Friday, December 13, 2013

Living an almost car-free life (and what does that have to do with the arts?)

I recently watched a video of a talk by Gabe Klein at the 2013 Aspen Ideas Festival about the new world of transportation planning. He is the head of transportation in Chicago, previously headed the transportation office in DC, and before that was a VP at ZipCar, and it got me thinking about the changing modes of transportation in my own life. In Philadelphia, I was one of many people who lived without owning a car, living downtown and walking to work and most places I needed to get to. Most places I could not get to on foot, I used mass transit, and very occasionally a taxi. When for work reasons I needed to get somewhere best reached by car I was able to draw on a Mayor's Office pool car, and for personal use when a car was needed I used ZipCar. I used a bicycle mostly for recreation but occasionally for transportation as well, at which time I did take advantage of and appreciate Philadelphia's relatively new bike lane program. As one of the nation's most walkable big cities, with one of the highest bicycle commuting rates, this was not all that unusual in Philly.

Now in Denver, we are living as a one-car family, which many folks here are astonished at, especially given that we have a two-year old. But Denver is a surprisingly urban city (and increasingly so) that is very easy to navigate without owning a car, depending on where you choose to live. Living in the city, only about 2 1/2 miles from downtown where my office is, I am able to commute to work most days using Denver's B-cycle bike-sharing program. For an $80/year membership I essentially get unlimited under-30-minute rides through the program. If I go over 30 minutes (which I have never done), I would pay $1 for the next 30 minutes. There are bike-share stations virtually everywhere I have ever have to get to. I wish the one near my house was a bit closer (it is about 5 blocks away) but that is nit-picking. Not only is this good for the environment (and our finances by avoiding the expense of a second car), it offers great regular exercise and promotes health and wellness. When time and weather allow, the distance is close enough that walking is actually also an option, especially since about a third of the trip can be accomplished via the free 16th Street Mall shuttle - another great Denver sustainable transportation asset. I have become in short order a major champion - and user - of bike sharing.

And when, like in Philadelphia, a car is needed, I now use Car2Go (which has been in Denver for about 6 months), which I find for me a better fit than ZipCar. Even though I still have my ZipCar membership I have yet to use it in Denver. With Car2Go you use and pay for the car ONE-WAY. If I bike to work, but then need a car in the middle of the day to get to a meeting, I use Car2Go, pick up a car near my office, drive to the meeting, park the car, and I am done. When the meeting is over, I can either pick up the nearest Car2Go (which might be the same one if nobody else has claimed it) or depending on the location could walk or use B-cycle to wherever my destination is. Or if it is the end of the day, my wife might pick me up in the car on her way home, though she works just a couple of blocks from where we live, so this generally only happens if she is out and about in the car anyway for work or errands). Some days I will actually use my own car for the day, but that is increasingly rare, and generally when I have several back-to-back destinations that are very far apart.

Because it is so different from the usual car sharing programs like ZipCar, here is how Car2Go works: You sign up for the program and register a payment method, then you get a plastic card that has a chip embedded that allows the cars to recognize you. You check an "app" you have downloaded, and it shows you where all the nearby cars are. (They are all the little Smart ForTwo cars; the company is owned by Daimler, which makes the cars...) You pick the most convenient car and it reserves it for you for up to 30-minutes. You walk to the car - which in the core of the city is rarely more than few blocks away, sometimes just a few feet. Cars can be parked for free in almost any legal City parking spot. When you get to the car you hold your card to the window-mounted reader, it recognizes you and unlocks the doors. After answering a few questions and putting in a code on a data screen (that also serves as a GPS system), you start the car and drive to your destination. When you get to your destination you park the car, log out, hold the card to the windshield reader, and you are done. The charge currently is $.38/minute. If your drive took 10 minutes, you are billed $3.80, 20 minutes - $7.60. If you want to make sure the same car is available when you are finished with your appointment, you can take the ignition key with you and lock the car without "checking out". You just get charged for the time the car is waiting for your return ($13.99/hour max).

It takes some planning and some thought, but frankly this multi-system approach to transportation - walking, bike-share, car-share and only an occasional personal car trip - is very doable. And this is not just for 20-30 year-olds, an age bracket I am long removed from. Though it is true that Millennials as a generation are statistically much less enamored of our American car culture and are using alternative transportation, and living in cities where this lifestyle works best, at increasingly high rates.

