Heritage preservation and the arts

by Jini Stolk

Matera is a beautiful city in southern Italy, whose Romanesque cathedral overlooks a deep ravine lined with ancient cave dwellings, which may have been human settlements from as long ago as 7,000 B.C. These sassi were inhabited until the 1960’s when their unhealthy living conditions and poverty became known as “the shame of Italy” and their inhabitants were forcefully relocated. Officials planned to destroy the sassi but recently artists, artisans, internet start-ups and a few restaurants and boutique hotels began reviving these stunning and remarkable neighbourhoods. Matera was recently declared the European Capital of Culture for 2019.

matera

Craco is another smaller town in the southern Italian region of Basilicata. Like Matera it’s built on a steep summit, in cascading levels joined by narrow and precipitous stairways. Unlike Matera, its ancient storefronts, houses and palaces have settled into decay following disastrous landslides in the mid-1900s. Complicated ownership issues make the repairs and upkeep that could have saved the town impossible. Craco is, heartbreakingly, returning to rubble.

I mention these things because Toronto still hasn’t recognized in any meaningful way that Toronto’s cultural organizations are its most important heritage caretakers. Toronto has no policy of support for renovating or upgrading even City-owned heritage cultural spaces even though the City’s balance sheet benefits from any increase to these buildings’ value. This shows a lack of appreciation as well as a lack of imagination about the advantages of filling Toronto with lively arts centres in beautifully restored heritage buildings.

Tafelmusik, Young People’s Theatre, Factory Theatre, Toronto Dance Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille and the Theatre Centre, among many others, have renovated and revived former churches, industrial or municipal buildings – which have been reborn for public use thanks to arts companies. Through their hard work and the work of their volunteer boards and capital campaign committees, arts organizations have brought significant government and private funds into saving neighbourhood heritage spaces, and into the improvement of City-owned heritage assets (saving the City millions in long-term maintenance and capital improvement costs, by the way.)

Partners for Sacred Places in the States, notes that “Across America, many places of worship suffer from declining attendance…and the burdens of aging, under-maintained, and over-scaled places of worship.” The solution, increasingly, is to open the doors of older churches and invite artists and nonprofit arts organizations—many of whom have neither the need nor the resources to own real estate—to share these “hallowed spaces, breaking down barriers with neighbors and paying the heating bills.”

I recently spoke with Alex Corey, a Canadian graduate student pursuing a Master’s degree in historic preservation at Columbia University. His thesis was about the lack of tools and support to non-profit organizations in Canada – as compared to those available in the US and UK – to acquire surplus federal heritage buildings. Alex has proposed that transferring underused heritage buildings to nonprofit organizations should be a recognized heritage conservation activity, which would likely result in the buildings being better preserved than if they were sold to a private individual or organization. Brian Anthony, former ED of the Heritage Canada Foundation, wrote in a recent Letter to the Editor in the Globe and Mail: “Canada does not have an enviable track record of preserving its built heritage…The federal government’s best architectural gift to us all for Canada 150 would be the tax incentives and regulatory safeguards to preserve our built heritage for future organizations.”

The Ontario Nonprofit Network’s submission to the Province’s Advisory Group on Community Hubs (which have great potential to provide space for groups of cultural/non-profit organizations), contained many excellent recommendations including that each hub’s purpose and design should emerge from the needs and priorities of local communities; that a hubs framework should address the need for predictable and sustainable capital investment; that the Province should expand the surplus public lands registry (operated by ONN for nonprofits) to include surplus lands from the broader public sector, including school boards; that the province should support school boards, municipalities, and the nonprofit sector to work together on long-term planning for the use of school space; and that the province should institute a program to transfer heritage properties to community nonprofits. These would all be wonderful initiatives. Here’s hoping.

In the meantime:

Toronto arts groups seeking to renovate or repair their heritage spaces now have access to the well-used and invaluable Culture Build Investment Program, which granted around $330,000 in 2015 to help bring cultural facilities closer to a state of good repair. Toronto Heritage Grants offer small grants to help preserve heritage buildings.

The Toronto Arts Council’s Animating Historic Sites and Museums Program, now in its second year, provides wonderful opportunities for artists to animate five Toronto heritage sites and the Royal Ontario Museum, bringing together art, history and historic built form.

ArtsBuild’s Bricks&Mortar database houses the profiles, needs and plans of arts organizations and their facilities across the province.

