Monday, May 21, 2007

I get the change, but how are you different than United Arts?

I had a conversation with a local executive director on Friday partly to discuss our changes from being the Performing Arts Alliance to the Arts & Cultural Alliance. You can read the letter here. One of the big questions from that conversation was why do we need both the Alliance and United Arts and how are you different? It is a valid question and was asked in the context of potential budget cuts many arts and cultural organizations will face with the property tax cuts looming.

Before explaining our differences, I reminded the arts leader that the Alliance and UA are not the only service-oriented entities concentrating on our region. This is not an exhaustive list, but within the core of the region, private nonprofits include the Downtown Arts District (DAD), and the Orlando Performing Arts Center (OPAC). On the public side, there is the Orange County office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Seminole County Arts Council and the Winter Park Cultural and Economic Development Division. Finally, the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitor's Bureau (Orlando CVB) also serves the cultural community in pushing visitors to experience our region's best.

I would need a much larger forum than this blog to explain all the differences between the various service organizations, but two points are important with all of these groups. First, we are not working in a vacuum. All of these group's leaders meet monthly to discuss where are efforts can better work together. A soon to be released arts and cultural economic impact study on the region is the result of these relationships. Second, all of these entities believe passionately abut building the cultural identity of the region and the opportunities for artists.

So, how is the Alliance different than UA? The major difference is that the Alliance doesn't raise money to give it away. UA is our region's major fundraising entity in the tradition of United Way that gives money to both arts organizations and artists. UA is also the designated local arts agency. This primarily means UA is the leading advocate for the arts and cultural community on a regional, state and federal level.

The Alliance's major mission is to increase participation in our arts and cultural community. We have evolved into a boutique cultural marketing and tourism trade association. I stress boutique because the Orlando CVB is clearly the leader in drawing visitors to the area. The Alliance is concentrating purely on the arts and cultural sector. The Alliance serves seven counties to follow the push to build the region's presence. UA serves four counties.

Like other trade associations, we are membership based. Arts and cultural organizations realize the importance of leveraging our strengths to increase participation and that collaboration needs a third party to implement the services necessary to build audience.

UA and the Alliance are different, but share the same passion to elevate our region's cultural identity. In very simple terms, UA is the funding and advocate arm and the Alliance deals in audience development. Are there things we do together? Yes. ArtsFest is a great example of this. Ultimately, the differences are important to help you understand where to go for what services, but I think it is even more important to realize that we are all working together.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Isn't the theme park artist important too?

A local director and teacher spoke to me with confusion about what we meant when we say we want to increase participation in the region. He mentioned that he thought the research conducted revealing that 11% of our households participate in arts and culture was not inclusive enough.

He thought it was discriminating against the artists that work at the theme parks and other visitor attractions. Were we doing a disservice by not including that participation in our research? Does not the artist that works in the theme parks also count in our analysis of participation?

I was surprised by his reaction, but he said he knew several artists that felt a little slighted. After explaining the premise of the research, it was clearer to him what the data supported. He did ask why we didn't include audiences that visit the theme parks in our data as they participate as audience members for our artists employed at these attractions. We didn't measure the audiences at the parks because our research was about local participation and didn't include visitors. That is a different set of data.

Our conversation did remind me how our community is truly unique as we have such a dynamic artist community and yes many of them make a living performing or painting at the theme parks. Many of those same artists also perform and paint within the region at more traditional venues too. We clearly have no shortage of talented artists. Truly this is part of the motivation behind measuring the participation at a local level from our greater community. We know how much talent we have and want more people in the region to notice it too.

We want the parks to be filled with visitors and our local arts destinations to have full houses and galleries and museums to be over flowing with people. A region identified for its cultural destinations, whether pop, traditional or progressive. It can't happen soon enough.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Get educated about the venues...then decide.

Where do you stand on the venues is a question I get asked a lot from fellow students in my MBA class and people I run into in the community. I am the arts guy and the only nonprofit person in my 35-member class, so I naturally get tagged with questions in these areas. I often like these questions because I get a chance to help educate or point a person in the right direction to get educated about the issues, in this case the venues.

