The concept of pay discrimination based on gender is often grounded in the principle of “equal pay for equal work.” It is a simple idea and easy to understand in the case of a man and a woman working side-by-side on an assembly line doing exactly the same job.  But what if the man and the woman are sitting side-by-side in a symphony orchestra and one plays the oboe and the other plays the flute?

This is the question that could be decided by a Massachusetts court in conjunction with a discrimination suit brought by Elizabeth Rowe, principal flutist of the Boston Symphony, who is paid $70,000 less than the principal oboist, John Ferrillo. The case was brought under a new Massachusetts law that requires “equal pay for comparable work” (Note the use of the word “comparable” as opposed to “equal” or “identical.” )

The Boston Symphony vigorously denies discrimination arguing that the flute and oboe are not comparable instruments, that each instrument has its own pay scale, and that Rowe is paid more than nine other principal musicians in the orchestra who are men.

To complicate matters, the oboist, John Ferrillo, has submitted a statement as testimony in support of Rowe which is sympathetic to many of her arguments and effusive in his praise of her playing but does end with the words “I believe that the Equal Pay Law is an extraordinarily blunt instrument for accomplishing its stated aims.” (Anyone interested can form their own opinion by considering the law itself here.)

Chatter among insiders on the internet has been divided.  Some feel that the Boston Symphony has treated Rowe unfairly and the prudent course would be to settle, avoiding the danger of a precedent-setting court case. Others claim that whatever her talents, Rowe’s position as a principal flutist is unique in the Orchestra, that there is no pattern of discrimination based on what other principals earn, and that it is worth the Boston Symphony taking the chance of losing in court.

One thing is certain: if the case does go to court and Rowe prevails, the impact on the symphony world will be profound. While it is true that the law on which this case is based is limited to Massachusetts, there would likely be a strong effort on the part of many musicians to argue that the precedent should apply to them.


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When I was invited by the international youth music organization Jeunesses Musicales International to give a presentation on impact assessment at their annual YAMSession conference, I was delighted to find that besides the producers, presenters and educators I expected to find there, the conference also included performers and, most importantly, children, who were brought in from schools in the region to enjoy the live show cases. Seeing the six and seven-year-olds engage with the performances that peppered the program certainly served as a potent reminder of what this work is all about, but the session format that I found most exciting actually took place without the expressive participation of young audience members.

At the “Producers Forum” on the first day of the conference, a brave local musical duo performed their show as they currently share it with student audiences in schools. After the performers had left the stage, the producers, educators, and other musicians in the auditorium discussed the performance and how it could become more engaging, more pointed, more easily tourable – in short, what might make it more successful as a performance for young audiences. Two producers, identified in advance, then took this input and worked with the musicians (who were spared from having to listen to the free-for-all charrette of their work) over the next two days to improve their production. A revised version of the work was then presented on the final day of the conference.

What I found inspiring about this format—quite independently of any effect it may have had on the specific production—was its efficiency in surfacing and sharing best practices in the field. The concerns, suggestions, and examples that were highlighted, quickly brought several major streams of current practice to the fore, and through the rigorous discussion, this master class of sorts stimulated ideas that the participants might be able to apply in their own work. This led me to wonder: Might this format be adapted to facilitate knowledge sharing among cohorts of grantees in other areas of practice?

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Oslo Opera House

My colleagues and I have been considering programming that invites drop-in visitors to experience performing arts without having purchased a ticket in advance. This line of thought was realized both personally and professionally when I had the opportunity to travel to Norway earlier this year to conduct observational research at Globusfestivalen, an annual festival celebrating culinary traditions and performances from around the world. The festival format provides ample avenues for drop-in participation and we observed a wide range of intentionality and planning among attendees. Some attendees had carefully curated their experience, purchasing advanced online tickets for food booths and meeting friends at pre-selected programs. For other attendees, the Festival seemed to have piqued their interest by chance. While they may have stumbled upon it, they walked slowly through, taking in all of its sights and sounds. Because the Festival created opportunities for spontaneous participation, it was able to reach individuals who might never have sought out the experience.

