Last month, the router in my home died. As a result, I spent nearly a week with no internet access in my home. I had no idea how dependent I had become on this mode of doing business until I was without out it. Moreover, I have limited data on my phone and tablet since I spend most of my life in a Wi-Fi environment. Suddenly I couldn’t check details of an upcoming trip. I couldn’t check my work email. I couldn’t use our printer or scanner. I tried to buy tickets to a dance event that I heard about and couldn’t do so. My list of things to do when I visited my local café (to get Wi-Fi) went on and on.

And then I learned it could be even worse than I was experiencing. At the end of last month, the hacking of Dyn brought much of the internet to a grinding halt in many areas of New England and beyond. Even the New York Times was struggling, not to mention Twitter, Netflix, and other major businesses. It happened via cameras, baby monitors, and home routers (though not mine!). And it turns out it may have been done by amateur hackers, which is even scarier in some ways. So much of what we do now depends on this electronic medium of communication, and yet, it is so vulnerable. Eventually, websites were back up and running. (And back home, I replaced my router.) It was back to business as usual. But what if this were to happen again? What can we do to solve this much larger problem of vulnerability?

The scope of this problem is enormous, as we have seen with recent hacks and cyberattacks on U.S. political organizations this year. Virtually every sector, both public and private, can be affected. With respect to the arts, an area where I spend the bulk of both my leisure and work hours, technology has revolutionized how we conduct business. But how many arts organizations have safeguards in place in case our technology fails? How much do we depend on online platforms for ticket sales and contributions, or electronic communications and social media for marketing? What would you do if the entire system shut down for a day? A week, a month, or more?

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A conversation with Marc Goldring, who retires this year after three decades as a consultant.


How did you get started in your career as a consultant?

It was 1983, and after years of living in rural New Hampshire, I was making a transition. It started by moving from my small, hand-built house in the woods to an old center-chimney cape in a nearby village. From there my craft studio flourished. I got a Fulbright lectureship to New Zealand, taught at several prestigious craft schools like Haystack and Arrowmont, and did freelance administrative work for the National Crafts Planning Project, funded by the crafts program of a then-robust National Endowment for the Arts.

Somewhere along the way, I worked with Dr. Thomas Wolf, the founding Executive Director of the New England Foundation for the Arts who had left to start a consulting business, The Wolf Organization. My skills aligned with his needs and he offered me a job in Cambridge. With a daughter ready for middle school, it was a temptation impossible to resist. My career as a consultant was under way.

That was 31 years ago, and from then to now is a complicated story, both personally and for our field.


What has changed over the past 31 years in our field?

Marc and Jane 1986

Marc Goldring and Jane Culbert in Tom Wolf's basement, 1986.

When I began consulting, the culture wars were just heating up as social conservatives took aim at Federal support for art that they viewed as at best controversial and at worst blasphemous. At the same time, and in part caused by this, state and local funding for the arts was also being curtailed and in some cases eliminated. My consulting assignments in the 80s and 90s took me to many smaller and mid-sized urban centers. I saw a comparatively limited range of cultural opportunities that struggled for visibility and funding. The very definition of “arts and culture” was often narrow and, in many cases, appeared to be elitist.

Fast-forward to the present, and it’s clear that times have changed. And, in some ways, those times held the seed of today’s robust cultural sectors in cities and towns of all sizes. Here, in no particular order, is my impressionistic view of the most significant changes in our field:

  • As local arts agencies engaged in community planning initiatives, there was a tendency to focus on a broader range of arts and cultural activities. This helped make the case for the value of arts and culture more broadly and fostered a stronger focus on individual, active participation in this more broadly defined range of activities.
  • The rise of national, regional, and local service organizations that focused on making the case for the instrumental benefits of arts and culture, in particular their economic benefit, brought a new cadre of business and government supporters to the table.
  • The proliferation of academic training programs in arts administration, as well as a greater emphasis on artist training in business skills, meant that many organizations — and the field as a whole — had the benefit of a new stream of creative and talented leaders.
  • And let’s not forget perhaps the most significant shift, both for arts and culture and our society as a whole: the transformation resulting from computers, the Internet in general, and social media in particular.
Marc and grandson

Marc Goldring with grandson Desmond, 2016

I doubt these observations come as a surprise to readers (who can find more details on WolfBrown’s website), but I did find it surprising when I looked back and noticed how much our field has changed in only the past 35 years of my consulting career. On a personal note, I’ll miss my connections with so many friends and colleagues across the country. But I’m pleased that at the end of this journey, I find the field in such capable hands.