An image from Philadelphia's artist-designed bike rack competition
So what does all this have to do with the arts? We must ensure that our programs and facilities are accessible to patrons using alternative modes of transportation! Are there enough bike racks at your theatre, museum or other type of cultural facility? Are there sufficient bike-sharing stations? If necessary could you sponsor the installation of more racks, a bike corral, or additional bike sharing capacity? Can you work to ensure Car2Go availability (or even taxi or Uber availability) when people leave the theatre or other evening event? Could you organize car-pooling from neighborhoods where there are many audience members, perhaps creating a matching area on your website? In Philadelphia we worked to launch an artist-designed bike rack program to add bike rack capacity while also adding to the city's public art collection and at least one of the arts was sponsored by a museum, and placed there to accommodate more bicycle transported visitors. Planning for easy use of alternative transportation should be a key part of cultural institution planning, and community availability of multiple transportation options should be part of your communications strategy as well. If your facility is largely accessible only by car, in a world where more and more people (and, yes, especially younger people) don't own cars you are adding yet another major roadblock to your efforts to expand your audiences. So don't just think about how to add a new parking lot or garage, think about how to facilitate those NOT driving their own car, and make it as easy as possible for them. You will help build younger audiences, and you might even get me too!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What Does "Effective Altruism" Mean For The Arts?

Winslow Homer's Lost on the Grand Banks, for which Bill Gates paid $36 million in 1998
A recent interview in the Financial Times with Bill Gates, that was widely quoted and shared in the media, including this piece in Hyperallergic, reported his equating of giving to a museum with blinding people. Seriously. Essentially he was citing the work of ethicist Peter Singer, whose work has fostered a new "effective altruism" movement, and posing the question that if a significant gift could prevent illnesses that lead to blindness, was giving that money instead to build a new wing of a museum effectively blinding people? [Gates] questions why anyone would donate money to build a new wing for a museum rather than spend it on preventing illnesses that can lead to blindness. “The moral equivalent is, we’re going to take 1 per cent of the people who visit this [museum] and blind them,” he says. “Are they willing, because it has the new wing, to take that risk? Hmm, maybe this blinding thing is slightly barbaric.”

Then in the recent issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, a cover story (apologies to non-subscribers - this article is behind a paywall) and several sidebar stories explore the "effective altruism" movement fostered by Singer (given a big boost by a TED talk earlier this year). The story notes the growing interest in this approach to philanthropy that has a special appeal to 20-somethings. One phenomenon of this is that young people literally calculate that they could do more good making lots of money in tech or finance, living frugally and giving much of it away, than they could actually devoting their careers to the nonprofit sector. This movement also takes a rigorous look at the world's most pressing problems and the cost of solving them. If the cost of saving one life in your home town/city could save a hundred lives in India or Africa, is "giving locally" a morally selfish act? Effective altruism adherents eschew the idea of "giving with your heart" and promote the idea of giving based on a careful analysis of where funds could have the greatest human impact, And, of course, as reflected in Gates's comments, this movement takes an especially dim view of cultural philanthropy. (Mostafa Heddaya, author of the Hyperallergic piece, points out the hypocrisy of Gates's position, given his massive investment in his own 66,000 s.f. home, nicknamed "Xanadu," and his art, which includes $36 million paid for Winslow Homer's "Lost on the Grand Banks" in 1998.)

This is not the first time, of course, that donors, ethicists, and pundits have associated arts giving with "the rich funding their personal cultural enjoyment at the expense of other worthier causes." In 2007 former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, in an LA Times opinion piece, called for changes in Federal  tax law to create different levels of deductibility based on how much a donation was truly serving a charitable purpose. Arts giving was not considered to qualify as fully charitable under these proposed guidelines. University giving was put into the same category as the arts. Reich's point - and he DOES make a good point - is that not enough people are giving to help the truly poor and needy. Does another $10,000 to Harvard's endowment really have the same social value as $10,000 going directly to feed the hungry?

What is scary about this trend for the arts is that "effective altruism" really resonates with young people, and it seems to make logical sense to a generation of data-driven young donors. Arts groups are already facing the challenge of how to make themselves relevant to a younger generation, many of whom have not had the benefit of a quality arts education. They also associate the arts with rich people, black tie galas, their parents and grandparents, stuffiness, "Euro-centric culture,"and grand edifices (Reich in his piece even refers to "arts palaces" as if the arts were only the province of the Czars). Much has been written about the massive multi-trillion dollar transfer of wealth we are in the midst of now, as the extraordinary wealth of many in the Boomer generation begins to be passed to their children, the Millennials. We are already seeing evidence of this next generation rejecting their parents and grandparents commitment to arts and culture, and steering their family philanthropy in different directions, often even selling their family art collection to raise more funds for philanthropy, rather than keeping it or donating it to a museum.