I myself was pushed towards a new experience through impromptu participation the day after the Festival. While in Oslo, I stopped by the Oslo Opera House to see Snøhetta’s iconic building. When I arrived, I was not alone. Both inside and out, the building was teeming with people walking up to the roof to see the city views or visiting the lobby, taking time to admire the intricate interplay of glass and wood.  As I pulled my eyes away from the architecture, I noticed a smaller, yet distinct, group of people beginning to flow through the doors. They were dressed for the opera and I realized that a performance must be beginning shortly. I took out my phone to see what was scheduled and it occurred to me that I may be able to stay and join them. It turned out there were seats available for two programs about to commence: Queen of Spades and a short chamber concert with music by Janáček, Ligeti, and Dvorak. Not quite ready to make a four-hour commitment on a whim or sure that my attire would suffice, I opted for the chamber concert. I purchased a ticket and followed a line of young Norwegians into to the small black box theater. The room was abuzz with conversation, nearly everyone else in the audience seemed to be a musician and most seemed to know one another. While I felt a bit like I had just snuck into a place I wasn’t supposed to be, as the lights dimmed and the concert began, any hesitance faded away and I relished my surprise experience.

While I’ll confess, I would not have selected the program for myself had I been browsing the annual brochure, the musical experience that was unexpectedly added to my architectural tour felt like a small gift. I thought about what a serendipitous time I had picked to tour the opera house and I thought back to conversations with my colleagues about how to build in programming that intentionally supports this type of experience. What if the steady stream of visitors admiring the architecture were directly invited to stay and purchase one of the unsold seats? Or perhaps able to view a live video feed when rehearsals are taking place inside the main hall?

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An earlier version of this piece was published as part of Americans for the Arts’ “Broadening and Diversifying the Leadership Pipeline” blog salon for National Arts in Education Week 2018.

Mentor Perspective: Dennie Palmer Wolf

I have half a century of work in the arts field behind me: successes, publications, and big, noticed projects, right along with my full share of mistakes, disasters, and misjudgments. When I speak nowadays, I claim my white hair as a badge of office and call myself a “crone emeritus.” Frankly, it is the moment when the temptation is great to serve on committees or publish your collected essays about pressing issues that have long since changed. I started down that “remembrance road” and then thought, “For what?” Better to pass it on actively—why not mentor the next generation of leaders? I began to fantasize: I would take on three to four people in each of the upcoming five years to help them think about their work, careers, and place in the world. Maybe I would add a stipend so we could meet face-to-face.

The more I thought about it, the more that plan felt paternal or even colonial. How did I know that I had the kinds of expertise younger people really needed for the world they actually faced? Instead, I began working more squarely on hard issues like inequalities in opportunities to learn, the intersection of social justice and the arts, and diversity, inclusion, and equity in cultural institutions where I could meet a next generation of arts leaders drawn to these questions. I started going to different conferences—as a listener, not a speaker. I practiced the fine art of holding my tongue and learning.

This work put me shoulder-to-shoulder with younger colleagues whose work, cultural identities, and outlooks are different from my own. As a result, I now work closely on live projects with individuals whose skills, knowledge, perspectives, experience, and tools are very different from my own. (One of them is Sanuja Goonetilleke, who shares her thoughts below.) That experience is leaving no detail untouched: how carefully do I pronounce their last names, how do I acknowledge their cultural expertise without reducing their expertise to their origins, how do I ask them to teach me the tools they know and I don’t? And, if I am honest, the experience goes much deeper: how do I learn from how unsettled and inexperienced (or even outmoded) I sometimes feel? Do I bury what I don’t know or ask to learn? Do I gloss over my mistakes or speak about them openly? Do I talk out loud about the intersection of research and values and admit that consulting can shape how you see and interpret data?

These days I am aware of how rarely we acknowledge the emotions involved in mentoring. When people write and talk about what it takes to be a good mentor, they rarely mention the mixture of delight and uncertainty I feel; the excitement and cold water of humility that are a part of turning over your life’s work. There is even less discussion about the social and emotional skills of being a good mentee—how generous, how patient, and how curious you have to be about extracting what’s worthwhile from work done in older times, with different tools, with other assumptions.