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Fear of advocacy

by Jini Stolk

When one of the non-profit sector’s most authoritative online journals covers the Canada Revenue Agency’s “intrusive and damaging audits” of certain nonprofits you know you’re in trouble.

The Nonprofit Quarterly’s story Newspapers protest attack-by-audit of Canadian charities notes that as many as 52 charitable organizations had come under CRA scrutiny by the end of 2014, thanks to special funding ($13.4 million through 2019) to enforce rules limiting charities’ “political” or “partisan activity”.

This may have been news in the States, but not to those of us who’ve been following the stream of stories and exhaustive reports about the defunding, delisting, and auditing of Canadian charities – many which had been critical of government policies and perspectives. The Watershed one of PANAMANIA’s signature presentations, explores the closing of a federally funded, internationally renowned freshwater research station and the impossibility of getting anyone in government to go on record about the reasons.

And so we wonder…and worry…and fear the consequences of speaking out. I’ve seen highly intelligent, informed and progressive board members helping to institute policies that curb their organizations’ voice on issues core to their missions. I’ve known boards to worry about the funding repercussions of presenting politically-themed works of art.

Admittedly, part of a board’s “duty of care” is to ensure that their charity’s actions don’t lead inexorably to being shut down by the CRA – but isn’t self-censoring abandoning our role as an alternative voice to that of power or perceived truths?

It can be very persuasively argued that advocacy is an essential board responsibility. BoardSource’s new edition of its classic Ten Basic Responsibilities of Nonprofit Boards just added advocacy to their list, arguing that our missions are too important to sit on the sidelines; we – experts in the field on issues that matter deeply to society’s future – are the people decision-makers need to hear from.

Let’s figure out exactly what we’re dealing with. CRA has set out its understanding of political activities in its published policy CPS-022, which acknowledges that Canadian charities have experience, expertise and ideas that should be used to help government develop better public policies and programs. Imagine Canada has written a clear and helpful piece differentiating between permitted activities, like public awareness campaigns; partisan political activities, that are strictly forbidden; and limited political activities, that should take up no more than 10% of a charity’s resources. Limited political activity, which is much more circumscribed than in most other jurisdictions:

  • explicitly communicates a call to political action (that is, encourages the public to contact an elected representative or public official and urge them to retain, oppose, or change the law, policy, or decision of any level of government in Canada or a foreign country);
  • explicitly communicates to the public that such laws, policies, or decisions should be retained, opposed, or changed;
  • explicitly indicates in internal or external materials that the intention of the activity is to incite, or organize to put pressure on an elected representative or public official to retain, oppose, or change any such laws, policies, or decisions; or
  • involves the making of gifts to qualified donees intended for political activities.

Law firm Miller Thomson’s non-profit and charitable wing has clearly outlined what you should do to keep track of political activities, and what to do if you are faced with an audit in which your percentage of political activities might be under question.

Remember that the CRA leaves plenty of room for charities to analyze issues that affect our communities; communicate with and inform elected and government officials; and let people know where elected officials stand on issues as indicated by their public statements or voting records (as ArtsVote does so well). Also note that these rules only apply to charities, not nonprofit organizations, and might be another incentive to forming non-charitable organizations (like the Ontario Nonprofit Network) and unincorporated coalitions to tackle crucial issues.

As for arts organizations who are struggling to maintain the power and freedom of their voice, I think I’ll refer (again!) to the Pope who, in his recent passionate calls for economic justice, fairness, equity and dignity, has been described by the ED of the Institute for New Economic Thinking as “singing to the music that’s already in the air. And that’s a good thing. That’s what artists do…”

 

Further reading:

Five Good Ideas about Registered Charities and Political Activities

Canadian charities and political activities: Keeping room temperature in a chilly environment – Part one

CRA and the Political Activities Audit – an Update

The International Rise of Philanthropic Protectionism 

 

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Death and taxes

by Jini Stolk

Nothing, it is said, can be certain except death and taxes but I wonder how often anyone has spoken to you, as an artist or arts manager, about wills and inheritance. That’s what I thought: never.

I mention this because friends recently inherited a beautiful collection of paintings left by an artist in their family. The line of inheritance was somewhat complicated, and they’ve been through a seemingly endless series of legal procedures to establish clear ownership.

SimplyWills.ca (a project of Social Enterprise Advocates) just wrote a post about artists’ wills which makes the important point that “Creative people (not just artists but designers, inventors and company founders) have creative output, whether a drawing, sonata, patent or brand, which are a particular kind of assets” more ethereal, in some cases, than works on canvas or paper but subject to financial valuation, taxation and possible dispute.