People assume that because of my position I must be close to the process of the plan to build the performing arts center. The official position of the Alliance is that we do support the buildling of a new performing arts center, but outside of the Orlando Ballet, Orlando Opera, Orlando Philharmonic, Festival of Orchestras and the SunTrust Broadway Series (the local groups that will primarily use the space), none of the arts community has been closely involved in the strategic process. In fact, I think the board and staff behind the performing arts center could have done a much better strategic job of engaging the greater arts community.

The venues are currently under great scrutiny and the Orange County Commission, who has yet to approve the plans of the venues, could vote to turn down the proposal. It is definitely a pinnacle moment in our burgeoning city's growth no matter where you sit. I think that many people already felt it was a done deal. It isn't at all though.

The Orange County Commissioners have been hosting education sessions to gain feedback from the public. There are two left. You can see the Alliance website for the times and places. The Performing Arts Center and Project Hometown are also asking that as many arts patrons and staff sign a petition in favor of the proposed performing arts center. Now, I am not going to tell you to sign this letter. The Alliance doesn’t' work in that manner. What I am going to highly encourage is that you attend one or both of these final sessions. Educate yourself, so that you can make your own decision about signing the petition. If you have already made up your mind and want to sign the letter, email The Performing Arts Center has had the most public support, but right now it is tied closely to the other venues because the strategy was to bundle the venues together.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Is the sky falling?

My son's favorite new book is Chicken Lickin. It is an offshoot of the Chicken Little story. In the Chicken Licken story, the chicken leads his other farmland friends to their death on their way to tell the king about the fact that the sky is falling. They meet a wolf who takes them to his den of other wolves and zappo, no more farm animals. Of course the sky was never falling and the fact that Chicken Lickin and his pals were so enamored with that possibility meant they didn't see the very real danger of the wolf right in front of them. Ahh, the lessons of children’s book for us adults.

The Alliance is having to tighten its belt financially and has had to reduce its staff because of this. Our income comes mostly from unearned sources; the earned we do get comes from SAK Comedy Lab's facility rental at the Theatre Garage. We are working on not being so dependent on that rent, but it requires us to get a leaner to do so.

Is the sky falling at the Alliance? Absolutely not. In fact, there are many positive things happening. One of my faults (I have more, but my wife doesn't have time to share all of them with you) is that I see big and want so much for our arts and culture community. I see the huge potential of what collaboration can do for our community, but the reality of the limited financial resources has reared its ugly head again in what we can do. So, the sky is not falling, but we are trying to avoid being eaten by the big bad wolf.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Glimpse of hope...much needed.

For those of you who didn't read Sunday's newspaper, the Orlando Sentinel ran an article about a survey conducted to gauge the general public's opinion about the proposed venues: the arena, Citrus Bowl renovations and the performing arts center. The public was loud and clear that the performing arts center is the top choice amongst the three venues.

According to the survey company, "The performing-arts center is holding the other two up." This is positive as the region recognizes the importance of a new performing arts venue. I wasn't totally surprised as the performing arts venue has so many positives in its favor. Just a few are that building it has been discussed for at least 15 years, it has already over $50 million in private funds raised toward its $100 million goal and the building it is to replace was built in the early 1900's.

I needed a little bit of hope sent my way. I have had too many conversations lately about sustainability issues with arts groups. Staff turnover, cash-flow challenges, lack of audience, drama off the stage (soap operas amongst current and former staffs), uninvolved boards and the impending property tax changes and state funding reductions have all dominated conversations over the last week. Staying in tune with the heartbeat of what we do can be difficult amongst the struggle to survive. Your work doesn't go unnoticed on our end.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Grow together or die alone

It is my familiar drum beat, but it bears repeating and now some more research confirms it. The beat is collaboration. The study came out of Philadelphia funded by the William Penn Foundation and the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance. RAND conducted the study (see the full study here). Although the study was conducted to primarily help the Philadelphia area, the study's use of ten cities lends itself to application in other cities like Orlando as well.