Thinking back over the course of your career, do you have a favorite memory you’d like to share?

It was in about 1989 and I was conducting an interview for a community cultural plan in a mid-sized mid-western community. My interviewee was the vice president of a locally-based bank and he had been reluctant to meet with me. Throughout the session, I would ask basic questions about arts and cultural offerings in the region and he seemed to preface each answer with a comment like, “Well, I don’t really know much about the arts…” From the brevity of his responses, he seemed to have a point!

After about twenty minutes of talking about the local business climate, prospects for job growth, and almost anything except arts and culture — my main topic of concern, I ended the session, to my interviewee’s apparent relief.

As I was leaving, I noticed a framed picture on the wall of four middle-aged men in tuxedos, smiling broadly, one of whom resembled my interviewee. “Are you in a barbershop quartet?” I asked, surprised. He allowed as how he was. I was thunderstruck! It turned out that he had founded the quartet over a decade before and went to statewide and regional meetings to perform, winning several competitions. This was his passion. It just never occurred to him that what he enjoyed had anything to do with “art.”

What a strong disconnect and what a powerful lesson for me. I saw how important it was to define art as broadly as possible to counter the strong, elitist tinge that word had, especially 25 years ago. As my practice matured, I learned to use a dramatically more inclusive definition of art and, thanks to Alan Brown, to pay more attention to creativity and participation. And that interview with a bank vice president laid the groundwork for that evolution.

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Marc Goldring’s insightful “look back” on his decades of working in the cultural sector is characteristic of the wisdom he always has brought to his consulting work — first for the fledgling Wolf Organization, then, after a merger, with Wolf, Keens & Company, and more recently in the expanded consulting firm of WolfBrown. Marc’s perspective — that of someone who had been a full-time working visual artist and one who knew of the struggles that such professionals face — had been very different from my own. My background had been in music, and I had worked comfortably within established arts institutions. He knew the solitude and uncertainty of having to make a working life in the arts by himself. And perhaps that is why we got on so well once we became colleagues. Each of us brought something to the working relationship that was more than the sum of its parts. Marc’s commitment to the arts has never wavered since, nor has his love of making art. Today he is a recognized photographer (take a look at some of his work at his website), and he continues to spend hours each week working on behalf of the artist community. So while we will miss him as one of our senior consultants at WolfBrown, we know Marc will continue to serve the field we both love and make the world a more beautiful place.

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At WolfBrown we work with clients to measure the impact of arts and cultural experiences. Frequently, that means we operate in the “near hereafter” — for example, surveying audience members immediately following a performance, or sampling audiences’ attitudes to other cultures before and after a festival of world music and dance. It is rare, though, that we have the opportunity to think deeply about the lasting impact of such experiences.

CMW musicians perform at La Lupita

CMW musicians perform at La Lupita Tacos Mexicanos as part of their Inhabit ArtPlace Event Series. Photo credit: Community MusicWorks

But just such an opportunity arose when Community MusicWorks, a neighborhood-embedded education and music organization, asked WolfBrown to capture the long-term impact of its Fellows program (a two-year residency in teaching, music-making, and community engagement). The task was challenging for a number of reasons: (1) the organization’s mission is to create more cohesive urban communities through music — a bold objective, but challenging to measure; (2) the program is over a decade old so much of the information was retrospective; and (3) past Fellows are far-flung and busy, presenting additional challenges when collecting data.

Using a participatory evaluation format, we worked closely with CMW staff and former Fellow Rachel Panitch (as a co-researcher with an insider’s perspective), to develop a multi-methods approach that included interviews, surveys, and observations. Through this work, we carved out a set of dimensions that captures and communicates the decade-long impact of the Fellowship:

  • Diversity in Cohesive Urban Communities | What has CMW’s Fellowship contributed as an example of diverse musicians using their artistry to strengthen an urban community? What proportion of participants comes from communities of origin different from those that dominate the field of classical music? In the case of CMW, 40% of its Fellows are people of color, as compared to less than 10% of students of color in post-graduate arts training and fewer than 5% of U.S. symphony musicians.
  • Reach | Once Fellows leave CMW do they continue to teach, mentor, and collaborate in ways that model and spread the work? Compared to other youngindependent classical  musicians, CMW Fellows do more teaching (26% v. 15%), performing in and for social justice programs (17% v. 6%), and mentoring (7% v. 0%).Reach of a Former CMW Fellow
  • Longevity | Once Fellows leave CMW do they stay in the field of music and social justice? In addition, what proportion of participants goes on to work in under-resourced communities? In the case of CMW, 14 of its 16 graduated Fellows have continued to bring music education, services, and performances to 11 under-resourced communities. Many have done so continuously since the years of their Fellowship.
  • Uptake and adaptation of the original CMW model | How many “next generation” music and public service programs trace their origins to CMW? How adaptive has the original model proven when translated to different organizations and communities? Altogether, 16 diverse models of music and public service have been started, including 2 close replications of the model, 6 distinctive community-embedded music projects, and 8 programs that apply elements of CMW values and design to their work.

Taken together, these dimensions provide substantive measures of the long-term success of CMW’s efforts to diversify who participates in classical music, develop a set of practices that can build skills among musicians to engage in social justice issues, and sustain the organizations and individuals who undertake this challenging work. Moreover, these dimensions suggest a framework through which the wider field might begin to gauge the success of other sustained efforts.

The full report, We Are Each Other’s Magnitude and Bond: An Evaluation of Community MusicWorks’ Extending Our Reach Initiative, is available for download.

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It’s no secret that creativity and innovation are highly valued commodities in industries such as advertising and software development. As a result, companies in these fields have developed a number of practices designed to maximize the creative output of their employees. For those of us who work in the arts, it should come as no surprise that corporations in these sectors turn to art as one means of inspiring their employees and that artist in residence programs are often seen as means of bringing the creative energy of artists into corporate headquarters. However, I was intrigued to find that some major employers in sectors such as retail, in which the value of employees’ creativity is less obvious, appear to be getting in on the act.

Photo credit: XiXinXing / Envato Market

Recently, I came across a special issue of a magazine that a “big box”discount retailer produces for its employees, in which the company celebrated the creative talents of a handful of individual employees: a visual artist who works as a janitor at one of the stores, an accounting associate who also works a music therapist, and a sales clerk who is a published novelist. The magazine also reports on the annual company-wide talent contest, and there is mention of the company’s choir. Is this a case in which the arts are being grossly appropriated for the purpose of boosting workforce morale and increasing the company’s bottom line? Absolutely! But it also suggests that the company’s executives believe that their employees benefit from arts in some way (which in turn benefits the company) and that such activities are worth celebrating and supporting.

Americans for the Arts has recently released a series of essays addressing why businesses might want to integrate the arts in their workplaces. One article cites research on the importance of employee engagement in reducing staff turnover and increasing productivity, and maintains that arts programs can keep employees engaged. Another argues that involvement in the arts increases critical thinking skills and leads to more creative problem solving.

Understanding the relationship between employees’ arts participation and their working lives seems particularly pertinent to me, since lack of time is the most common reason people cite for not attending the arts more frequently. Like it or not, our bosses control a significant portion of our waking hours, and if you consider programs like employer-supported sports leagues, volunteerism, and gym memberships, it’s clear that they also have some influence over our leisure time. If employers recognize the arts as something that is vital in the lives of their employees — either because it increases productivity or because it provides necessary balance — it could go a long way towards changing whether workers think about the arts as an indulgence or a worthwhile investment of their time.

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Photo credit: camema / Envato Market

My wife and I attend a lot of galas, as a way to spend time with friends and colleagues in our community and to support a variety of great organizations and causes. To be successful raising money from a gala while also burnishing an arts and culture organization’s reputation, these events must be run with the same high level of planning and execution as any high-quality artistic program. Since some of the events we’ve attended have been more successful than others in meeting this standard, I thought it might be useful to share notes on suggested “do’s and don’ts” of well-executed arts galas:

  • The Cocktail Hour: Keep it to that hour, giving people time to mingle but without making the evening too long. Try to have enough hors d’oeuvres, so people are not drinking on an empty stomach, and enough bartenders, so lines are not too long.
  • Photo credit: vvoennyy / Envato Market

    The Dinner: Preset the first course and bread on the table. Offer poured wine as people sit down and during the main course, but — to save costs and preserve our livers — do not automatically fill glasses all night. Choose a dinner location where noise won’t interfere with conversation. And, if there’s a dance band, ask them to play softly while the meal is served.