We all know that The Martha Graham Dance Company went through “years of darkness and litigation” after her death – but choreographers can now access the Dance Heritage Coalition’s Artist’s Legacy Toolkit to clarify their creative holdings and legacy intentions.

In Canada we have exceptional archival organizations like DanceCollectionDanse and Theatre Museum Canada to preserve collections, and Archives and Special Collections at York University (mostly dance) and University of Guelph (mostly theatre) hold excellent and fascinating personal and organizational materials – including, at Guelph, Creative Trust’s complete archives.

Now, pension deductions and taxes: that’s another thing entirely, although some fine people love taxes because they’re so clearly essential to the public good. Artists can still be remarkably like the Grasshopper in Aesop’s fable, who had to beg some industrious ants for help because he’d been too busy playing music to store up food for winter. That story didn’t end well, but not all of us have changed our music-playing, art-making behaviors as a result.

There’s lots of information (including from the U.S. and Australia) about the difficulties artists have in finding sustainable employment. Meanwhile, Actors’ Equity in Los Angeles is still fighting with stage performers who oppose minimum wage requirements for very small theatres because they don’t want to risk losing professional development and exposure opportunities.

The Ontario Nonprofit Network knows that nonprofit workers, who usually don’t have workplace pension plans and often work on part-time, casual, and short-term contracts, have a hard time saving for retirement. ONN has been supportive of Bill 56, which provides a legal framework for an Ontario Retirement Pension Plan (ORPP)  because “We know it will increase compensation costs in the sector, but we also know that our sector’s workers deserve retirement income security after dedicating their working lives to serving the public good. “ ONN is trying to ensure that non-profit employees, employers, and self-employed are recognized and protected in the upcoming plan. For updates and high level pension discussion, register for the 2015 ONN Conference.

ONN is also recommending that nonprofits participate in the Boland Survey – the only source of comprehensive Canadian labour market and compensation data for the nonprofit sector. Survey results are only made available to participating organizations, and reports including salary ranges, pension contributions, overtime, turnover, training budgets and more, are priced by annual operating budget. You can sign up to participate at www.bolandsurvey.com, until Sept. 1, 2015.

Also. Performing artists can now come together to learn business and professional skills through the recently formed IRCPA: check out their interesting and informative workshop series.

 

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Earn more money

by Jini Stolk

Let’s forget about phrases like “up-sell” and “cross-sell”, although they’re scattered liberally throughout a 7-minute Audience View video I like. Let’s think instead about how we can boost sales and income by putting ourselves in the shoes of our audience members when they’re buying tickets.

Since EVERY performing arts organization is a social enterprise (i.e., we engage in selling tickets and other items not to make a profit but to continue making art that has an impact on human and social well-being) each sale we make advances our mission. Thus we should be devoting a lot of creative energy towards making the most of each online sale in a way that’s sensitive to what our audiences want and need.

The video is filled with I-wish-I’d-thought-of-that ideas that can be as useful, with some imaginative adaptations, for small and mid-size companies as for the large houses the video uses as examples. Here are a few ideas I thought of:

  • instead of making people line up to buy a glass of wine at intermission, or making them line up before the show to order that drink, how about giving ticket-buyers the chance to pre-order a drink that can be picked up quickly and easily during intermission
  • helping people plan their evenings by adding links on your ticket ordering pages to the reservation sites of a few fabulous local restaurants – this could also secure some great new sponsorships
  • giving people the opportunity to purchase your beautiful t-shirts/carry bags when they order tickets – this should be de rigueur during the holiday season, but who knows when an audience member is searching for that perfect gift for someone special
  • letting them know about your plans to upgrade your theatre space, and giving all ticket buyers the opportunity to make a contribution to their own and others’ enjoyment of your lobby, washrooms, etc.

Of course we don’t want to force people through a thicket of hard-sell merchandising when they mostly want to pay for and get their tickets. But “leaving money on the table” is fundraising’s most egregious sin, and I wonder if it’s not just as big a problem in sales. I’m hoping to see a few elegantly or amusingly phrased, customer service-minded new options next time I order tickets.