The ten cities include some that are new and flourishing(Charlotte and Phoenix), some that are older manufacturing centers struggling to reinvent themselves (Baltimore, Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh), and some that are regional centers with diversified economies and stable populations (Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Minneapolis–St. Paul). Orlando would fall in line with Charlotte and Phoenix, although still trailing in financial stability to the scale of those cities.

The summary of the research holds that cities must have either a centralized agency, public or private, with multiple functions, or a combination of public and private agencies with a clear division of support between them. Locally, we have the combination of public and private agencies and we are working on the clear division of support. United Arts, the Performing Arts Alliance, Orange County Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitor's Bureau (Orlando CVB) are just some of the agencies locally concentrating on this.

It also said that city's must recognize the contribution of the arts to other city goals, such as economic development and tourism, and collaborate closely with the established agencies to support those goals. Orlando is still in the embryonic stages with this finding. Although we have seen an increase in the recognition of the importance of the arts, a true connection of the dots with the goals of the city and region has yet to be realized. Mostly, it is just vocal recognition. A true seat in the inner cirlce of planning has yet to happen.

A major accomplishment though is the connection with the Orlando CVB. Margot Knight, president/CEO of United Arts sits on the board of directors for the Orlando CVB as the first arts representative in its history. The CVB has also been assertive in creating relationships with arts groups and creating the Unexpected Orlando brochure, highlighting the area's cultural destinations. This relationship is not common in other cities when I talk to my peers. The Performing Arts Alliance Getaway packages is an attempt to create a boutique cultural tourism focus that the CVB also fully embraces.

The third recommendation is to have strong arts alliances that encourage arts organizations to collaborate with each other on marketing, acquiring employee benefits, controlling production costs, and fundraising.

Score one for the region here in a major way. The Performing Arts Alliance, United Arts, Orange County Arts and Culture Affairs, the Orlando CVB all exist to address the points in the last charge. We are working well in these areas and have our particular niche. For example, United Arts tackles the fundraising, the Performing Arts is concentrating on the marketing end with help from other public and private agencies, while also helping to leverage larger purchases to save production-type costs.

Our puzzle has the right pieces. We have the agency relationships in place. In fact, all of the agencies mentioned plus more like the City of Winter Park and Seminole Community Cultural Arts Council meet monthly to discuss measures to work together more efficiently on a global scale. The collaborative spirit from the arts and culture organizations is primarily positive, save a few (there is always a naysayer in every bunch) and the region is growing. We are on the right pace. Essentially, the research findings say we grow together or we die alone. Let's grow!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

What color is your ocean?

I love to absorb information on how the business world is getting things done more efficiently and effectively. It doesn’t always transfer to the nonprofit world, but universal applications are frequent enough to keep me coming back. The book “Good to Great” even printed a booklet version, "Good to Great and the Social Sectors" for the nonprofit community because it had to adjust its methods to equate to a sector where money is the means to an end, not the final goal. Most of these books contain about 3 things you can take away and apply once you mix it up with your other knowledge and experience.

My recent takeaway came from the book Blue Ocean Strategies. The book mainly talks about not competing with rivals, but instead creating your own niche. It used Cirque du Soleil as a premiere example. Cirque didn't look at the circus and say, “how can we compete with Barnum. How can we have a better three-ring circus?” It simply created a new experience altogether. It is Barnum that is now changing its business model to compete with Cirque. I love the Cirque story, but I am looking at things more globally. I am thinking about our entire arts and culture community in Central Florida.

Could it be that we are looking at the competition, whether it be television, sports, concerts, in our case theme parks and saying, “How do we compete with that experience. We don't have the resources.” What if in this digital age, collectively we have a great opportunity staring at us in the face to push the live experience in a new way. What if we could look out and create a new collective experience even while keeping traditional forms of art as a part of that initiative?