  • The Speeches: Keep the number small and the length short. If many people desire a chance to express appreciation of an honoree, create a short video tribute. Find an honoree who is committed to your mission. And avoid having multiple honorees, which requires many introductory and acceptance speeches and may make your organization appear desperate to attract attendees.
  • The Purpose: It is to raise awareness as well as money for your organization. So, don’t just talk about your mission; include a short video or live demonstration that showcases what you do. If attendees have paid a lot to attend, thank them for their support rather than begging for more. If you do a live auction during dinner, limit the number of items. Though it is now becoming fashionable to do live paddle fundraising challenges, balance the need for money with consideration for the feelings of those in the room who may not have the resources to participate, as doing otherwise may counteract the communal goodwill that galas should engender.
  • The Time: Start cocktails by 6 PM, sit down to dinner by 7 PM, and end the formal program by 9 PM. Those who want to stay later for more dancing, drinking, or dessert can do so. The rest of us want to go home, even on a weekend, to get ready for the next day.

A gala serves many organizational goals, but to achieve them, follow Cole Porter’s advice and make sure “It’s delightful, it’s delicious, it’s de-lovely.”2



1From “Kiss Me, Kate,” Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
2From “It’s De-Lovely,” Music and Lyrics by Cole Porter
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How does one go about teaching principles of fund raising to 40,000 students in over 100 countries? That was the dilemma I faced when I was approached by Philanthropy University, an entity that bills itself as “a free, first-of-its kind educational initiative for change makers in the social sector.” Philanthropy U, which offers courses exclusively over the internet to students worldwide, is associated with the Haas School of Business at the University of California Berkeley.

First, there was the difficulty of dealing with such a diverse group of students living and working in countries with a wide variety of philanthropic traditions. My students in the past, while they may have come from different types of organizations, all operated under a tax system that had produced a unified set of laws and fund raising practices. For this course, I had to spend a good deal of preparation time trying to master how fund raising took place in other parts of the world.

Then there was the challenge of teaching over the internet. In the past, I have always had large blocks of time at my disposal to teach complex concepts (never less than 45 minutes). Now I was told that students rarely wish to stay glued to a lecture over the internet for more than five or six minutes. I ended up rethinking my material, repackaging the concepts into smaller, bite-size morsels. Furthermore, individual communication with tens of thousands of students is impossible, so Philanthropy U developed a peer-learning approach in which students gave feedback to one another’s work and then a staff member proposed a few assignments for me to evaluate that would help everyone master basic concepts.

Finally, I had to decide what level of course I would offer. Would it be basic or advanced? Either way, many people might be disappointed. In the end, I chose to do both, suggesting that the basic material was good review for those who might be familiar with it. I need not have worried. As it turned out, my students were primarily young, engaged in extraordinary grass-roots projects, and eager to learn everything they could. As in all good teaching situations, I learned as much as anyone. If many of my students represent the millennial generation, I can be optimistic about the future.

The course HOW TO CONNECT WITH DONORS with Dr. Thomas Wolf will be offered several times this year. For those interested, click here for more information.

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In June 2015, I gave a presentation on donor motivations to a group of Bay Area fundraisers, focusing on how Millennials are different from others in their giving preferences and behaviors. The presentation drew on research that Alan and I first did in 2010 for The San Francisco Foundation and the East Bay Community Foundation – It’s Not About You…It’s About Them – a study of attitudes towards giving among a cross-section of Bay Area arts donors. The original study identified segments of donors based on preferences and priorities for giving, but didn’t focus on age. So I dug back into the data to see what there was to find, and discovered some key differences between Millennials and other age groups:

  1. Millennials prefer to give to organizations where they know their gift makes a difference. Thirty-seven percent of survey respondents under 35 strongly agree that they need to see evidence their gift is making an impact, compared to just 31% of respondents 35 and older.
  2. Millennials typically like to (or are only able to) give in small amounts. Over half of respondents under 35 said they are likely to give “small gifts where their gift can make a bigger difference,” compared to just 32% of respondents over 35.
  3. Millennials are more interested in supporting local artists and arts programs that aren’t part of the mainstream. Forty-four percent of under 35-year-olds are very likely to support “individual artists who live in their community,” compared to 26% of 35+ respondents. Additionally, 46% are likely to support “art projects that aren’t part of mainstream cultural institutions,” compared to 23% of 35+ respondents.
  4. Millennials prioritize personal connections when considering contributing to a new cause or organization. Twenty-four percent of those under 35 said they need to know someone personally who has given to the organization, compared to 18% of 35+ respondents; another 25% need to have a personal connection to an artist affiliated with the organization or program, compared to 9% for 35+ respondents; and, 63% need to have a personal connection to the art form, compared to 51% for 35+ respondents.
  5. Millennials are driven by personal values. Seventy-one percent of respondents under 35 feel that “social justice and equal opportunity” and “valuing a diversity of viewpoints” are very important, compared to 62% and 56% of older respondents, respectively.