Don't get me wrong - there is a very good side to this movement. The developed world, America and Americans included, have not directed enough attention to solving the massive problems of the developing world. This was beautifully brought home in Tracy Kidder's moving profile of Paul Farmer and his work in Mountains Beyond Mountains. We may read heart-wrenching articles of poverty and devastation in places far away from us, but how much are we really giving to address these problems (outside of the surges generated by natural disasters like the recent Philippines tragedy)? Are we making personal sacrifices in our own lifestyle (luvurious by global standards) to dig deeper and give more?  Raising awareness of the need of those parts of the world with more resources to address these challenges is beneficial. And creating a culture of philanthropy in our young people is also a wonderful and welcome phenomenon. This passionate commitment to making the world a better place is extraordinary, and I see it in my 20-something daughters as well. Finally, basing giving on some rigorous analysis of impact and effectiveness has great value.

But here is my problem. This completely dispassionate assessment of philanthropic value does not allow for a holistic approach to what makes a healthy society. If everybody gave this way, we might be solving Third World crises at the expense of fostering crises right here at home, and rampant un-checked homelessness, poverty, public health challenges in America would ultimately damage our economy (nationally and locally) thus diminishing the capacity in the long term to help abroad. Not to mention, things that are important to our souls, that are fostered through the arts (beauty, emotion, understanding of other cultures, tolerance, inspiration, joy) can be very hard to sufficiently measure in a world of purely data-driven philanthropy.

It also assumes that the arts have no social value at all and creates an artificial "either/or" decision over where to give. It must be "both/and". There is a condescending undertone to this approach as well - unintentional - that assumes somehow that poor people need only their basic needs met, that they do not have the same right as other to the beauty and inspiration of the arts. I don't need to go into here all the reasons why the arts have value - but clearly we need to do a much better job communicating this to the "effective altruists." One of the many commenters on the Hyperallergic story put it this way: "The better way to argue the point is to think about ways that art and art appreciation may have a positive impact on the world. Those effects might include liberalization, highlighting the voice of marginalized groups, promoting tolerance and compassion, and breaking rigid mindsets. This might, in turn, lead to fewer wars, reduced persecution of minority groups, and even an increased involvement in other philanthropic endeavors. Might be a stretch, but it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility."

Years ago I remember Hildy Simmons, the former head of JP Morgan Private Bank's Global Foundations Group, talking about the need to approach philanthropy like a balanced investment portfolio, that every donor must find their own personal balance of causes, risk capital versus sustaining/operating capital, and that societally all these personal choices needed to balance out, with adequate support for the arts, education, human service, medicine and health care.

If we find that this next generation is less engaged as audience members and arts attenders, and also much less philanthropic towards the arts, and this does not change as they mature and grow into leadership roles in business and philanthropy, then the cultural life of our country is in for some very rocky decades ahead, and our nation and our communities will be immeasurably diminshed as a result.

Monday, November 4, 2013

National Innovation Summit for Arts + Culture - I Come to Praise Innovation Not to Bury It

October 20-23 Denver was host to the National Innovation Summit for Arts + Culture, organized by Emc Arts, locally sponsored by the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation, and nationally sponsored by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, James Irvine Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation. The roughly 250 participants included staff from organizations in several different communities such as Charlotte, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Minnesota/Dakotas, New York, Oregon, San Jose, St. Louis, the Bay Area and Washington DC.; as well as staff from funders in most of these cities. Participating organizations were chosen by their local funders, which also covered their cost of participating. Many of the organizations had already done some work with EmcArts locally on innovation and adaptive change. This was a unique opportunity to bring together arts leaders - management and artistic leadership - from many communities around the country, all grappling with challenges of how to build organizations and programs that best achieved their missions in the context of today's rapidly changing landscape.

The content consisted of interactive workshops, 27 succinct ("TED-style") talks followed by group discussion, arts experiences and participatory games designed to expand thinking and promote interaction. the Talks were streamed to a national/international audience of participants.

So how did this all go? Was it all worth it? Probably depends on whom you ask. Todd London of New Dramatists in New York City gave one of the talks - later published in a widely read and disseminated blog post - that essentially was a diatribe (albeit a very well-articulated one) on the very idea of the gathering and the "movement" to foster innovation in arts organizations: "Most of us [at New Dramatists] swing between incredulity and fury at the rampant spread of this innovation obsession in the arts. I come to bury innovation not to praise it. It signals another incursion on the arts by corporate culture, directive funders, and those who have drunk the Kool Aid of high tech hip and devotional entrepreneurism." He essentially admitted participating solely to potentially qualify for some funding and maybe connect with some colleagues but apparently saw no value at all in the conversation and in fact finds this focus on innovation to be destructive and also to be funder and consultant-driven.

