Monday, November 24, 2014

If you could see privilege...

...what would it look like?

For some reason, that is a question which my Facebook news feed has answered twice over the past week. The timing is particularly eerie as I am helping with a video project on exploring the topic of diversity at Burning Man, and privilege being one of the issues and topics that comes up.

Regardless, I wanted to share several examples in order of increasing effectiveness for me.

The first one is one that actually came up when I google'd "cartoon privilege" for one more example to round out the other two.

The only problem is that as it's oversimplified history and groups of people into a single interaction between two people, the challenge is how to have an engaging dialogue about a multifaceted and complex issue, which leads to definitive actions with measurable outcomes.

By the way, if anyone knows the artist of the cartoon above, please let me know? The image is used so much that trying to google its creator was not yielding any results.

This next comic, while a bit better, still has an illogical statement. I don't want to repost it without permission, but you can see the cartoon with some context at Everyday Feminism.

My problem is the supposed conclusion of the exchange is with the "white male" pointing out his own burden, and it seemingly the conclusion that there's no way for the others to convince him of the fact that their own backpacks are considerably bigger, by virtue of the fact that he doesn't even notice the difference himself; the mere presence of his own backpack to bear is enough.

And this leads me to the third visualization...less of a cartoon, and more of an exercise. This one, I have to thank Buzzfeed for, "This Teacher Taught His Class A Powerful Lesson About Privilege".

The gist of it is that everyone sitting in a class can move up from their own class if they get a crumpled piece of paper into a bin at the front.

Human nature unfortunately leaves us relatively aware of our backspace, much less anything behind it. So folks from the front of the class, while they have their own challenge to make the shot, don't realize much less think about how much more difficult it is for those farther and farther back to do the same. But it is painfully obvious for those towards the back and especially those in the back of the advantage others have and their own disadvantage.

You can read about the exercise more in depth Buzzfeed. But what I appreciate about that exercise is that while physically demonstrating the challenge of working with different privilege, it also illustrates the challenge of having a conversation about it as everyone isn't coming to the table from the same perspective.

Anyway, just wanted to share. Are there any favorite visualizations, from comics to exercise, that you think have helped you and others understand and talk about privilege?

Please share in the comments,


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Modern dancing with the pop stars

Hey there,

So as someone who majored in modern dance (which isn't always what some people think it is), I love seeing contemporary choreography in the music videos of pop stars.

While I used contemporary and modern somewhat interchangeably, here is a definition of modern dance, from Wikipedia:
Modern dance is a style of western concert dance which began loosely in the late 19th century and early 20th-century. Modern dance, which has birthplaces in the United States as well as Germany, was a direct response to ballet as the primary form of concert dance. Modern dance refused aspects of classical ballet and broke away from codified movements and balletic narrative structures. Because of early pioneers like Martha Graham, modern dance now encompasses a wide range of styles, many of which are associated with renowned schools and masters. There are over a thousand Types of Modern Dance including the Graham and Horton techniques. Eventually, postmodern dance would reject the formalism of modern dance and include elements such as performance art, contact improvisation, floor work, release-technique, and improvisation.

So for me, the choreography in these videos stands out from other music video choreography because it's less literal and more abstract in it's movement vocabulary and motifs. It's less of a direct visualization of the music, and rather works in conjunction with the song to create meaning, rather than being dictated by rhythm, melody, and lyrics.

That being said (and I share this with the caveat that I don't watch many music videos to begin with), here are three that have stood out in the past several years. And, weirdly enough, I'm going to share them in the order of the Choreography track at UMD's Dance program, three semester long classes, choreographing for solo, duet, then group.

So first up, a solo. It's the music video for Sia's Chandelier:

The  choreography is by Ryan Heffington, and the dancer is Maddie Ziegler (who was born in 2002!!). If you haven't seen the video, you might've seen a Saturday Night Live skit referencing it this past Halloween. And this year, it won the MTV Music Video Award for Best Choreography.

The second video is a duet, the music video for Pink's Try.