There is some good work going on in the attempt at trying to become more Blue Ocean than competitive. There is a group in New York called the Creative Capital Foundation. This group has combined innovative ideas from the commercial sector with the nonprofit sector's integrity of purpose to create a new national initiative for funding artists. What color is our ocean in Central Florida? What possibilities exist to engage people with our stories on stage or canvas? Does our train pull into the station once the new Performing Arts Center is built? Do the traditional art forms draw a line in the sand and say this is real art, it is good for you. You should try it. Or, are there new ways of presenting ways of showcasing the live experience?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Fragile and dependent living

I ran into a respectable leader in our community on Friday at the Starbucks at the Grand Bohemian (the Bucks to see and be seen). He asked me and my colleague with me what was pressing in our world and we threw out the potential backlash from the property tax changes coming down from state. Local governments like Orange County receive considerable amounts of money from property taxes that it then uses to do the basics like garbage retrieval to the quality of life issues like funding the arts.

When we both said that the property taxes were on our minds because of the potential implications to our arts and culture community's funding, the community leader quickly responded with "well we do have to have garbage pick up first." Yes, we do. Our point wasn't that we feel arts funding should be held above picking up garbage or other essential services Orange County government provides. Choices do have to be made when money is scarce and cuts are coming that our literally out of our community's control. The hope is that if and when you cut the "non essential" items that county governments do so proportionally, not by simply deciding what is more valuable to citizens by cutting services thought unimportant by a few altogether.

I read a piece in the Fast Company magazine (my favorite national magazine) on the future of newspapers that discusses the possibility of newspapers becoming public services in the model of NPR Radio. The news business has changed dramatically with technology, so the business model will have to change for newspapers to remain in existence. Central Florida's arts and culture community is so dependent on funding that can change in a matter of months depending on the political push. What business model do we need to look to for change in the future? Maybe we need a paradigm shift. What model would be best? Should some things just die to allow for the strong to survive? How do you define strong? Financially? Ultimately. What about strength of relevance?

I do know that our arts and culture product and presence have grown both quantitatively and qualitatively in my 10 years as a resident. Economic development is now recognizing the importance to the regions' total growth. But, if our local organizations are unable to provide the same product because of such dependence on funding outside of their control, will it continue to grow?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Audience development vs. filling seats

We just said good bye on Sunday to the people who attended the conference we co-hosted with the Orange County Arts and Cultural Affairs office. One of the conversations that struck a chord with me was the difference between audience development and filling seats. Is there a difference one attendee asked? Isn't audience development supposed to put people into the seats? Yes, ultimately as an end goal, butts in seats is where the compass should be pointed.

I believe there is a distinct difference. Ultimately, I look at audience development as the cultivation of long-term relationships from a diverse population that the arts community engages, educates and encourages participation in a creative and generally entertaining experience as part of an important partner in the creation and execution of art.

Filling seats is short-term focused and driven by bottom line motivations. How can we get more seats sold this week or next for said production? It is important and necessary for an arts organization to meet its budget demands, but filling seats has become our only modus operandi and many times is presented as interchangeable with audience development. When we do this, we will essentially reduce our attendance down to a small segment of the population.

The Alliance doesn’t control the content, production and product produced. Our job is also not filling seats. It is audience development. Now, some of the programs like Red Chair Rewards will help to ultimately fill seats, but the intent is to grow the recipient list to be the largest in the region, so that we can educate new audiences to engage in the arts. The special offer is only the stimulus to try.

The beauty is that by working together, both with attempting to fill seats to maintain the bottom line (arts organization role) and on audience development (Alliance role) through new collective initiatives our whole community will gain. That is where the real bottom line of producing art becomes more than just a commodity or widget to be promoted. It becomes a part of the completion to being human.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Collaboration is King

I mentioned before that the Performing Arts Alliance is hosting a national conference for the Association of Performing Arts Service Organizations (APASO). Yes, there is an association for everything. That conference kicks off this week. Terry Olson's office of arts and cultural affairs at Orange County is co-hosting the event. Fifty people from 23 different organizations (our Alliance and Terry's office not included) from 16 cities as far as London and Vancouver are attending the event.

We are excited and overwhelmed at hosting the event. On the exciting front, many of the attendees will be visiting several of our area arts and culture venues for exhibits or performances and the conference itself as we are using cultural venues for the presentations. It will be a time to highlight our growth as a cultural community and to showcase our city to those attending from rich in cultural history like Philadelphia, Chicago, New York City, Boston and London. The overwhelmed part is the to-do list.