So first of all I have to say while I highly respect Todd's intellect and thoughtfulness (and was delighted to see him again after many years), I think his talk was a wild over-reaction and a simplistic interpretation of what we were talking about. But it played well to the crowd (both live and on-line) and it always sounds good to say "art is good, artists are good, funders are bad, just give us the money to do what we do however we choose to do it." (Of course, now I am guilty of over-simplifying his comments...)

He cited as evidence of nefarious funder interference a Kellogg Foundation study that found that every nonprofit organization should have innovation as a core organizational competency, implying that Kellogg was recommending that an innovation bureaucracy be created along with development,. marketing, finance, etc. I do not think this was their intention at all. And of course there was hostility towards the trendiness, the "buzz-word" nature of innovation, following on the heels of "community engagement", "audience development", etc. What I think we are talking about with innovation - and demonstrated by virtually all the other presenters - is building the personal and institutional capacity to approach everything we do through a new lens, to adapt to changing demographics in ways that HELP our art reach and resonate with new audiences, to change our organizational systems to be responsive and nimble, to take risks, and learn lessons when they don't pan out. Maybe New Dramatists can survive doing things the same way they have always done them, or maybe they feel they are already engaged in all of this sort of work, but I think most organizations are finding that many of their old ways of operating simply don't work effectively anymore, and to best serve their missions, to best serve their art and artists, they must adapt. Look at Michael Kaiser's recent blog post, questioning whether we are moving towards an era where a handful of "mega-companies" in the performing arts will serve the world, and smaller, regional, organizations will go away. (I must note, since I have referenced Kaiser, that Todd in his remarks also cited a NY funder who required grantees to study with "turn-around king" and "high-paid macher" Kaiser before receiving funds - a practice I do not support...)

Funders are not driving this trend. Funders are reacting to changes in the environment, and doing their best to build supportive responses into their grantmaking. Maybe sometimes they are overprescriptive, but they are at least trying to be thoughtful about how they best advance the arts. About 18 months ago the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation created an Arts Innovation Fund designed to provide capital to organizations "developing new approaches to creating and presenting art, engaging new audiences, and strengthening financial sustainability." I don't think Wonderbound - a Denver dance company that used to be known as Ballet Nouveau, and one of the early major recipients of one of our Innovation Fund grants - would agree that we were a manipulative funder somehow forcing them to corrupt their artistic purity to conform to our idea of what they should be. I think - I hope - they would say that we were that rare funder that was willing to take a daring leap into the unknown with them, a vision of a ballet company that could be built around collaboration, community and extraordinary artistry.

There were many challenging strands to the conversation, beyond Todd's. Many participants also were concerned by the lack of diversity among the participants, and the small number of culturally-specific organizations. Others joined Todd in reacting against buzz-words, and consultant-speak, and the need to ensure artists are at the table and empowered in these conversations. This last point was especially well articulated by Carlton Turner of Alternate ROOTS in some summing up comments.

Hard to single out other speakers. Eric Booth was, as always, a masterful facilitator, helping us explore the complexity of assessing results of innovation. It was also great to have the equally strong facilitation skills of John McCann (the "mc" in Emc) on hand for the workshops and concluding synthesis sessions, as well as Emc's own Richard Evans. These sort of interactive conversations can collapse in the absence of strong facilitation/moderation. In the Talks, David Devan told the story of how Opera Philadelphia dramatically advanced its art, and its connection to community, by beginning with a plan for effective and appropriate capitalization. Other inspiring stories from organizations large and small: Shake38 from Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, the San Francisco Symphony's Community of Music Makers program, Mixed Blood Theatre of Minneapolis and what they dubbed "radical hospitality." And it is always a treat to hear Laura Zabel of Springboard for the Arts in St. Paul talk about their work which puts artists at the center of their work to build community. You can find all the streamed talks archived here. (And must cite the excellent behind the scenes work of Liz Dryer, the EmcArts staffer who had the often thankless role of coordinating all the details of the Summit.)