The choreography is a collaboration by the Golden Boyz and stunt choreographer, Sebastien Stella. The dancer/love interest is Colte Prattes, who is on the faculty of the Broadway Dance Center. Colte is actually touring with Pink, but as soon as he's back I think I'm going to be planning a road trip up to NYC.

Third and not least is a group piece, the music video for Carrie Underwood's Something in the Water.

The choreography is by Travis Wall, a former So You Think You Can Dance competitor, and the dancers are company members of his dance company, Shaping Sound.

What's HUGE about this is the challenges dance has as an art form, in the south. And the majority of pop music videos tend not to help. You can check out the comments on YouTube for a clear example of this. I remember talking about it in undergrad, and how in many parts of the U.S. south, dance had to be coded as physical activity, just to even be considered as programming, particularly in educational settings.

Which it is, very intense and strenuous physical activity, don't get me wrong. But that's the subject for a whole other post.

What I thought was interesting was that the three pop artist who came to mind were all female. And I wonder how many male pop artists incorporate contemporary and modern dance into any of their music videos.

That being said, if you have any music videos which features modern choreography, please share them in the comments,


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Grantmaker resources, working in the DC arts scene

Hey there,

Just a quick share about three resources for grantmakers which we take advantage of, at the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities:

Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers:

  • "The Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers is a membership association composed of grantmakers in the Greater Washington region - Northern Virginia, suburban Maryland, and the District of Columbia. Our members represent a vibrant cross-section of philanthropy, including family, community, corporate, and independent foundations, as well as corporate giving programs, governmental grantmakers, grantmaking public charities, and individual philanthropists. We provide a variety of services to our members to facilitate more effective, strategic, and efficient grantmaking, thereby making the Greater Washington region a better place to live and work."

Grantmakers in the Arts

  • "The mission of Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) is to provide leadership and service to advance the use of philanthropic resources on behalf of arts and culture. GIA is the only national association of private and public funders making grants to artists and arts organizations in America. GIA’s strength is in its diversity of members: private, family, community and corporate foundations, national, state and local governmental agencies, nonprofit national, regional and local service organizations. What they all have in common is a belief that America is a better place to live and our communities are stronger when the creativity of artists is prevalent in all aspects of society."

  • "For more than 15 years the GEO community has advanced smarter grantmaking practices that enable nonprofits to grow stronger and more effective. As a result, GEO members consistently outpace other funders in terms of making productive changes to help nonprofits achieve more — such as providing support for grantee capacity building, engaging external voices in decision-making, giving multiyear grants, forming strategic partnerships and funding collaboration among grantees."

Just thought I'd share, for any other grantmakers out there, hopefully you'll find at least one of these useful, if you're not already a member.

And as new members to the latter two, I'm looking forward to taking advantage of their programs and learning more.

Any other similar organizations you'd recommend? Please share in the comments!!


Friday, August 01, 2014

Fun facts about DCCAH's FY14 grantees

Hey there,

As we're getting to wrapping up FY14 and prep for FY15 at the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, there were some things that I was curious about, not just as a grants manager, but as an arts administrator in general as well as a board member of a small arts organization.

In reviewing organizational profiles, several data points piqued my interest: founding year, board size, and when an organization's fiscal year ended

So check this out, from data about 115 organizational grantees:

  • The average founding year is 1987
    • The median founding year, however, is 1991
    • The oldest organization was founded in 1918
    • The youngest organization was founded in 2010
  • The average number of board members an organization had was 16
    • The median number of board members, however, was 12
    • The smallest board had 3 members
    • The largest board had 59 members
  • The most popular dates for when fiscal years ended were:
    • 12/31 for 37.4% of grantees
    • 6/30 at a close second for 33% of grantees
    • 8/31 at third for 13.9% of grantees
    • 9/30 at fourth for 7.8% of grantees

There it is. Just thought it was interesting.

I was surprised to see that half of the FY14 grantees were organizations that were less than 23 years old. I guess I assumed that organizations were generally older than that. Board member wise, 12 made sense to me, as a median, because to me that seems to be an ideal number of board members.