Here’s another piece that offers useful advice to arts marketers. The National Endowment for the Arts recently posted a three-part blog series by Sara Leonard (part one is here , with links to parts two and three), unpacking their 2015 research on barriers and motivations to arts attendance for marketing staff faced with interpreting these findings in a practical way. It’s one thing for people (like me) to say we should learn from large audience surveys to reach our own audiences in more effective ways . These posts tell us how.

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Toronto Arts Stats

by Jini Stolk

In a wonderful follow-up to 2014’s Toronto Arts Facts the Toronto Arts Foundation and research partner Leger just released a new set of stats about how Torontonians feel about the arts.

We can be proud at the virtually unanimously positive perceptions Toronto residents have about the arts – from a way to attract tourists, improve the economy, create employment and make the city more beautiful – and how much they value the personal benefits for themselves and their children.

Toronto Arts Foundation Director and CEO Claire Hopkinson provided the deeper context in which to view the research’s insights into the connection between the people of Toronto and the arts. In her remarks at this year’s Mayors Arts Lunch, she talked about the event as a “conversation curated between, and among artists, patrons, political leaders and city builders about Toronto, where we are now, where we’re going and how we can work together to make this the best possible city.” “Once art reaches the public realm”, she continued, “it often leads to positive change…for the individual who experiences it and beyond that in a widening circle of understanding, of compassion and tolerance. Art connects individuals to ideas, to each other and to community.”

In her experience, as in mine, artists and their supporters love the city and are consciously contributing to city building through their work. “As a sector that excels in building platforms to engage, connect and create, I believe that the arts are a real part of the solution” to our many complex civic challenges, she concluded.

Hear hear.

There were many fascinating findings in this year’s Arts Stats; these are some of my favorites:

71% of respondents regularly attend the arts (although I would add that the dance community should take a look at how to build excitement and audience engagement with its work); there was a call from residents for community-based arts hubs (which could be part of the Province of Ontario’s new Community Hubs initiative; 26% of Torontonians are engaged in the arts beyond attendance; childhood arts experiences – as we’ve learned again and again – stick with us and can change our lives; artists are not perceived as elitists in Toronto, but as important contributors to our neighbourhoods and quality of life; cost is still holding people back from attendance at arts events; and the #1 personal benefit people identified is that the arts expose them to new ideas (this is hugely important in a multi-cultural city like ours). And, oh joy, 74% of respondents feel that artists’ work has value and should be appropriately compensated.

More facts and figures

The Ontario Arts Council highlighted results from Statistics Canada’s “Provincial and Territorial Culture Satellite Account, 2010” report, which measures the contribution of culture to the Ontario economy:

  • Arts, culture and heritage products represent $21.9 billion of the province’s gross domestic product (GDP) and over 278,800 jobs.
  • Ontario’s arts, culture and heritage sector represents $23.8 billion or 4 % of the province’s GDP and over 301,000 jobs.

WolfBrown’s literature review for Arts Council England, Understanding the Value and Impacts of Cultural Experiences, compiles the major international research on the “intrinsic” value of cultural experiences.

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Boards and succession

by Jini Stolk

BoardConnect, an organization out of Sydney, Australia “dedicated to providing advice, support and skill-development for the boards of non-profit organizations,” has been posting some useful materials on LinkedIn, including this check list on Board Recruitment and Succession Planning.

I know BoardConnect through its founder David Fishel who’s been working long and hard to fill a need, recognized here by the Toronto Arts Council/Toronto Arts Foundation: if we want to strengthen non-profit arts organizations, we should be providing skills, knowledge and support to their board members. We all have great hopes and expectations of our volunteer boards and board members are eager to make a real difference, but with all the embarrassment of riches on the topic of governance, there’s a dearth of practical, usable materials for boards to learn from.

I like the simplicity of documents like this model board succession plan and this board profile worksheet from BoardConnect. The latter should help boards avoid the embarrassment of being profiled in the Toronto Star as being In Dire Need of Diversity. It’s really too late in the game for a Toronto arts organization to be caught out with 36 out of 36 board members who are white, or a board that’s overwhelmingly male.

Note that Germany recently became the latest country to legislate the percentage of board seats of its largest corporations that must be filled by women. Please let’s make these changes before we’re forced to (and while we’re at it, let’s answer Kelly Thornton’s International Women’s Day call to turn the tides of gender inequity on our stages.)

Diversity on boards – which can encompass age, experience in for profit or non-profit sectors, place of residence, country of origin, and many other considerations – is beyond all else a necessity of good governance. Nonprofit Quarterly (whose 4-part webinar series on Executive Transitions I’m sorry I missed) just opened up another line of thinking about succession planning in this piece with its challenge to all of us to “Shift the framework for succession planning to deep sustainability.”