I, for one, came away inspired by all the - yes, I will say it - innovative work being done by organizations around the country, by the deep interaction with colleagues, grantee and grantor alike. (I was, of course, also thrilled that this gathering offered the opportunity to introduce so many colleagues to the extraordinary, creative city of Denver that is my new home.) I was challenged to think more deeply about how we truly commit to diversity, to engagement of artists in our organizations (not just as "the product"), and to the role of the funder in this work. I think EmcArts tried hard to stay away from the tired panel discussion/plenary structure of other conferences. I must admit I was a curmudgeon and unwilling participant in the "Games", but others seemed to enjoy them, and they helped break up the intense focus of the rest of the program. The Summit ended with an attempt to summarize the conversations into a "Manifesto" - a document that might organize some "principles to guide adaptive change" and be shared widely. The closing session gave the group a chance to react to this effort which really - and appropriately - was organized around many questions we must ask ourselves, as opposed to a "recipe" for innovation. I am sure EmcArts will share some of the outcomes once they all recover and process. And finally, as only he can do, Ben Cameron of Doris Duke, wrapped things up with some inspiring words that truly connected innovation to art, artists and community.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An Extraordinary Fellowship Program - Extraordinary Leaders

I have just returned from the annual Livingston Fellows Retreat, a component of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation 9-year-old Livingston Fellowship Program, and can't resist posting a quick summary of my reaction/perceptions.

This program was launched nine years ago in honor of Johnston R. Livingston, who was Chairman Emeritus of the Foundation, and passed away in 2008. He had a personal passion for leadership in the nonprofit sector, and was deeply invested in this program. Even as the Foundation has shifted its grantmaking entirely to arts and culture this year, there is a steadfast commitment to retaining the larger nonprofit sector reach of this program, including arts as well as other nonprofit leaders. I believe this is extremely healthy as it integrates arts leaders into larger conversations about leadership, making a difference in our community, balancing personal and professional obligations etc.  These problems are not "special" in the arts and benefit from being part of a larger conversation and network. Read Laura Zabel's great and provocative blog post on why "artists are ordinary."

So exactly what happens in the Livingston Fellowship program, and why do I think it is pretty unique and special? Each year, five Colorado nonprofit leaders (most from the Denver area) - generally executive directors who are mid-career - are selected to participate through a nomination process. They are given consulting time with a leadership consultant as well as an organizational psychologist, AND a commitment of $25,000 towards the execution of a personal, customized leadership advancement plan. The class of fellows then comes together in a retreat to share their early thinking about the goals and basic outlines of their plan, guided by Foundation staff and a consultant, but largely sharing and learning peer-to-peer. Following this they develop a formal plan that is then reviewed and approved by the Foundation, with a two year window for completion. The plans vary as much as one individual varies from another. There is an inherent recognition that sometimes to grow as leaders we need to grow as human beings, so plans may involve efforts to get "out of the comfort zone" - learning a new skill, sport, hobby or artistic practice; they may involve traditional executive coaching or seminars and conferences; they may involve travel, whether for self-exploration, or to be exposed to new cultures and languages.

And like a good approach to strategic planning, the Foundation has always recognized that sometimes plans need to change mid-stream, so there is an openness to revisions along the way - and many if not most are revised.

Livingston fellows (l-r) Erin Pulling, Project Angel Heart (2010), Chip Walton, Curious Theatre (2005), Sharon Knight, Warren Village (2012), Mike Yankovich, Chidren's Museum of Denver (2011) Heather Lafferty, Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver (2013)
It is clear that participation in the program has had a profound impact on the participants, creating a diverse nonprofit leadership cohort in Denver like I have seen in no other City. Part of the effectiveness of the program is that the participation does not end with the completion of one's Fellowship plan. No, once accepted in the program you are part of a "club" that just keeps growing ever year. A regular series of lunches is held with special guest speakers or issue discussion topics. And each year the ENTIRE group of all current and past fellows are invited to gather for a retreat, which is what took place last week. In the end, about 1/2 - 2/3 of all Fellows participated, still pretty remarkable given that they were committing to two days and nights out of the office and away from family, in some cases nine years distant from their original fellowship experience.

And because all the fellows have in common having gone through the fellowship process, which forces deep self-examination, merging personal and professional issues, the level of openness, sharing and trust among the group is striking. Participation in the retreat becomes for many, I think, a way to reconnect with that journey they went on through the fellowship, and to keep that striving to be the best leaders - and human beings - that they can be, part of their life and daily practice, not something that fades like an old photograph.

As the "new guy" I have the opportunity to engage in some tweaks to the Fellowship program going forward, to look at it with fresh eyes, and with ten years coming up I am sure we will do a ten year assessment. I do hope, for example, to add to our Web site some of the stories of the Fellows experiences and learnings that could be shared. That said, I want to take this opportunity to say how honored I am to now lead a Foundation that could create and sustain a program like this - it is a gift to me and the community from my predecessor, Dorothy Horrell, from the consultant on the program Jesse King, from the Bonfils-Stanton Board, and most of all from John Livingston.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Go West Young Man - Heading to Denver!