And date wise, I wasn't surprised that many organizations aligned their fiscal year with the calendar year. I was surprised that the next most popular date was June 31. I am very curious why some organizations chose that. I was surprised that September 30 was fourth, because it is the DC Government's fiscal year end, and thought more organizations would have aligned their own fiscal year with it.

Anyway, there you go. What do you think? How does your own organization compare?

Let me know in the comments!!

JR aka Nexus

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Bookland in Brookland

And no, I'm not talking about Catholic University's Barnes & Noble that looks like it's getting close to opening.

I'm talking about Bookland (if you're on Foursquare, here's the page), studio of artist Caitlin Phillips. She's among a number of artists that have studios on the ground floor of the Monroe Street Market, a mixed use development. You can like them on Facebook here or follow them on Twitter here.

Caitlin is a wonderful person I've had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know as I've become more active in the DC Burners community. And Bookland is home to Caitlin's shop, Rebound Designs.

Rebound Designs mission?
A second chance for well-loved books!
What does Caitlin mean by this? Well I'm not a fan of paraphrasing things when folks already say it so well themselves. So, from her Facebook page:
Rebound Designs is a novel approach to accessories. I combine rescued and discarded hardback books with beautiful fabrics to become functional, one of a kind Book Purses. Paperbacks are turned into durable wallets, vinyl covered, and lined with pages of the books. Book lovers, I’ve got you covered!
And if you're on Etsy, favorite her shop here.

Bookland is located at 716 Monroe St NE (right up the street from my place at the Brookland Artspace Lofts!!).

And you can also find Caitlin at Eastern Market on the weekends. You can find her Eastern Market Vendor page here.

Also (like I couldn't love her even more) she interviewed in 2009 on NPR's All Things Considered, Judging a Book (Bag) By Its Cover.

And the thing is, I have multiple book shelves in my library at home. I treasure books in their physical form, and before I knew Caitlin and what she does and WHY she does it, I probably would've had the same reactions others have undoubtedly had.

But when I think about how much the book is more of a reminder of its story after I've read it, rather than how much I've actually reread any of the books in my library, I have no doubt I will be going to Caitlin soon, to give my own books a second-life, instead of one that's just gathering dust on my shelves.

- JR aka Nexus

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Term limits: Worth it or worthless?

Hey there,

So in a number of various situations, term limits is one of those given circumstances to any nonprofit governance situation, particularly arts nonprofits. But for the purpose of this particular post, I am referring to term limits regarding nonprofit board governance, not for-profit, and not elected government officials, which isn't to say that the conversation isn't at least related.

And to answer my own question before you've even read the rest of this blog, I would say it depends. That being said, I put the question out there and received some replies I wanted to share from colleagues.

Here's a reply I received on Twitter from Jess Solomon (thank you!!):
And if you'd like to see the the responses my inquiry received on Facebook, well, check out the post here:

So as not to rely solely on anecdote and personal experience, although all those who replied are professionals whose input I certainly appreciate, respect, and recommend, I Google'ed "nonprofit governance term limits" and thought I'd highlight excerpts from some of the results on the first several pages.

From On Board For Term Limits, The NonProfit Times, 10/1/11:
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has endorsed term limits, according to Bruce Hopkins, a partner in the Kansas City, Kan., law firm of Polsinelli Shalton Flanigan Suelthaus. “It’s certainly recommended in many quarters, but there’s ongoing debate whether it’s appropriate or not. Limits can force new blood on a board, which can be a good thing but sometimes organizations lose people who are competent, who can serve and want to serve, but can’t. There’s a valid debate on both sides of the issue,” Hopkins said.
From Five Reasons Board Leaders Should Have Term Limits, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, 1/18/11, specifically having to do with a Board Chair's term limit:
Term limits provide a painless way for people who aren’t doing a good job to retire gracefully and automatically. Admittedly, this is a pragmatic argument—and the downside is that a chair who is doing a fantastic job may get forced out early. But I’ve never heard a real-life complaint about term limits. And I’ve heard many complaints about their absence. 
And from Principles for Good Governance and Ethical Practice, Independent Sector, regarding the core concepts of "Principle 17: Board Member Term Limits":
  • Term limits provide natural turnover on the board. 
  • Staggered term limits prevent the entire board from changing at the same time, providing a way to preserve institutional memory. 
  • Term limits should be enforced in a systematic manner.
One quote from Alyson Ball, President of BoardWorks, LLC, from Term Limits - Critical to Your Nonprofit Board's Success:
Term limits are critical to a board's health because they prevent a single individual or group from monopolizing the spirit of the organization. They ensure that new ideas and approaches are explored - something that's essential to the success of every organization. Everyone is forced off the board eventually. If your board doesn't have term limits, I recommend you start thinking about them now.
And in conversations I've had, the main argument against term limits seems to be worry about loosing great board members, particularly regarding institutional knowledge. But that seems to be more a matter of engagement rather than governance.