The world is coming around to acknowledge how powerfully emotions shape and inform all that we do as humans. So if we think that mentoring is a powerful strategy for strengthening and diversifying the arts and culture in the contemporary US—it is long since time to talk, think, and teach about the feelings and mutual understandings both young and old need to make this so.

Mentee Perspective: Sanuja Goonetilleke

I am lucky to have had multiple mentors in my life. Each is a double reminder: first, I am not alone and second, I have a responsibility to the world to pass the torch on. This is not only the torch of mentorship, it is also the torch of doing the work that my mentors have done and continue to do. It is more than knowledge; it encompasses showing up (with a smile), making an effort, pushing oneself to do one’s best, and keeping faith with what gradually becomes our shared work.

All the mentors I am fortunate to call “mine”—although they belong to myriad young and new professionals within and outside of the arts—have passed on three traits: perseverance, flexibility, and humility. The perseverance is about continuing to be open to the possibilities of engaging in and enhancing our work in and understanding of the arts; it invites flexibility and humility in.

Let me share an example: Dennie and I traveled to New York for a project only a few months after we began working together. When asked to contribute my own observations, I was puzzled: “What can I possibly contribute?” But the humility and flexibility of the request said, “We don’t know everything. Help us discover and understand.” What I realized is that being new was, by definition, a contribution.

In retrospect, I sense that what was most important was that I was asked to have observations. Being pushed is one of the best invitations that can happen to a new employee or a younger researcher. It certainly urged me to ask what I can do—and how to do justice to the work. It also taught me that by doing justice to the work you have what may be the most powerful way of expressing gratitude and acknowledging the worth of the shared work.

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By now most people in the nonprofit sector may be aware of the recent set of changes for nonprofit financial reporting that were put in place by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). If you are not aware of these changes, perhaps this short article will help. This Accounting Standards Update (ASU) was issued in August of 2016. It is the first major revision for nonprofits since 1993 (phew)! If you have a calendar end fiscal year (12/31/18), your organization should be putting the new reporting standards into place now. For the rest of you, the standards must be in place by the end of your fiscal year that falls during 2019.

What do these changes require you to do? Your accounting processes do not have to change. However, your financial reporting (especially at year end) and what you must disclose has changed. This is all intended to make financial statements clearer and more revealing of an organization’s financial position. Here is what I understand the changes require (and I am not an auditor, so please be in touch with your auditor if you have one – if they have not already been in touch with you):

Net Asset Categories:

You know the challenge of unrestricted, temporarily restricted, and permanently restricted assets as reported on the bottom of your balance sheet (Statement of Financial Position)? Well, now there are only two categories that are fairly self-explanatory: “with donor restrictions” and “without donor restrictions.” You are encouraged to provide more detail within each of those categories (although it is not required).

Has your board designated cash reserves? You can indicate that as a subcategory of “without donor restrictions” (assuming that reserves have been built over time through unrestricted revenue).

Do you have an endowment funded with restricted donations? You can indicate that as a subcategory of “with donor restrictions”. Providing a narrative explanation is strongly encouraged.

Liquidity and Availability of Financial Assets:

You must now provide information about how you make sure you have enough cash for general expenditures that fall within one year of the balance sheet date. This should be done with numbers and narrative. This is a chance for you to tell a story about what you do to make sure your organization can survive a tough time. It is a fairly rare organization that has a year’s worth of unrestricted cash set aside, so do not worry if you look like you are “underwater” – just think about what you might do to improve that situation! This section is designed to encourage financial planning for the future beyond simply approving your regular operating budget.

Functional Expenses:

Most nonprofits already do this reporting as it is requested on the Form 990 that must be filed. It is also a useful way to track program expenditures on a regular basis. However, functional expenses must now be part of your annual reporting. It provides an analysis of expenses by line item and by functional classification (program, management, fundraising, etc.).

While the third requirement may be less difficult since many of you are already doing it, the first two are perhaps more challenging. There are tools and resources that are being made available to help you with these new reporting standards. Here are some of them:

Good luck with this transition! And may we all be better informed about our organization’s financial position as a result.