One of the topics that will be discussed in great deal will be the concept and practice of collaboration. Each of the 25 organizations represented is a catalyst in some form or fashion in their respective cities. Many of these organizations have decades of experience at helping to leverage the collective power of a community's arts and culture organizations.

Many of the cities are represented in a Power Point presentation from Alan Brown & Associates research. When talking to those in leadership positions at these organizations, many have commented that Orlando is in a good position to establish and build on collaboration early and often. I couldn't agree more and couldn't be more excited about our potential to positively build on our early victories of collaboration. Here is to picking up some more best practices.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Is the Alliance stealing?

I attend the United Arts Executive Director meetings monthly to represent the latest happenings with Red Chair Project and Orlando Arts Getaway. Last week, I mentioned to the group that we had companies that are interested in sponsoring Red Chair Project now that the website has proven early success. One of the ED's asked if he was being naive, but wouldn't the pursuit of sponsorship via Red Chair Project interfere with his or other organization's attempt to gain sponsorship monies for their own organization. Do we need yet another entity sucking from the money pool? Essentially, the Alliance would be stealing the limited funds available for its devious purpose to increase participation on behalf of all arts and culture organizations.

Naive? No, not naive. Ignorant of basic principles on collaboration, but not naive. I won't begin with the assumption that everyone works from the theory of abundance, which clearly this ED does not, but I don't think you have to have an optimistic outlook on Central Florida's untapped financial sponsorship resources to understand the basic principles of collaboration. Two key principles are longevity and leverage.

Longevity: Research, experience and best practices all point to the fact that for long-term success, collaboration needs a third party to drive the project or program. Does that mean that two or more groups can't get together without a third party like the Alliance to work on a project to advance their mission? Of course not.

It has been proven, however, that these collaborations are generally for a short, defined period. For long-term success, as a program takes on a life of its own, it stretches beyond any one group's ability to manage outside of the group's main mission, whether that be producing plays, music or otherwise.

Leverage: Red Chair Project is community owned and intended to increase participation in the entire arts and culture community. The Alliance is the third party along with partners United Arts, Orange County Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Orlando/Orange County CVB that is driving the project on behalf of the community. Right now the Red Chair Project is primarily funded through United Arts, but UA's money isn't even close to keeping the staff necessary to run the project. In fact, we are a staff person short as other city's use a minimum of three people to manage a project of this scope.

A full staff is only part of the equation to advancing the success. Marketing takes money. We just got a call on Friday from an artist asking where the marketing for Red Chair Project is. It is sitting on my desk right now because it doesn't have the financial resources to be realized. So, if Red Chair Project obtains a sponsorship that allows it to be more visible, hence allowing more people to participate in the arts and culture community, is that taking away or leveraging our community's overall success?

Now not every leader or arts administrator sees the pot as so small that we have to all position ourselves as a pack of wolves deciding how to share a small rabbit instead of seeing over the horizon that there is a whole herd of antelope with plenty of meat for all of us. (forgive me for the animal reference for our vegetarians)

My encouragement is this. We haven't scratched the surface on two things: the amount of sponsorship out there for our community and the leverage the Alliance can represent. Leverage is a key component for collaboration's success. If you want more reading, email me. I have a great Power Point on the subject. I couldn't figure out how to attach it. I also have many more articles, books and personal experiences that I can share with you on how to pursue collaboration. One of them is not cynicism. Don't let that be a cancer where you reside.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Hosting the country's service organizations

Because we don't have enough to do, we felt like hosting a national conference in March. From March 14-17, the Alliance along with help from the Orange County office of Arts and Cultural Affairs is hosting the Association of Performing Arts Service Organizations. Yes, there is an association for everything. This is the first time the conference has been hosted in Orlando. We are excited to show off our cultural assets as this is the first visit to Orlando for many of these people. All attendees serve roles similar to the Alliance in their cities like concentrating on building awareness and audience development. We have set up a strong itinerary for the group and we will visit many of the area's cultural venues to hold the various workshops.

