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by Jini Stolk

A lot of readers commented on “If working in a nonprofit means you’ll never earn a living…” indicating, I believe, that I touched on the elephant in the room of arts employment.

I was reminded that the Professional Association of Canadian Theatres instituted a shared contribution pension plan for theatre professionals many years back. Although it didn’t last long (companies’ budgets were tight; employees didn’t want to contribute towards their far-in-the-future retirements) people who participated are now grateful for this small but helpful income supplement.

An associate studying cultural management in Hong Kong has been pondering the fact that nonprofit organizations, with their heavy fundraising and donors reporting obligations, don’t seem to have the time and resources to reinvest in their companies, as for profits do. “In fact, where I work right now (Public Art Hong Kong), we do art consulting work as one of the profit making streams to support our organization. Some commercial projects include The Peninsula Hong Kong Gala Projection and (an art and fashion exhibition at the) Lanvin Flagship Store. Of course the profit making part is still a small part (of our work); the big part is having more high quality artwork in the public.” It seems that in Hong Kong an early question posed to cultural entrepreneurs is “How are you going to make a profit?”

The visual arts, whose distribution system is largely for profit, has been introducing interesting online social enterprises, including Artbinder, which facilitates sales for galleries, the online auction house Artsy – and the Centre for Social Innovation’s Wondereur, a curated site featuring different visual artists and their work, which can be purchased directly from an iPad, iPhone or computer. (Breaking news. Wondereur has just been nominated for a Webby Award – the Oscars of the web, I am told – as one of the five best art platforms in the world. If they win, it would be a first for a Canadian art platform.)

The Theatre Centre’s opening – attended by artists from the five founding theatre organizations – was a good reminder of a basic but important strategy for effectively and efficiently using resources: sharing. Tonya Surman writes about building social entrepreneurship through the power of shared space , in an article for the Innovations Journal. “Coworking spaces connect diverse organizations and individuals, giving them the chance to collaborate, share knowledge, and develop systemic solutions to the issues they are trying to address.” That’s why I’m hoping to see great advances in shared audience development and engagement from Regent Park’s Daniel Spectrum and Artscape’s Youngplace!

Some further reading: “Social Enterprise: Making the Choice Between For-Profit and Nonprofit”

Although I’m devoted to strengthening the nonprofit sector in Ontario through my work as Chair of the Ontario Nonprofit Network, I can’t help but observe that young people these days are choosing to work within whatever structure is most suited to achieving their missions: and I’m all for it.

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Hiring highly effective people

by Jini Stolk

There are a number of important jobs waiting to be filled in our community, so I thought I would provide some new perspectives on the crucial task of making the right hire.

Richard Branson, founder of all things Virgin and a guy who’s done his fair share of hiring, says that when he’s searching for a great employee the most important thing he looks for is someone whose personality fits his company culture. Skills can be learned he says: you want to hire people who are fun, friendly, caring and love working with others, and it’s up to you, the interviewer, to delve deep enough to find that out.

If you’re looking for someone who fits your company culture, then you definitely need to understand and know how to communicate that culture. I was impressed with Tarragon Theatre’s recent job posting, which is crystal clear about what kind of company Tarragon is and what they’re looking for: in this case, someone who will be “part of the important conversation about our future audiences”, who loves theatre, loves young people, loves the idea of building tomorrow’s audiences, and can help  “re-imagine,” “build relationships,” “dream up and execute original ways…of connecting,” while making sure programs are “evolving intelligently.”

I’m looking forward to meeting the person who gets that job.

When Richard Branson does look at experience and expertise, he focuses on transferable skills held by team players who are willing to pitch in and try their hand at different sorts of jobs. It sounds like the arts to me.

It also fits nicely with a recent piece by Lou Adler whose  Most Important Interview Question of All Time I wrote about. He looks for seven core traits to separate those who are a reasonable fit from those who are exceptional . (Because these traits are taken from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People I found them to be a thought-provoking checklist against my own work “habits”…)

Briefly, he looks for people who take initiative; who define the outcomes they want to achieve before creating the process; who prioritize rather than just react; who consider the impact of their actions on all stakeholders; who try to understand a problem before coming up with solutions; who look for synergies, bringing people together to achieve better results; and who are constantly working to improve themselves and learn.

