn’t really reveal anything new. I think working in the federal government for eleven years taught me a great deal about obtaining power and using it effectively to get things done.

  • The Meyers Briggs thing. I’ve taken the Meyers Briggs test a couple of times before. I’m an INTJ, and I’ve done quite a bit of research into what this means (it’s pretty spot on for me). However, I’ve never really thought about where other people land on the scale  and how I can use this knowledge to better understand their behavior. Sharing our results as a group and working together with others of the same “temperament” demonstrated the value in thinking about where someone else is coming from before judging or dismissing their point of view.

We watched The Whale Rider movie after dinner and pondered it’s examples and lessons about leadership and change. I was tired and the chair was uncomfortable, but it’s a pretty wonderful film with a powerful message about quiet leadership and determination. My favorite part was that the story dealt with leading change in cultural traditions and gender roles without feeling the need to scream about it. There is so much more power in calm and quiet action than in loud protests or demands.

Day 2

The second day felt like an overload of information, and by the reflection time at the end I struggled to remember everything we had done (thank goodness they gave us a binder!). But here are a few of my takeaways:

  • We watched a video with Dan Heath about why change is hard. This presented the finding that self-control is actually exhaustible. As a result, people resistant to change might be perceived as lazy when in reality, they are just tired. This is so true of staff at non-profits! Sometimes we cannot even process a new idea because we are so thoroughly exhausted from just getting our jobs done.
  • We learned the NWBE chart. Pronounced “newbie” it stands for Needs, Wants, Beliefs, and Emotions, and is helpful in finding common ground and obtaining commitment when working with other people or organizations.

  • We talked a lot about resistance: different types of resistance, how to deal with resistance, and the fact that resistance is actually a positive thing. In the diagram, both “power” and “resistance” are positive forces, while “victim” and “loser” are negative. Once you understand this, you can better surface and respond to resistance both in your organization and in yourself.

  • We practiced several different negotiation styles and facilitation tools. The facilitation exercise was… interesting. The topic was improving volunteer retention and each group had to facilitate a productive discussion using a different tool. Well, we clearly all had some personal experience of dealing with volunteer unrest and the crowd of “volunteers” got a little … hostile toward the presenters! Nevertheless, it was a useful endeavor, though I’m not sure any of us will be using the fishbone tool any time soon. :)

The second evening we were fortunate to see Constellations at the Boise Contemporary Theater. This is a wonderful, two-person play about love, tragedy, and the multiverse theory that really makes you think about where your choices lead you.

Day 3

On the final day, we were split into two groups, assigned a (turned out to be real-world) community with a problem, tasked to take on roles within that community, and use as many change leader tools as possible to propose a solution to the problem. This was so much more fun and useful than I was anticipating, and our group had a great time strategizing and then presenting on how the desolate downtown of “Beaverton” could be revitalized through the arts.  
 In conclusion, I found the Change Leader Institute to be worthwhile and fun. The facilitators were knowledgable, sincere, and respectful of participants’ time. The tools can be applied in almost any circumstance – both professional and personal: to help gain consensus among resistant colleagues, to have productive conversations with a challenging board, to better understand and therefore program for your community, to take steps towards that elusive work/life balance, to identify and maximize your own strengths, and so much more.

I enjoyed spending time with the staff and my fellow change leaders, and I’m greatly looking forward to continuing these new relationships. An excellent three days with many valuable lessons that I won’t forget quickly.

Who should pay for the Arts?