But it's all related, because if you don't have a robust process for recruiting and onboarding new board members, of course one would be worried about loosing current ones.

Regarding the institutional knowledge, that not only seems to be more about how new members are onboarded, but also resides largely in the domain of the staff, more so than the board members, who are on the ground working Monday through Friday, 9 to 5, and often times more.

But again, the best answer is "It depends", because this is not a one-size-fits-all kind of question. With that being said, what is your own experience, and where along the spectrum of "Worth it" to "Worthless" would you say term limits lie for you?

- JR

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Artists and members and dues, oh my!!

Hey there,

So after procrastinating for a bit, I finally renewed my Theatre Communications Group membership today. I had an individual membership, which had lapsed, and which you can find more information here.

And how much was it? $35.

Part of my impetus to renew was personal, as theatre artist in general. But part of it had to do with my role as a Grant Manager at the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, handling the individual fellowships for the performing arts and literary arts. And so in addition to wanting to take advantage of resources for myself, but I also want to be a resource for the individual artists who will apply and eventually be awarded.

So that means staying involved and informed in the artistic disciplines I and the fellows are trained and work in.

And that took me to sign up for an individual membership with Dance/USA. Again, just as much for myself, as I received my B.A. in Dance from the University of Maryland.

Membership due for a year? $100. But as the membership year begins in July, the due which is..."due" when you sign-up is prorated quarterly, so it only cost me $50.

And in case you were wondering, yes, I am a bit of a triple threat. I sing with Gay Men's Chorus of Washington, and it was actually the performing art I started out with soonest. I was a Washington National Cathedral chorister, singing soprano in 5th grade.

And so of all the music membership organizations that are out there, it seemed to make the most sense to sign up for an individual membership with Chorus America.

To be a singer member? $20.

In case you would like to see what other service organizations there are, if you're involved in the performing arts, check out the Performing Arts Alliance Member Organizations.

And last, but definitely not least, I updated my Fractured Atlas membership. And while the Individual rate is definitely affordable, at $9.50 a month, if you don't need to take advantage of their fiscal sponsorship or insurance, the community level membership provides you all the other benefits of the individual one, and for free!!

Sooo...all my membership dues at the end of the night? $105.

And let's say I did take advantage of the full individual ones for Fractured Atlas and Chorus America, as well as signed up at the beginning of the year for Dance/USA? That would still only be, let's see... $95 (CA) + $100 (DUSA) + $95 (FA) + $35 (TCG) = $325 total. Less than $1 a day.

Me with contact staff
Anyway, I say all this to suggest that no matter how busy working arts professionals get, that they maintain connected, informed, etc. with their discipline's service organization(s), whether it's local, regional, or national. Make the time, budget the money.

Side note: I'm going to see if, as an added benefit to being awarded our fellowship grant, we (at the local arts agency level) can actually take care of the fees for each artist's respective service organization and offer them a membership for the duration of the grant cycle.

We shall see.

Anyway, that's it. Just thought I'd share. Anyone have thoughts to share? Other tips for other artists? Challenges and/or solutions to taking advantage or even just finding resources like these?

Any questions?

Please leave a comment,