Allowing people the creative opportunities and satisfactions that would come with this way of working could be seen as one of the important perks of working in our business.

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It’s always the art

by Jini Stolk

I recently wrote about The Theatre Centre’s opening without mentioning the word art. It was deliberate: my piece was about the community impact of arts spaces and I wanted to focus on neighbourhood animation, cultural venues as the primary public meeting spaces of our time, and the craft of fundraising.

But then I saw L’Orchestre d’hommes-orchestre’s Cabaret brise-jour – a stunning fusion of theatre, poetry and music – and I remembered that it’s the art. It’s always the art. How lucky we are to have a new space run by a company whose raison d’etre is to nurture artists, champion new work, and embrace risk.

Actually, I’ve had an amazing run of fabulous cultural experiences since returning from Mexico – perhaps the cosmos’s way of helping me resign myself to continuing weeks of winter. How about this line-up over two weeks in March:

Eunoia, Denise Fujiwara’s perfect expression of dance serving poetry, and poetry serving dance; a workshop of What Makes A Man, Jennifer Tarver’s dynamic staging of the songs of Charles Aznavour; six fascinating installations at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art; the School of Toronto Dance Theatre’s year-end concert with Christopher House’s breathtaking Glass Houses, premieres by James Kudelka, Susan Burpee and Darryl Tracy, and Paul-Andre Fortier’s Tell, which left the audience literally gasping and shrieking with delight. And of course Quebec City’s revelation, L’Orchestre d’hommes-orchestre. (I wish I could cheat a bit and mention two wonderful earlier shows: James Kudelka’s Malcolm and Canadian Rep’s Pacamambo, both at The Citadel. And what the hell: Pleiades’ Manon, Sandra and the Virgin Mary was terrific too.)

I know people are worried about their audiences, but these shows had strong houses and had reached out to me in ways I found compelling. Perhaps my fellow attendees and I had just turned up for a promising evening of entertainment; or were true fans of the companies or artists; or were so committed that the companies mattered deeply to our lives. We were, in each case, engaged in a distinct and important relationship with these arts organizations.

Understanding these relationships seems to me essential to building audiences and connecting people to the art.

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How fun was that?

by Jini Stolk

I had no idea how joyful the process of dancing with Toronto Dance Theatre would be. We were warmly welcomed, beautifully cared for by everyone in the company, and invited to explore the power of our imaginations – and it quickly became clear that we were going to be truly dancing, learning choreography and even doing some solo turns. What fun.

I’m enormously grateful to everyone who supported me in this wild adventure, and happy that we could play a role in supporting TDT’s creations, productions, and community activities. The company was delighted by the success of this first-time sold out fundraising event, which almost all their board members participated in! And the whole project was ably supported by causevox.com, a relatively new fundraising platform which seemed to make everything easy: check it out at tourdedanse.causevox.com.

This experience led me to think about Arts Action Research’s astute observation that a performing arts organization functions best when everyone in the company, including the board and administration, works in a way that’s consistent with the way things work in the studio.

This is what I saw behind the scenes at Toronto Dance Theatre’s Tour de Danse:

People were willing, even eager, to take a risk on a new and untried event; the effort was guided by Christopher House’s strong central vision which was wide open to discovery, change, and new ideas (like Pulga Muchuchoma’s rousing finale); everything was planned in great detail (the steps, patterns, guest dancers’ partners and more were all carefully worked out in advance); concern for the audience’s experience and enjoyment was paramount; everyone on the team functioned with the greatest possible professionalism, fulfilling their own roles independently and excellently; yet everyone’s efforts were fully focused on the overall goal, in the best spirit of collaboration. There was enormous generosity of spirit, care and caring; resources were supplemented by enthusiastic volunteers – and, needless to say, we opened on schedule and on time, and celebrated with great enthusiasm at the after show party.

A great working model for any arts board or administration – and for many businesses.

Is audience participation a new trend in the dance world? I just got invitations to the

RETRO Dance Party , May 2, 8pm, The Spoke Club. In Support of Everyday Marvels @ Guelph Dance – a dance party and fundraiser with the cast of Shannon Litzenberger’s Everyday Marvels and RBC’s contemporary dance enthusiasts The Mobile Assets, and

And 5, 6, 7, 8…A Musical Theatre Dance Party ,” Tuesday, April 29, 8:30-11:30 p.m. at the Drake Underground, for and by Acting Up Stage Company, Angelwalk Theatre and Theatre 20, teaming up to celebrate Toronto’s musical theatre community.