Quoting from a new study by Third Sector New England, it says “It is time to change how the sector thinks about and approaches succession planning. Succession planning is not just about preparing for an individual leader transition; nor should it be viewed as a technical fix or a transactional exercise. Rather, it is about ensuring organizational sustainability by identifying and addressing key vulnerabilities so that the organization is not dependent on any one leader, funder, strategy, or way of thinking…”

Even more, it calls on us to “Shift the vision for governance.” “The expectations and responsibilities of boards need to shift in favor of governance over fundraising, and that means developing a shared vision for the organization, along with strategies to implement that vision, achieving operational excellence, and, yes, finding the resources to support the work. A short-term focus on fundraising undermines long-term sustainability and leads to continued dissatisfaction between leaders and their boards…This shift means improved communication about roles and priorities to be able to move forward with a shared vision…, a shared understanding of how to achieve it, and shared accountability. Mutual understanding will help organizations be more sustainable and responsive, develop a healthy culture, and serve their communities more effectively.”

How? “Shift the structural paradigm to robust investment in the sector.” “Nonprofits can run great programs, but in order for organizations to be healthy and sustainable in the long-term, leaders and funders alike need to face up to the realities of what it takes to lead and manage organizations—financial capital, leadership development, learning and innovation and a well-compensated staff…so that organizations can effectively fulfill their missions.”

Such a lot to think about.

Coming up

I will do my best to tackle some of these issues in a new series of The Art of Good Governance workshops presented by the Toronto Arts Council with Business for the Arts. Keep an eye out for details.

 

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Accessibility options

by Jini Stolk

A friend of mine, who runs a small but mighty arts space, recently asked if I had any advice about her accessibility options. Like many of us, she’s eager to comply with the Provinces’ new accessibility standards but even more to the point, her organization wishes to make itself accessible to all possible users, including those for whom two flights of steep stairs is a challenge (if not impossible.)

“Is there a scenario where the landlord and non-profit tenant could share the cost of a stairglide?” she wondered. “Is there subsidy for the non-profit tenant to install this system? Is there subsidy for the landlord?”

Here’s the discouraging answer:

“Sad to say, the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) does not apply to existing buildings, unless they’re undergoing extensive renovations. The new code amendments do not require that a building be fully accessible (unless it’s a new build), and do not apply at all to buildings where no major renovations are underway.

There’s no targeted funding at the province, other than Trillium Foundation’s capital support program which puts access (probably to be interpreted in a wide sense) at the top of its funding priorities.

Enabling Accessibility is the only program I’ve been able to find to support accessibility upgrades and according to their website they’re not currently accepting applications.

All you can do, I’m afraid, is try to make the stairglide part of negotiations for your lease renewal, and hope that your landlord is a good person (!) because Canada is a laggard around accessibility.”

BUT do I sense some change in the air? Shortly after I sent that message, I heard from Alfred Spencer, Director, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario about the Province’s AODA update “The Path to 2025: Ontario’s Accessibility Action Plan”. Minister Brad Duguid said “I’m proud of how far Ontario has come on its accessibility journey. But there’s still a long way to go to reach our goal of becoming an accessible province. This will require a sustained and collaborative effort…it’s time to review our progress, renew our commitment and mobilize for another 10 years of action.”

Part of what looks like a new urgency around accessibility is the Ontario Nonprofit Network’s new project with the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to help nonprofits and charities learn more about the AODA, how it impacts their organizations and help them start planning to meet requirements for the end of 2014 and beyond.

The Ontario Arts Council, as we know, is committed to ensuring that all Ontarians have access to the arts. In October 2014, the OAC launched Vital Arts and Public Value , a new strategic plan for 2014-2020 that identifies Deaf artists and artists with disabilities as a new priority group. Initiatives introduced in the plan include: support for those who need it to help complete their applications and funding for successful applicants who need help covering accommodation expenses in the course of their work. A new funding program has just been launched dedicated to Deaf artists and artists with disabilities.

The Parapan Am Games, starting on August 7, 2015, is a highly visible competition for 1,600 athletes with disabilities from 28 countries. Toronto will also welcome the first Accessibility Innovation Showcase, a five-day event featuring the latest advances in accessibility technologies and assistive devices. The public will be able to experience and learn about accessibility technologies first-hand. Innovators will have a chance to pitch their ideas to angel investors, with a view to accelerating the development of leading-edge accessibility technologies and stimulating growth in the industry.