As some may have already heard, I have been appointed the new President and Chief Executive Officer of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation in Denver, Colorado. I am so excited about taking on this new challenge but, of course, sorry to be leaving my friends and colleagues here in Philadelphia. Here is the link to the City of Philadelphia press release, and to the Foundation release. Someone congratulated me with the quote "Go West Young Man", which I took as a reference to Horace Greeley who coined the term. He meant it as a reference to the Pet Shop Boys Song, which somehow passed me by completely. (Well, I know how it passed me by - I have a 90's popular culture black hole from the era when I was parenting two young children!)

I feel proud of my accomplishments in Philadelphia as Chief Cultural Officer and director of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, and feel that I am leaving a strong legacy, and a great team in place. I will also be staying in my position through October 1 so I will able to work with the Mayor, Chief of Staff, and Joe Kluger, Chairman of the Mayor's Cultural Advisory Council, on what I am confident will be a smooth and successful transition process.

One of the highlights of my work here in Philadelphia has been helping to bring to the City the Knight Arts Challenge and working closely with both national Knight Arts staff and the local program staff on the successful implementation of this three-year $9 million commitment to the city's arts community. Its impact has been extraordinary, helping to support some really inspiring work.

A few other things I am most proud of are the establishing of a City Hall Art Gallery; the creation of City Hall Presents - a performing arts series in the City Hall Courtyard, funded by the Knight Arts Challenge; the launch of CultureBlocks, an innovative creative asset data mapping tool; distribution of $500,000 in CDBG-R funds to help in the construction of creative workspace facilities; creating a City celebration of Jazz Month and International Jazz Day; establishing a City Poet Laureate and Youth Poet Laureate program; and helping to craft an execute with many partners the "With Art" tourism promotion campaign.

And, of course, there are the countless hard to quantify accomplishments - guiding/advising/assisting arts organizations and creative enterprises in their efforts to both work with City government and stretch their capacities and innovate; also making matches and connections. Some of these are small things, and sometimes small things can lead to truly important accomplishments. Such as suggesting to Jane Golden and Mural Arts that they explore working with Haas and Hahn, the Dutch artists previously best known for their work in the Favelas of Brazil. Mural Arts was able to get them to Philadelphia for an amazing project on Germantown Avenue, Philly Painting, that has garnered international acclaim and was recently selected as one of the top public art projects in the US for 2012 by the Americans for the Arts "Public Art Year in Review." (Thanks, AGAIN, to a grant from the Knight Arts Challenge...). Great video about the project here, and a GREAT case study just published, available here. It was also a highlight when Philadelphia was chosen the #1 city for Culture in America by Travel + Leisure's annual poll in 2011.

The Bonfils-Stanton Foundation has been a significant supporter of the arts in Denver, and I am looking forward to working with the Board to build on this strong foundation and develop strategies for how the Foundation can help the Denver arts community grow and innovate. I am also excited that the Foundation is deeply involved in efforts to develop and  nurture leadership within Denver's nonprofit sector, an area of great interest to me.

Here is some more information in the Foundation:

About Bonfils-Stanton Foundation
Founded in 1962 by Charles Edwin Stanton, the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation was initially funded from the sale of Belmar Farms in Lakewood, the current site of the Belmar Library and Belmar “downtown neighborhood”. The Foundation Trustees carry on Mr. Stanton’s legacy through financial investments that support, enrich, and elevate art and culture in Colorado.
In 1984, the Foundation established the Annual Awards Program to honor distinguished Coloradans making unique and significant contributions in the fields of Art and Culture, Community Service, and Science and Medicine. The Livingston Fellowship Program, launched in 2005, provides advanced learning and professional development opportunities for high potential nonprofit leaders. National Philanthropy Day honored the Foundation as the 2007 Foundation of the Year in Colorado. Since its founding, the Foundation has distributed over $54 million in charitable contributions. More information is available at

Even though I began this blog at the beginning of my tenure in Philadelphia, I hope to continue to contribute to it in my new role. (Perhaps I will modify the name to avoid confusion with the Office in Philly). Stay tuned!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Drive Carefully" - Commencement Speech to CAPA Graduates

On June 19th I delivered a commencement address to the graduating class of Philadelphia's High School of the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA). A number of people asked me to post it. Text is below...