Amber-nonprofit-discount-edit

An actual photo that one of our staffers used to get a discount on software

Working for a small nonprofit after the Goliath that is the Smithsonian has been an eye-opening experience. We’re constantly doing – as my boss likes to call it – “the hustle.” A great deal of time, energy, and resources is spent (and stress, sleepless nights, and several tears are experienced) while chasing funding instead of working on the mission, while the mission remains crucial to bringing in the money as well as being the reason we’re all here. It’s difficult to maintain that balance while keeping the organization afloat and the staff (mostly) sane. It’s made me think a great deal about who should pay for what we do. I believe the arts are critically important and I am incredibly proud that a town the size of Idaho Falls (serving a population of around 100,000 in the city and surrounding rural areas) has art galleries, a large, historic theater that brings in nationally touring productions, and the-first-of-its-kind interactive art and technology center for kids (ARTitorium on Broadway). But these facilities will never, EVER be able to survive on ticket sales and admissions revenue alone. Never. So if we agree that the arts are important and that people living in smaller, more rural communities should have access to high quality experiences in the performing and visual arts, then who should pay for them?

The Government? Not entirely. Many Arts Councils are city or state funded. We are not; we are a private nonprofit that relies mostly on sponsorships and grants. In my opinion, this is a reason to be proud. I do not believe that the government should pay for everything and we are lucky to escape the bureaucracy and restrictions that I know come with a government job. That said, I do believe that the government should support the arts. The arts contribute to education, economic development, and tourism (among other things) and local/regional government entities should recognize that through grants and fee waivers whenever possible.

Sponsors? Yes. I believe that the people and companies who care about the arts and have the means should help to pay for them. However, in a town our size there are only so many people who can do this, and they are constantly being asked for money. Sponsorship is the reason we are surviving, for sure, but it isn’t enough by itself.

Grants? Yes. Grants are an excellent way to distribute both government and private funding since they require organizations to outline and justify their needs. However, grants are typically small and project-based. There are not many grant opportunities that will pay for all the non-sexy operating costs of a nonprofit – building maintenance, supplies, staffing, etc. Plus, grant proposals take a lot of time. We’re fortunate to have enough staff at the Arts Council that we can dedicate some time to grant-writing, but many nonprofits in the arts have just one or two staff members, which makes grant-writing a significant challenge. And you cannot keep coming up with new projects in order to chase grant money. That’s not at all sustainable or sensible. (If I ever, miraculously, get rich, I am starting the “Non-Sexy Foundation” that will only fund operating costs. You heard it here first.)

Members? Yes, definitely yes. Membership is a great way for people who participate in the arts to support the arts. Membership programs typically have a variety of levels, allowing almost anyone to contribute and be a part of helping an organization that they care about. Membership dollars pay for all the non-sexy items (see above) and they are renewable, which is crucial. However (and there’s always a however!), in a small community, membership money can only go so far and fund so much.

Revenue (aka “profit”)? Of course. Nonprofits should constantly explore options for bringing in revenue in ways that tie to the mission. We sell tickets to the theater and admissions to ARTitorium (all at a reduced rate, thanks to sponsors). We also rent out both of our buildings to a variety of organizations – both commercial and nonprofit – allowing others to benefit from the beautiful, historic facilities that we own. We don’t make a ton of money in this way (we’re a nonprofit, remember?), but the money that does come in directly supports the maintenance of the buildings – ensuring that they will still be around for future generations to enjoy. The problem is that the arts can never be entirely sustained in this way. If we increased our prices so that revenue covered all of our costs, no one would be able to afford to participate.

Fundraisers? Yes – ish. Fundraisers (events/parties) are a great way to bring existing and potential sponsors together, make new connections, show our appreciation, and generate immediate cash donations. However, they cost money and time to implement, there’s no guarantee that revenue will exceed expenses, and they are not at all mission-based. Fundraisers are a tricky area. We do them, but we limit it to two per year and try to keep all of our other event- and program-based work focused on the mission.

Endowments? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Endowments put nonprofits on a pathway to sustainability. Endowments are amazing. HOWEVER, you can only put money into your endowment once you have paid for everything else, and therein lies the problem. Staff at arts organizations pour all of their energy, time, and expertise (aka blood, sweat, and tears) into balancing the budget every year – there’s rarely an ounce left to find more money on top of that. So, short of befriending a millionaire or two, large endowments are extraordinarily difficult to obtain.