In the end, however, I’m afraid the Province is going to have to put their money where their mouth is and help people like my friend – and like Cahoots Theatre which is about to launch The Deaf Artists & Theatres Toolkit (DATT), to increase the feasibility of collaborations such as their co-production of ULTRASOUND by Adam Pottle between professional theatre companies and Deaf artists– who are trying to make real change.

 

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Good reads

by Jini Stolk

First of all, reading can make you happier, and bibliotherapy is a growing movement to use the empathy we experience when reading great literature to help deal with the daily emotional challenges of existence. I don’t know what a trained bibiotherapist would recommend for what ails me, but I’m sure enjoying my new book club and I eagerly await book suggestions from any of you out there. I’ll be reading on the beach.

Five Good Ideas, for those of you with a more professional turn of mind. A recent rereading reminded me that this little volume on Practical Strategies for Non-Profit Success, edited by Alan Broadbent and Ratna Omidvar, contains some succinct and very good advice on leadership, organizational effectiveness, communications, governance and more. Wisdom for the price of 6 lattes.

For those who want to delve deeper, I owe these suggestions in their entirety to Museum 2.0 – the 3 books on leadership that Nina Simon found most helpful in navigating an aspect of organizational change and leadership.

Nonprofit Lifecycles: Stage-Based Wisdom for Nonprofit Capacity by Susan Kenny Stevens. This slim book provides cogent and insightful analysis of organizational evolution from startup to growth to maturity to decline to turnaround (hopefully). Nina says “I have used this book in many ways over the past few years: to diagnose and understand an organization that was new to me, to plan for the future, and now, to relearn the needs and abilities of my organization as it moves out of turnaround and into growth. These 130 pages have a magical quality; I keep finding more in them. I didn’t know what “capacity building” meant when I first picked up this book. I still don’t entirely. But I do know that this book keeps helping me learn and grow… and that’s about as good a definition as I’ve got at this point.”

The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins. Nina says “I’ve been recommending this book to many friends and colleagues recently as they take on new leadership roles. Unlike the other two books on this list, this book is more about the individual in the organization than the organization itself. I found it to be incredibly helpful when I was preparing for and then taking on an executive director role, but it can be useful for anyone taking on a new role who wants to do so mindfully and successfully. This book uses the classic business book formula–pithy missives mixed with diverse examples–but it does so really, really well. The thing it does best is help you think about how to strategically plan out not just what you will do at work but who you will be, and how you can construct your position, relationships, and roles intentionally instead of having them “happen” to you.

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni. Nina says “I picked up this book on a whim at the beginning of the year based on the fact that Fractured Atlas, an organization I admire, was using it to guide their work. Like The First 90 Days, The Advantage employs a classic business book formula. But instead of focusing on individual leadership, this book focuses on organizational culture. I’m not sure I completely buy Lencioni’s big idea, but the content is solid and useful–regardless of what trumps what. For us at the MAH, this book has been helpful as we shift from a startup culture of change and experimentation into a growth culture of strengthening and deepening our work. We are using approaches from The Advantage to write meaningful organizational values, infuse those into our hiring, onboarding and performance review processes, and protect and cultivate the unique aspects of our interpersonal culture that make us thrive.”

And, perhaps, the big read: The Age of Culture by D. Paul Schafer, former chair of the Ontario Arts Council. “Paul Schafer’s vision of the centrality of culture to our lives, to societal development, and to the future of civilization has shaped policy development at the local, national, and international levels over the past four decades. His message cannot be ignored.” – Joyce Zemans, York University

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Talking business

by Jini Stolk

Business for the Arts recently launched their online sponsorship tutorial kit – another reminder that BftA has seized hold of the field of corporate support for the arts in a most marvellous way, providing matching programs, workshops, online learning, awards, young professional board recruitment and training, and more. The sponsorship tutorial is a six module online course that covers planning, prospecting, making an approach, pitching, fulfilment and stewardship of business sponsorships of the arts. Registration is open until June 4th, so if you’re interested you should act now.

While we’re engaged in learning the “how” of gaining businesses’ support I think it’s equally important to understand the “why.” What’s in it for them (beyond our fond hopes that they love and are devoted to our art)?