Greetings everyone, Principal Whaley, parents, students, faculty and all special guests. I am Gary Steuer, the Chief Cultural Officer for the City of Philadelphia, and I run the City’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy.
It is my great honor to be here to today to celebrate these outstanding graduates, the best creative young people that our City can produce.
Being a part of this program has a special resonance for me. While I did not go to CAPA, or even grow up in Philadelphia, I can relate to all of the students graduating today. That is because I graduated from LaGuardia High School for the Arts in New York City, which is the equivalent of CAPA in New York. In fact I graduated 40 years ago, almost to the day. So I was in your shoes a long time ago. I also had the honor of representing the Mayor to greet you on the first day of school of 2009 when you first arrived at CAPA, and I feel like being here to send you off is completing the circle.
So my high school years were also spent balancing academia and art, and the school was filled with aspiring visual artists, dancers, musicians, and actors. But the reality is that only a relatively small percentage of the graduates actually went into the arts as their primary career. I am sort of the exception.
My fellow graduates went into such diverse professions as law, social work, business, teaching, and healthcare. But whatever we did, our experience as artists shaped who we were – made us more creative, better collaborators, more disciplined – that is what making art teaches you.
AND some graduates did go into the arts, including the for-profit commercial arts, becoming film producers, graphic designers, architects and recording engineers. And yes, some even became working artists, actors, dancers and musicians. And at least one became this weird thing called a Chief Cultural Officer.
The reality is that when you look at the creative sector as a larger economic sector that includes for-profit and nonprofit businesses, the sector employs 50,000 people in Philadelphia, making it the fourth largest employment industry sector in the City, behind only health care, education and retail. So let me put it bluntly: there ARE jobs out there in the real world for you when you are finished with college.
And when researchers study what businesses are looking for in new employees, they find business is looking for exactly the sort of skills and qualities that the arts foster in us. So a powerful grounding in making art, any kind of art, makes you better at whatever you do, even if professional art-making ends up not being where you end up.
For me, it was a very roundabout road that led me to where I am today, and I thought it might be helpful to share a bit of my career path.
I wanted to go to a BFA art conservatory training program for college, but my folks really wanted me to get a liberal arts degree. They had the money so guess who won that battle? But I have to say, maybe they were right. While doing my undergraduate training, I still took lots of studio art courses, but I found myself also studying, acting, directing, literature, and political science.
I ended up doing an internship for a United States Congressman that turned into a job. Through pure chance it turned out the Congressman’s chief of staff had a friend who worked at the museum of Modern Art who needed some extra help.  So I moonlighted at MoMA and realized that there were actually lots of jobs at place like museums – doing fundraising, marketing, finance, etc. – not just being a curator or an artist. For me it was sort of like that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Toto pulls back the curtain and you learn that the Wizard of Oz is just an ordinary man. I learned the magic of the arts is fueled by lots of people with real jobs not making art, but making arts organizations run. So I went back to school to get a Masters in Arts Management.
That led eventually to running theatre companies and also working on producing commercial productions on and off Broadway. For a while – when I had young children of my own and working the long hours of running a theatre company was more difficult – I also ran a funding department of the New York State Council on the Arts. And then for about a dozen years I was President and CEO of a national organization called the Arts & Business Council that promotes mutually-beneficial partnership between the arts and business. That group then merged with another national organization called Americans for the Arts.
And then Mayor Nutter, after he was first elected, persuaded me that there was an exciting opportunity here in Philadelphia to help transform this great City through the creative energy of the arts and creative enterprise, running this new thing he created called the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. It has been unbelievably rewarding to be a part of the Renaissance that has been taking place in this City over the past 5 years, despite the tough economy.  Reversing a 50 year population decline, doubling the percentage of college graduates who choose to STAY in the City after they graduate. Fostering a creative sector that generates well over $3 billion economic impact AND PRODUCES 50,000 creative jobs.
BUT, and there is a big but, and one that many of the students and parents know all too well. This City certainly still has some pretty serious challenges. It is still the poorest big city in America, with many neighborhoods filled with people who have trouble finding jobs, hope and opportunity. We have a School District that cannot afford to sustain the level of education that our children, families and citizens – and our administrators and teachers – know MUST be provided to our young people if they are to have quality educational opportunity. And we know that education – not just for kids lucky enough to go to CAPA, MUST include arts education if we are going to produce graduates ready for the 21st Century workforce.
So here is my charge to you: Go out and train as artist if that is where your heart and ambition takes you: make art, act, sing, dance. And if your education, passions or chance, take you away from a life as a practicing artist, bring your creativity and innovation FROM the arts to whatever you choose to study or whatever field you choose to work in. And find a way to continue to make the arts a part of your life: play in a band on the side, sing in a chorus, have an art studio in your garage, go to shows, volunteer for an arts group. There are so many ways you can make this – what you have done here at CAPA – a part of the entire rest of your life.
Finally, be a part of figuring out how to improve our communities, our City, how to solve these seemingly intractable problems. It has taken a few generations for us – the grown-ups – to make lots of decisions that have gotten us to where we are now. It is likely to take a few generations of smart, dedicated folks – like you - making the right decisions to get us out of these troubles. It is not going to be easy. But if YOU dedicate yourself to this work, I feel confident that your children will live in an even better City than we are giving to you. So I guess I am, metaphorically, giving YOU the keys to the City.
Drive carefully.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Creative Asset Data Mapping - CultureBlocks launches!