 

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If working in a nonprofit means you’ll never earn a living…

by Jini Stolk

There are so many conversations these days about the need for a new corporate structure that straddles the line, or creates a bridge, between the nonprofit/charitable and for-profit forms. Thanks to Dave Kranenburg and members of the Centre for Social Innovation for these informative documents from a recent email chain.

Much of this conversation seems to rest on issues of personal and organizational financial security. New entrepreneurs, who may want to firmly align their enterprises with doing good in the world, don’t want to close the door on being financially rewarded for their creativity and hard work. And it’s really hard for anyone needing capital investment to help their nonprofit grow when there’s no possibility of meaningful return to investors.

I’ve been thinking about where the arts fit in. Many artists already straddle the nonprofit and for-profit worlds, cobbling together various sources of freelance income with salaries or contracts with nonprofit organizations. More and more, people who run small companies (but are essentially independent artists or members of a collective) are questioning whether the nonprofit/charitable form is a help or hindrance to their work.

Charities in Canada are allowed to undertake “business activities” that make money, as long as they’re mission related or the profits flow back to the charity. Unfortunately there aren’t many goldmines out there. Is that t-shirt run really going to take off… are your cd’s going to sell like hotcakes…is your next production, even if it’s a remount of your biggest hit, going to be absolutely sold-out? (Well, sometimes; thank you Ravi and “A Brimful of Asha” for being such a shining example.)

In New York even the largest nonprofit theaters like Roundabout are trying to deal with financial hard times by remounting successful shows (“Cabaret ” is coming back to Broadway with Alan Cumming in the lead!), and being roundly criticized for charging “for-profit-like” ticket prices.

The charitable corporate form, which allows mixed sources of revenues to flow to artistic projects, works reasonably well in the performing arts as long as the reporting and administrative burdens are not too heavy for the size of company – but this is an important caveat. Some of my friends in Montreal are moving on, structurally: examples include Susanna Hood who recently closed her company hum dansoundarts but is busier than ever as a freelance artist and movement designer; and Eryn Dace Trudell, whose MamaDances , which offers movement classes for parents and their babies or toddlers, is thriving and expanding across Montreal and in Toronto.

One of the major problems with nonprofit organizations in Canada is that standard salary levels, instead of offering decent remuneration, are frequently downright indecent. This is not just an arts problem, but it IS a big problem for our sector’s future. The ONN and Mowat Centre Human Capital Renewal Study found that 69 percent of nonprofit organizations have faced at least one retention challenge in the past three years  because of lack of career mobility; non-competitive wage and salary levels; uncertainty of on-going funding; and excessive workloads/insufficient staff resources.

No wonder many of our brightest emerging leaders are looking for new ways to contribute their gifts to the world while living decently, without worrying about their financial futures.

Many thanks to my friends and colleagues Lynn Eakin from ONN and Tonya Surman from CSI for their deep knowledge and smart ideas about the future of nonprofits and social enterprises. 

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The Theatre Centre’s real achievement

by Jini Stolk

The opening of the Theatre Centre’s wonderful arts hub and performance space in the former Carnegie Library was…I hardly know what to say. It was moving, exciting, joyful, and all the sweeter because they had beaten the odds to get there.

Any of us would quail, just a bit, at the prospect of raising $6.2 million while planning and overseeing the restoration of an iconic heritage building in the centre of Toronto’s most happening arts scene. And yet, with a small team and limited resources (Franco reminded us that the Theatre Centre’s annual budget has never been larger than “mid-sized”) they came in on budget and very close to on time. How?

Clues abounded at the opening event.