I’ve been reading a barrage of recent pieces about what motivates businesses to align themselves with local arts groups. Some of the more helpful ones talk about:

Good customer and public relations: Business for the Arts’ own new study reveals that Canadians value companies that support the arts. 52% of survey respondents “feel more favourably towards businesses that support arts and culture,” because they personally engage with the arts; believe in the value of the arts; and feel that arts have a positive impact on people and communities. Among businesses supporting the arts, most indicate that they’re interested less in the return on their investment (ROI) than in the social return on their investment (SROI). Among those businesses that don’t support the arts, many say that they’ve never been asked.

Corporate social responsibility: This is where a business’s desire to have a positive impact on society and its efforts to integrate social, environmental and economic integrity into its operations, aligns with a non-profit organization’s values and mission.

Community improvement: The NEA’s Validating Arts & Livability Indicators Study examined 23 potential indicators of the contribution of the arts and culture to quality of place and community livability, and defined creative placemaking as processes where “partners from public, private, non-profit and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighbourhood, town, city or region around arts and cultural activities.”

Bang for the buck: This article examines the marketing and awareness impact , through things like logo display and prominent recognition, of arts sponsorships and reveals eye-popping details on the benefits sponsorships at different levels buy at some of England’s most prominent arts organizations.

8 ways to partner with the arts: The pARTnership Movement, an initiative of Americans for the Arts, discusses all the above reasons for corporations to partner with the arts and adds recruiting talent to a more vibrant community; advancing corporate objectives and strategies; fostering critical thinking; engaging and thanking employees; and embracing diversity and team building.

On a more critical note, an increasing number of environmental activists (like Mel Evans in her book, Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts) argue that oil companies’ arts sponsorships are cynical P.R. strategies to nullify local protests.

In the U.S., and in the world of dance, corporate donation trends are declining according to Dance/NYC – and in any case corporate donations are primarily made to large organizations, largely in Manhattan.

As to the “how” of gaining corporate support, this final piece straightforwardly admits that corporate decision making is in a constant state of flux, and that gifts are guided through different processes managed by different individuals from one year to the next; even in a mid-sized corporation the decision-making process can make your head spin. That’s been my experience, but here are some questions that might help you pin down the right person and the right process, leading to an actual, gratefully welcomed, sponsorship or gift: “Please walk me through the decision-making process for your community investments. Is there anyone that I should be talking to specifically? Are you willing to field questions about my application/proposal before it is submitted? To whom should these questions be submitted? What are the timelines around decision-making? Do you have any other resources that will help guide me through the process?”

An example, perhaps, of “ask and ye shall be given.”

 

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Audience observations

by Jini Stolk

Curtain times: I quite enjoyed the 3-hour theatre/musical production I saw recently, but I can’t say I remember much from the crucially important final half hour. It would have been lovely to have had a clearer sense of how the show ended, so I will ask again: can we consider earlier curtain times, especially for very long shows? Think of it as an act of mercy for your audience members.

Ticketing software: Ticketing systems are not all alike, and not all of them are happy. I’ve been on an online ticket-buying binge, and the user experience matters. Eventbrite and Sumac are a pleasure to use. TicketLeap, I have to say, is not. Check out this site which tracks customer reviews of ticketing software. It doesn’t answer all the questions you need to ask if you’re buying a new system, but it answers some important ones. (Similarly, 32auctions.com was a friendly and easy platform for Theatre Passe Muraille’s recent online auction, and I love CauseVox, the fundraising and crowdfunding platform that Toronto Dance Theatre uses for Tour de Danse.)

Festival brochures: The TIFF and Hot Docs brochures, with their plethora of information, make my head spin. Luminato’s 2015 flyer seems to contain everything you need to know (program highlights, a map of venues, and a basic event schedule) with clear and easy information about where to find more details and how to order tickets. Well done.

Group sales: I believe we’re missing something important for growing our audiences. At a recent performance of the Eifman Ballet’s wonderful Anna Karenina, I was fascinated by Russian Tix’s very busy pick up desk. I had no idea that Toronto’s Russian expats were so well served by this group sales/discount ticket organization. How many of us work with culture clubs like Toronto Arts & Culture? TO Arts & Culture was started by Greg York to organize informal outings with fellow Centre for Social Innovation tenants; it now has over 6,000 members eager to attend theatre, music, dance, films, discussions and more. If we want to reach out beyond our already-committed core audiences, we should be encouraging, working with, supporting, and helping to develop more group initiatives like Greg’s.

 

 

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