First off, let me apologize for having been so remiss in my blogging activities the past few months. I have tried to keep up with my social networking connections, so I have not disappeared entirely from the digital universe, but I have dropped the ball on my blog. No excuses other than the usual: work, kids, STUFF.

So what momentous news has lured me back to the blogosphere? It is the launch of an exciting new project this week in Philadelphia: CultureBlocks. Click this link for the press release announcing the project. And here is a link to a one-sheeter describing the project.

CultureBlocks is a web-based mapping tool that has built into it over 50 different types of data that can be layered onto a map of Philadelphia in infinite ways. The project was initiated by the City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy along with several core partners: The Reinvestment Fund, the Social Impact of the Arts Project of the University of Pennsylvania (SIAP), and the City's Commerce Department. We have been working on this for about three years, from the very beginning of the idea stage.

A few months ago, ArtPlace held a Creative Placemaking Summit in Miami, and as part of that conference produced a quick Pecha Kucha-style video presentation on each funded project. Here is the video on CultureBlocks. If you are "visual learner" it might be a good alternative way to get an overview.

The data comes from the City (many different agencies), Federal Census data, from SIAP, and from a host of data partners, like the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. There is such cultural/creative data as locations of nonprofit cultural organizations, nonprofit (non-arts) orgs and even unincorporated entities that have cultural programs, for-profit creative businesses, where individual artists live, creative workspace facilities, and where cultural audiences are distributed. There is information on demographics - age, race, gender, income, education levels, etc. There is data on location of public transportation routes (including bike lanes), commercial corridors, CDBG eligibility, land use, locations of schools, parks and rec centers, and a host of other community assets and characteristics.

This new tool has already received pretty wide media coverage, including in the Philadelphia Business Journal, Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY-Newsworks, Associated Press, Next City, Hidden City, The Art Blog,  Philebrity, the Philadelphia City Planning Blog, and Metro. Actually, all coverage has also been organized into one Storify site you can access here

So what does this actually look like and how do you use it?  Here are a few screenshots that should provide a flavor of how it works, but really the best thing is to click on some of the links above to get background information and media coverage, and then to dive in and begin playing with the tool yourself.

We believe this is a really robust (if admittedly sometimes overwhelming to beginning users) resource, and will be a tool to inform City policy, to help guide philanthropic decisions, to help individual arts organizations and creative businesses use data to make location-based decisions. It will also be a great tool for research and learning, to be used by Social Impact of the Arts Project at Penn as well as others.  I suspect people will use it in ways we have not even anticipated.

So, above is more or less what you see when you first enter the site. There are three ways to use the data. Explore pretty much allows you to poke around and use all the different data sets, either for the whole City, or for a specific geographical area. Profile is a pre-designed report feature that for any selected geographic area (neighborhood, zip code, etc.) can produce a simple, easy profile of the creative assets and demographics of that area. Match helps a user find an area of the City that matches up to three criteria that can be designated, such as, "I would like to know which areas of the City have low income, low cultural/creative resources, and availability of schools, libraries and rec centers." This search might be done by an arts education provider looking to reach an underserved community, but also hoping for available facilities and partners that could help deliver arts education programs.

Here is an example of what an Explore results screen might look like. In this case mapping the whole City for concentrations of cultural participation by block group. Darker blue indicates highest levels of participation.

Above is a sample Match screen, showing the result of a query looking for areas of high cultural participation rates, high resident artists concentration in walking distance, and ethnic diversity.

And below is a sample Profile results screen, in this case for the University City neighborhood:

So, I encourage you to explore CultureBlocks, whether you are in Philadelphia or somewhere else in the country, or even the world. We hope it will not only serve our local community, but also be a model for replication in other communities.  If you tweet about CultureBlocks we ask that you use the  #CultureBlocks hashtag so we can follow the conversation! And feel free to comment here with your thoughts, or email us directly.

A big thanks to the funders, the National Endowment for the Arts, and ArtPlace, without whom this could not have been created; and to Philadelphia's Deputy Cultural Officer Moira Baylson, who has led this project from the beginning.