Why do you care? Well, Terry Olson (the founding ED of the Alliance) and I have offered Orlando for several years, but most of the participants had no desire to come to Orlando since it was a theme park town. I think this conference in a small way is one more step in the right direction of our growth as a cultural community. It is an incremental step of course, but not one to be taken lightly.

I am eager to share our success and our challenges with our peers from across north America and one from London. We will have approximately 60 people from 30 organizations. Here are some of the websites of the groups who are a part of APASO.

Arts Boston

League of Chicago Theatres

San Diego Performing Arts League

Atlanta Coalition of Performing Arts

Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance

Alliance for Arts and Culture (Vancouver)

Society of London Theatre

Monday, February 12, 2007

Miami bus to Marketing and more

A great opportunity for comraderie and learning is on tap in Miami. The National Arts Marketing Conference is scheduled for November 2 - 7 this year. I have attended the conference twice in other cities, presenting at one of them on collaborative audience development. The best practice information and peer group connections are invaluable. The fact that the conference is in our back yard makes this conference very affordable. We are looking into a bus to take a pack of us to the conference. There is nothing better than an old-fashioned road trip together to help us build deeper relationships, while also picking up information to help us advance our missions. If you are interested, please contact me at

I also caught wind of a new study on nonprofit employment across the country and region. It was an interesting look at the growing number of people entering the work force in the nonprofit world. Average wages are also a part of the study.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Sports doing drama better than arts?

As a passionate arts guy who spends his full day figuring out ways to increase participation in our arts and culture community, I am also a big sports fan. I know of many people who live on either the "arts only" island or the "sports only" island, not crossing the water to visit the other. Some of that separation starts early in childhood when we are figuring out what we are gifted (or not gifted) to do. I was actually very good at sports and a late bloomer to the arts world. I played high school football and baseball. It wasn't until college before I saw my first play. It wasn't that I had anything against the arts, I just never was exposed. Thus, I have a passion to be a catalyst for others to learn of the arts no matter the age. I grew up in a really small town and my family had no money, so I was never presented with the opportunity to be a part of the arts.

Well, for those "arts only" people, the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl on Sunday. I am from Indiana, so as a fan, I got to share in the glory, along with my three-year-old son. That would be Dylan dressed in his "I want to be Peyton Manning" outfit to the left. After watching the hours of pre-game, I was struck once again how sports have taken a page or maybe the whole book from the arts to promote the actual game. If you follow sports, there is a story played out in any game and plenty of drama, but sports have gone beyond the game. The Super Bowl is the premiere sporting event in our country, so it is even more magnified, but the amount of drama and story telling building up to the game was done so well, that even if you were not a football fan, you would be hard pressed not to be engrossed in some form.

I read an recent article in Arts Reach (, "What Can the Arts Learn from Sports?" This gist in the article is that sports do a better job of being a place of pride for the community and connecting the fans with the players than the arts do. There is much we could debate about, but I think the writer missed the point about sports really borrowing and then enhancing the drama surrounding the game. The arts are about telling a story, whether the medium is stage or canvas. Where we could learn from sports is the build up. Every story about the people involved is uncovered in sports. By the time you get to the game, if you are not a true fan, it could almost be a let down. What else could we learn from sports? Sports fill a great need in humanity for many. My son has a hero figure in Peyton Manning to model himself. The arts also fill a great place in humanity. Sports have borrowed from our stage. What can we borrow from sports?

I know that sports have more coverage, 24-hour television and radio, but instead of whining about it, what can we do about it? Have we asked the Sentinel why it doesn't do an arts insert for high school students to showcase what is being accomplished like it does for high school sports students weekly? Are we open enough as a community? Could we do a better job of telling our story before we tell our story? Do we take ourselves too seriously? It isn't about converting the "unchurched" sports fan to become an arts aficionado or vice versa. Many audience research studies show that it is more about participation anyway. The last evidence I saw was that 60% of sport attendees also attend the arts. It was more about finding people who are active. My questions circle around what as a community we could do to promote ourselves better so that more people who are active participate in all that our arts community has to offer. In the meantime, I will relish the Colts victory and see you at the show.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Waiter there is a fly in my soup.