So. Huh. I have no conclusion. I guess we will continue doing the hustle until the endowment fairy pays a visit. The moral of this story? If you enjoy the arts (galleries, theaters, museums, symphonies, operas, public sculptures, murals, art classes, music lessons, performances, etc., etc., etc.), then please, PLEASE SUPPORT THE ARTS, and preferably with real, unrestricted money. Thank you.

 

(Shameless plug: If you’re interested in supporting the arts in Idaho Falls specifically, we’re currently running a membership challenge in which up to $25,000 of new or increased memberships will be MATCHED by some amazingly generous anonymous supporters. So, you know, go become a member. And if you’re already a member, go become a bigger one. It will help me keep my job. Thanks.)

 

Asking for Money

At the Smithsonian American Art Museum we had a development department. A whole bunch of people who were dedicated to finding and obtaining funding for the museum. (It’s worth noting at this point that the Smithsonian does not get all of its dollars from the federal government. At the American Art Museum, federal funding supported around two thirds of the museum staff and paid for facility and security staff. The remainder of the staff in addition to all costs for exhibitions, programs, collections, education, etc., etc. had to be paid for with privately-raised money.) In my eleven years there, I was only involved with a small amount of fundraising: I managed the micro-donation campaign for The Art of Video Games, wrote a couple of grant applications for specific projects, and was occasionally brought in to be enthusiastic to a potential sponsor about something I was working on. Other than that, I requested a certain amount of money every year for my department and was given an allocation based on (but usually less than) that. Simple. (I’m not trying to say that raising money for the museum was simple, but that it appeared so from my perspective).

gg-editThe Idaho Falls Arts Council is a completely different world. We have only six full-time staff (executive director, visual arts director (me), technical director, development coordinator, office/rental manager, custodian) and five part-time staff (accountant, front-of-house manager, stage manager, and two ticket sellers). This is to manage a 1,000-seat historic theater, two art galleries, function rooms, artist studios, city art benches, a three-day youth festival, a summer concert series, gallery walk events, and the development of a new interactive art lab that opens this summer. As a result, we all help with everything – overseeing events, writing grants, answering the phone, selling tickets, designing flyers, stuffing envelopes, planning programs, cleaning, moving furniture… the lot. Fortunately, every individual on the team is exactly the right kind of hands-on, enthusiastic, can-do person that makes the dynamic work. You will never, ever hear “that’s not my job” here! So when it comes to raising money, we all play a role.

Last week was our annual sponsor party. This is a big deal. This is when we present the upcoming season of performing and visual arts to potential sponsors and hope that they will support it. The theater shows are the main focus here, since sponsorship money for these is crucial to support general programmatic and operating costs for the next year. I knew that this was an important event and that we secured a significant percentage of our next year’s budget on the night, but I didn’t realize exactly how it worked.

It was fascinating.

The evening began with the usual cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and schmoozing. Then, everyone sat down for dessert and presentations. Our executive director revealed the 23 theater shows planned for next year and I outlined the eight exhibitions that will be in the galleries. Pretty unsurprising up to this point. Next, however, we put a list of all the shows on the screen and started asking people for money! Just asking them! In front of everybody! In less than an hour we had confirmed 24 sponsors for the theater and 10 for the galleries, representing over 65% of what we needed to raise through sponsorship for the 2014-2015 season (the rest of our funding comes from grants, rental/ticket revenue, and membership). Several commitments came from groups, in which everyone chipped in a smaller amount to fund a single theater sponsorship. This probably wouldn’t have happened if we’d approached people individually or outside the spirit of the event.

The atmosphere was extremely positive and at no point felt forced or fake. We essentially stood up and said “here’s what we’re doing and what we need to do it, who’s willing to write a check?” We weren’t dropping hints or hiding behind flowery language; we were being honest with our supporters and it worked. Now, we didn’t raise everything that we need and will be working hard over the next few weeks to secure the remainder, but the efficiency of doing the bulk of it in a single (fun) evening blew my mind.

How can you become a sponsor, you ask? You can support one of my gallery exhibitions for as little as $250. Just let me know. :)