Additional research from the Millennial Impact Project mirrors many of the findings from the 2010 donor motivations study, particularly those related to the importance of values and passions and the desire for deeper and more personal engagement.

What does all this research mean for arts organizations seeking to cultivate Millennial donors? Here are a few recommendations:

  • Embrace transparency in communicating about your business, your goals, and your financial needs, in an effort to create authentic relationships.
  • Start conversations with the goal of uncovering personal passions and beliefs rather than income level and giving capacity.
  • Spend more time and effort in the initial task of building the relationship with individual donors to set the stage for varying levels of support over the long term.
  • Connect to local advocacy groups, organizations, and artists to expand your network of participants and supporters and increase community engagement, relevancy, and impact.
  • Communicate how a gift creates value in the community, illustrating to younger donors how they can make a difference, even with a small gift.
  • Voluntarily hold yourself accountable; continually revisit, refine, and report on the impact of funded programs and projects, and don’t be afraid to ask donors for their feedback.

Values, community, and personal connection will continue to drive donors’ motivations and giving behaviors, and even more so for younger donors.

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I always look forward to reports that present a statistical summary of the arts in one form or another, so the past few weeks have provided me with a wealth of numbers to contemplate. The first such report that caught my eye was Guidestar’s report, “Nine Things You Might Not Know about U.S. Nonprofits“. It is overwhelming to read that there are more than 2.3 million nonprofits, only 1.5 million of which are registered with the IRS as tax-exempt. And there has been lots of growth in recent years, with the nonprofit sector growing faster than government or business sectors in terms of number of people employed and wages paid.

And then I read about a recent NEA research report done in collaboration with the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that tells us that arts and cultural production contributed $704.2 billion to the U.S. economy, a 32.5 percent increase since 1998. Moreover, people are spending more on performing arts now than they were 15 years ago. For those of us in the nonprofit sector, these numbers are initially quite heartening.

It turns out, however, that those numbers are for commercial and nonprofit spending combined. In fact, the fastest growing industry from arts and culture over this period was in the area of “other information services,” which includes internet publishing and broadcasting. Sound recording is the second greatest growth area.

There is no denying that the nonprofit sector is growing rapidly. But in the world of arts and culture, it seems the for-profit industries are the ones leading the way in terms of growth. Where will this trend take us?

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Most of my work focuses on measuring the immediate impacts of the arts using survey-based audience research. To date, over just a few years, we’ve visualized nearly half a million surveys through the Intrinsic Impact dashboard, processing audience data and feedback for nearly two thousand artistic productions for well over one hundred arts organizations of all sizes. While the bulk of our data collection has been for artistic programs for adult audiences, we are now working with many leading theatres for young audiences as well, including ChildsplayBay Area Children’s TheatreThe New Victory Theater, and Flint Youth Theatre.

In the case of The New Victory Theater in New York, WolfBrown’s Cambridge and San Francisco offices have joined forces to measure the ways in which different kinds of performances (circus, song and dance revues, and narrative dramas) have different profiles of emotional effects. Early data suggests that narrative- or character-driven productions may evoke more intense levels across the emotional spectrum than other types of shows. Our findings may change, though, as we collect more data through surveys of young audience members.

Other companies, such as Childsplay and Bay Area Children’s Theatre, are surveying caregivers and educators for their feedback and are collecting valuable insights into how their work activates creativity and imaginative play among young people after performances. Aggregated data suggest that this particular impact is seen more frequently among younger children, with over half of those with children under 5 reporting some kind of imaginative play inspired by the show. Investigation of how older children may be inspired differently than younger children may yield valuable insights into how TYA practitioners can create even more impactful work for various age groups.

As we continue this work, we will have the opportunity to explore additional hypotheses about the impact of the arts on young audiences. Are there particular characteristics or traits of artistic works that elicit certain short-term impacts more than others? Do productions with more music and more choreography have a different effect, in general, than less musical counterparts? And can data help us better understand why attention to diversity in casting, staffing, and program selection is important for audiences of all ages and backgrounds?

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