We are a catalytic organization. Board and staff of the Alliance are passionate about seeing the Central Florida arts and culture community prosper. As I mentioned last week, we have bigger appetites than what we can consume in regards to serving the community we love. Or, as my grandmother used to say "our eyes are bigger than our stomach." Many of you have been patient with the deliverables of the Red Chair Project awareness campaign. Its goal is to increase participation. For most of our arts and culture community, that can't happen fast enough as we all work with tight budgets and limited human resources. Success for us is when a sold-out house witnesses a story well told, either on the stage or on the canvas.

I hope that under my tutelage we have set a tone of openness that you can always bring your suggestions, opinions and even your complaints. We even welcome praise when warranted. Even when it feels like you might be overstating the obvious, like the fly in your soup to the waiter, know that we want to hear from you. Now, the best comments or opinions are those that also carry a solution to said problem, but we are open to all constructive criticism. Recently, an email was sent out to a large portion of the arts and culture community. Artists, patrons and administrators were sent a message that criticized the Red Chair Project. Like I said, I have no problem with constructive criticism. This email, however, was full of assumptions, opinions and numerous incorrect statements that forged the criticism.

I have been down this road before, so it wasn't new, but one thing struck a chord with me that I won't tolerate. We were accused of not being a collaborative organization. You can say many things, but not collaborating is not one of them. Our entire culture, our mission and our accomplishments all point to not only fostering collaboration, but living it from our core. I would always prefer solution-based criticism over empty criticism, but if you are going to tell us how to do something better, don't hit below the belt with school yard name calling.

I have tough skin, but if you don't have the respect and confidence to go to the very source you are criticizing to ask questions before sending out mass emails that are purely false and do more damage than good, you are acting out the very accusation you claim we are not. You are tearing down instead of building up. It is hard enough to survive in our community, but circling the wagons and shooting in is not going to advance anything. If you see a fly in your soup, tell us.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Mile wide, inch deep

I have faults. I know. I know. This comes as a surprise to many of you. But, it is true. In fact, I have more liabilities than one blog has time to reveal (just ask my wife Shantel). Let's just tackle one. In directing the Performing Arts Alliance, one fault particularly rears its ugly head. I love to serve and see our arts and culture community grow. That isn't the problem. The fault lies in my desire and belief that I can do more than resources allow. If I can see how something could progress and ultimately work, then ergo I should be able to accomplish it. Problem is within our emerging cultural community, we have so many needs that I don't know which hole in the dam to plug first and we start to drown. I am extremely confident that we have answered the right call and are headed in the right direction with programs like Red Chair Project and Orlando Arts Getaway, designed to advance our community's awareness and eventual audience development. Here is where my fault comes into play. We haven't let go of so many programs from the past, so we are spread way too thin, not allowing us to go deep into greatness with any one thing. All of the programs are "needed" on some level, but the choice lies in what has the greatest impact when resources are minimal. We still are facility managers for example, acting as landlord over the Theatre Garage and as a mentor to many young performing companies new to producing while using the Studio Theatre. We birthed the Downtown Arts District and should have given all facilities-related programs over to them at that point. We didn't. We did stop producing the Spotlight on Theatre convention, but we kept some of its guts like the Unified Auditions and Play-in-a-Day. We made the decision last year to not produce Play-in-a-Day as it Shakespeare's Playfest is a better place for it. We have attempted to be all things to all people. I take the blame. The adage is that you can't fix a problem unless you first confess that you have a problem. Done. The fixing is in progress and couldn't happen soon enough. Be on the look out for a new vision and mission, along with a new name and branding from the Alliance. We are going to eliminate some things to focus deeper on others. We asked for feedback late last year and much of the feedback from constituents echoed what I am saying. I'll continue pushing our arts and culture community to work together in a positive and solution-based format, but I am also going to be a lot more frugal in accepting what we can do with our very limited resources. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Performing Arts vs. Visual Arts