  • Every person in the room seemed to feel deeply involved, personally committed and individually proud of the project’s success. Franco, Roxanne, their wonderful board and team had reached out into the community – not just the arts community – drawing people firmly into their whirlwind of vision, courage, and energy.
  • Politicians and funders talked about the Theatre Centre not just as an arts venue but as a cornerstone of the developing West Queen West community.
  • Councillor Ana Bailao thanked them for animating the neighbourhood, adding excitement, culture, and a place of gathering.
  • Minister Glen Murray talked about the project as bringing together new and longtime residents from a diversity of cultures; he also thanked them for creating “a place where we get to know each other.”
  • Several speakers, including the construction team and trades, were grateful to the Theatre Centre for allowing them to help reopen a beautiful historic building for public use.

These achievements – of new supporters who’ve experienced the joy of contributing something important to their community, of a compelling vision clearly communicated and carried out with efficiency and integrity, of public recognition of cultural facilities as community-builders and community assets – will continue to pay dividends over time, not just for the Theatre Centre but for all of us.

(And for the record it was the wonderful Jenny Ginder, not me alas, who was essential in securing the Province’s support…!)

For those of you planning a new capital project, or working to make sure your current space is in a “state of good repair”, the Call for Submissions for the City’s invaluable Culture Build Investment Program is now out, with a deadline of April 14, 2014. Applications and information about the Program are available by contacting Lori Martin at 416-392-5225 lmartin2@toronto.ca.

 

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On the beach and on the stage

by Jini Stolk

I recently found myself taking a dance class on a beach. Our teacher, Maud, was a dance artist from the Netherlands whose expressive movements and infinite patience made it a totally joyful experience. (That plus the sea breeze, cloudless sky, and brilliantly coloured birds and flowers…)

Dance is an art form that I love professionally, as a fan, and as a very amateur participant. Anyone who’s taken any form of dance class knows how much it adds to the pleasure to seeing performances. Although you know you can’t do what the dancers do, you can feel their movements in your own body and have a sense of the strength, balance, artistry and physical courage that make what’s on stage so thrilling.

I wasn’t surprised when the Creative Trust Audience Engagement Survey revealed that 26% of surveyed dance audiences identified taking dance classes as a vital current activity (perhaps many of these were dance professionals), or that another 42% occasionally take dance classes or used to (perhaps these attenders are more like me…)

COBA (Collective of Black Artists) , resident in the Daniels Spectrum, is smart: they schedule classes in traditional and contemporary African & Caribbean dance concurrently for young and adult students so that parents bringing their kids to class can take a class on their own instead of sitting down with a coffee and muffin and the Globe and Mail. With so many varied dance companies on Toronto’s Parliament Street Dance Belt, there are numerous other opportunities for collaborative class scheduling and marketing.

And that brings me to my current adventure. I’m participating in a special fundraising event for Toronto Dance Theatre (sweetly promoted as intended for non-dancers with an interest in dance) in which I’ll rehearse and perform with the company in a special piece choreographed by Artistic Director Christopher House, culminating in a “high energy evening” performance and party on Saturday, April 5th at the Winchester Street Theatre. I can assure you that my energy is already high if a combination of terror and excitement counts. Your support for me – and much more importantly, for Toronto Dance Theatre – would be enormously appreciated.

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Thanking special people

by Jini Stolk

Many congratulations to Gary Hall, winner of this year’s Sandra Tulloch Award. Because Gary’s career is in the visual arts, you may not all be familiar with his outstanding cultural leadership. He’s been an innovator (founding Gallery TPW and co-founding the Artist-Run Centres and Collectives of Ontario, the CARFAC Copyright Collective and ArtsBuild Ontario), a leader of all those organizations and more, a strong and consistent advocate for the arts, and a major force behind the upcoming multi-disciplinary media-arts facility in West Queen West. Cheers, Gary. Well done.

Pioneering theatre photographer Nir Bareket‘s work is on display at the Market Gallery, April 26 through July 19, 2014, in an exhibition titled “My Eyes Have Seen; Celebrating 50 Years Behind the Lens.” Many of the images are from the City of Toronto Archives collection which holds 100 prints of Nir’s theatre photography by close to 50 different Toronto companies, many of which no longer exist.  A career and legacy worth applauding, and a show well worth seeing. The Market Gallery is on the second floor of South St. Lawrence Market, 95 Front Street E.