Performing Arts clearly is better and deserves more attention than the visual arts. Right? I mean we must take full advantage of our strength of drawing more people to our performances than visual arts attract to a gallery opening or museum exhibit. We have stronger economic impact and thus should stop this idea of working together and simply muscle our way into the position of attracting more money from both public and private sources. This is the rally call. Our time is over due! O.K., enough with the poor attempt for over-the-top humor. If you haven't read the Orlando Sentinel story "Groups differ on artistic vision" from January 7, where Betsey Maupin updates the status of the Downtown Arts District, you may not even understand why I am bringing up this subject. Betsey did a great job summarizing the Downtown Arts District and its major project, the CityArts Factory, but apparently to some it came across that I was drawing a line saying performing arts deserves more attention than visual arts. As a point of clarification, my point was not about which art is better or worse in the capacity of content or preference, but instead my comments focused on building an arts district. I have studied and been intimately involved in working on building an arts district in downtown Orlando for over five years and know that building arts districts are specific to each city. Some arts districts are focused entirely on the visual arts with blocks dedicated to galleries. Some have a mixture of both performing arts venues and galleries. My point is that from a pure audience development stand point, the performing arts by their very nature draw more people to their venue than a gallery. Museums are a different discussion. My other point is that the Downtown Arts District has spent money forming and building galleries disproportional to the performing arts in downtown Orlando when the audiences from SAK, the Studio Theatre and Mad Cow far outweigh the audiences from visual arts downtown to date. That doesn’t even include the Bob Carr performances. The Alliance works from the heartbeat of figuring out ways to work collaboratively on everything it pursues. We are in fact going to be expanding our vision to include all arts and culture which is evident from our focus on the Red Chair Project and Orlando Arts Getaway. The Alliance and OVAL had a joint Holiday party recently that was great at bringing together artists from all sectors. It clearly isn't about who is better or worse as art and culture speak stories into humanity on various levels. We will continue to work on ways to sustain and grow arts participation in arts and culture in our region. The focus should be on convincing both the public and private sectors of the value of growing participation in the arts and culture community. The resources are extremely limited right now, so it is easy to fight over the pieces of pie. Let's work on making the pie bigger. Did somebody say pie? It must be lunch time.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Why dad?

Dylan, my 3 1/2 year-old is in the "why" mode of life. I attempt on many occasions to be the omniscient dad only to realize each time that the cycle has no end, not to mention that attempting to fill the Almighty's role is tiring. I can only imagine how fascinating the world must be to my son right now as he soaks up information like a sponge. Everything is fresh. We all know how hard it is to keep that fresh quest for knowledge as we encounter set backs and disappointments during our lifetimes. Personally, I know I have a bent toward the cynical, so I surround myself with 0ptimistic people. The best decision I ever made was to marry the most positive person I have ever met, so she truly keeps me in check. My son is actually teaching me to look at the world from a more novel perspective. When looking at our emerging arts community, my biggest "why"question is why more of our arts groups don't ask more questions? Oh, we have plenty of opinions (me included) and assumptions, but truly asking the questions not only to obtain the right answers, but to truly get closer as a community could improve greatly. An artistic director at one of our theatres said that he hasn't seen the audience base for theatre patrons grow since he has been here for 10 years and doesn't expect that it will grow. When I asked him why he thought that was, he just said that he felt that this market just isn't arts savvy. Is that true or have we not used the right channels to reach a new and broader audience? The old adage is if we keep acting in the same manner that we can't expect change. It is like the person who expects to lose weight, but doesn't change poor eating habits. We just launched It is one step to use a different approach to cmmunicate the assets we have as arts community. My biggest disappointment is that instead of engaging the possibilities with questions, many arts groups have chosen to engage in assumptions or not engage at all. Recently seven groups got together to offer a Real Orlando Real Art, a "hopper pass" type package to their events to give potential new audiences a way to experience several types of organizations. That is the fantastic result of asking a question and then searching for a new approach to address it. That is the novel approach. Let's take a page from a 3 1/2 year-olds perspective. Ask questions.