And finally. I say this every year, but I do urge you to thank your own special donors by nominating them for a Business for the Arts Award; there’s still plenty of time to do it right. In addition to a range of partnership and leadership awards, you might want to look closely at the  Community Impact Award for an arts/business partnership that has enhanced the quality of life and enriched the cultural scene in their community; the winner receives $5,000 to be directed to the arts organization(s) of their choice. There’s also the Cultural Champion Award for an arts individual who’s shown exceptional leadership in engaging the business community in support of arts and culture; the winner receives $5,000 to be directed to the arts organization(s) of their choice. Nomination deadline for both: Friday, May 30, 2014. I can think of wonderful candidates for these two awards, and for many of the others.

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Avoiding lawsuits

by Jini Stolk

Avoid lawsuits beyond all things; they pervert your conscience, impair your health, and dissipate your property. Jean de la Bruyere

From The New York Times, Jan 29, 2014: The Nederlander Organization recently settled a federal lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act, agreeing to increase access for disabled people at the nine theatres – some of which are over 100 years old – it operates on Broadway.

From The Toronto Star, Feb 20, 2014: the Ontario government is vowing to step up its enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) following reports that the vast majority of businesses covered by the legislation had failed to comply with the law’s reporting requirements.

Don’t panic. The AODA’s Design of Public Spaces standard doesn’t come into effect for most of us until 2018. But companies with 20 or more employees have been required since 2012 to have Customer Service accessibility policies and training.

I’m glad to say it looks like arts organizations are doing better on this than other sectors.  By last November, 70 per cent of companies with 20 employees or more — about 36,000 across the province — had not yet filed a report on how they accommodate customers with disabilities, train staff and receive customer feedback.

In a quick, highly unscientific, whip-through of the websites of 13 cultural organizations in Toronto I found that 9 (the AGO, Canadian Opera Company, Canadian Stage, Daniels Spectrum, Factory Theatre, Opera Atelier, ROM, Tafelmusik, and Toronto Symphony Orchestra) have useful – and in a few cases, excellent – information and policies on audience accessibility.   

This leads me to the hopeful conclusion that arts organizations are paying attention and are, perhaps, aware that Canada is lagging way behind accessibility practices in the U.S. and England. I’ve also heard a lot of people talk, with some anxiety, about the upcoming physical accessibility requirements for public buildings.

England is working to become internationally recognised as the leading destination for people with access needs because they see the results. England’s accessible tourism market is already responsible for 11 million domestic trips, half a million international visits and generates a total spend of over £2 billion each year. VisitEngland notes that one in six people in the UK (approximately ten million potential visitors) have some form of hearing loss. They’ve provided some good tips on accessible marketing for cultural attractions and their website is filled with information.

For us, Accessibility Ontario (which grew out of a project of the Ontario Nonprofit Network) provides excellent templates, tips and training. What’s still missing is an arts specific initiative on welcoming people with disabilities by providing the services they need, and creating meaningful relationships with groups and individuals who may be waiting to be invited to our shows.

 

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Measuring what really counts

by Jini Stolk

When I think about evaluation these days I’m less interested in what we measure or how we measure than in why. What’s the ultimate purpose of the effort we put into evaluating our work and projects? What are we trying to learn? How are we using this information?

I believe that the best use of evaluation is to discover and share how positive change happens.

My ah-ha moment occurred during a Shared Measurement Meeting at last September’s ONN Conference. An entire room full of people talking about whether a shared approach to nonprofit impact measurement would help us better understand and tell the story of our collective impact. Notes from the meeting show that we talked about increased demands from funders, lack of resources and training for evaluation, data collection and technology, collaborative measurement and the need to bring funders into the conversation.

But at one point a former senior government official said, in essence: “government has a hard enough time evaluating their own programs; they’re more likely to care whether a funded program hit its targets than whether it improves society.”

My conclusion is that we are the most important and interested recipients of our evaluation efforts (along with a few enlightened funders), and that we’re going to have to take responsibility for defining the terms, parameters and measures used to evaluate our work.

Our purpose as far as possible should be to use evaluation as a tool for learning, helping us discover the emotional and social value of our work. If our programs really inspire kids, or transform their lives, or provide a path to life-long learning, then we have to share that information so we can all do better at these essential tasks.

There are many wonderful and helpful materials on evaluating arts and nonprofit programs and I’ve listed some of the best below; they’ll soon be up on the Resources section of our website too.

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