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I was in a meeting recently with a client that runs STEM- and STEAM-based programs for middle- and high-school students. One of the purposes of these programs is to prepare students for the careers of the future, and therefore the conversation turned to the topic of 21st century skills. Although the precise definition of this term varies, the Partnership for 21st Century Learning defines them as “the skills and knowledge students need to succeed in work, life, and citizenship.” The designation of these skills as 21st century skills, rather than essential human skills has always struck me as odd, given their ubiquity and applicability to most human endeavors. I do not know, for example, that the ability to collaborate is any more relevant now than it was when our early ancestors were trying to hunt creatures many times their size.

In any event, the client ultimately decided that the skills they want to inculcate in their students are the skills that will prepare them for careers that will be resistant to automation. We long ago passed the point at which manual tasks – many of which required hard-won and exacting skill – could be performed more efficiently by machines than people. In the ensuing years, many jobs that required considerable education have become automated – statistical and mathematical calculations that used to occupy rooms full of college graduates can now be performed by computers in moments. This trend is likely to continue with the automation of “white collar” careers such as accounting, law, and even medicine.

So what careers are left for people? Perhaps those that require certain types of creative and critical thinking, thinking that is practiced in the arts and related fields such as design. Technology provides the tools to undertake ever more projects, but it requires human intuition and discernment to know which projects are worth pursuing, and design thinking to organize the efforts of oneself and others towards project completion. While the internet places a tremendous amount of information at our fingertips, it requires contextual knowledge and critical thinking to differentiate good information from bad. To the extent an education in the arts fosters these skills it constitutes another argument for arts education.

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It seems like a good time to think about regeneration. By regeneration, I mean a conscious effort to re-imagine, re-design, re-structure or re-orient yourself or your organization so as to achieve greater alignment between work and desired outcomes. It is a journey, for sure, not a destination; the pursuit of it is its own reward. In fact, our entire field is regenerating in many ways, as my colleagues note in their respective blogs.

As consultants, we are constantly seeking renewal in the quest to solve old problems in new ways, generate deeper insights, and bring more diverse voices and contexts to the table. We regenerate when we are challenged to think beyond our frame of reference, and when old ideas take on new meanings.

People regenerate, and organizations regenerate. But organizations can’t regenerate without visionary people with diverging viewpoints about what the future looks like.

The boardroom drive to quickly reach consensus and have cocktails is strong. Exceptional leadership at both the board and staff levels is required to create the space for real dialogue about alternative pathways – a space where diverging views are not just tolerated but welcomed. I’d go out on a limb and say that a strategic planning process that doesn’t allow for discussion of alternative pathways to mission fulfillment isn’t really strategic at all, but rather a tactical exercise in organizational maintenance. Are we mistaking certainty for leadership?

So long as everything is going well, there is little impetus to reimagine all or part of a nonprofit arts organization. Yet, this is precisely the time to ask uncomfortable questions about strategy. I realize that regeneration at the organizational level is extremely difficult to engineer. It requires simultaneously squeezing harder on the current business model while thinking about new ways of doing business. Yet, it is somehow still shocking to me how many boards allow CEOs to operate on structural deficits year after year without honest talk of downsizing if not wholesale regeneration. If we ever expect our audiences to regenerate, our organizations must lead the way.

Then there is regeneration on a personal level.

We are an industry in need of regeneration – plagued by high turnover and debilitated by loss of institutional memory. Productivity standards are so high that day after day I observe that nonprofit managers are just plain tapped out, routinely working beyond their capacity, particularly people working in mid-level positions.

People sign up for things and then opt out. On important conference calls, people are answering private text messages. It seems that we’ve been running on fumes for a long time now, in a sort of shadow economy of volunteerism.

The next big push in our field really needs to be a holistic focus on nurturing our human capital. Without thoughtful, dedicated, motivated people who are appropriately compensated and not chronically overworked, our field is unsustainable.

The biggest leaps I’ve made as a professional came when someone I admired bothered to challenge me in a way that was both direct and constructive. Those pivotal moments in our lives – and we all have them – may arise from hardship or confrontation, but they may also spring from an instinct to nurture – to take a chance on someone whose talents are not yet in full view.

Organizational regeneration is a long and arduous course, but the resolve to ask hard questions is a precious human trait that springs forth in a moment.

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When International Women’s Day rolled around this spring, Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) did much more than move the Louise Bourgeois postcards front and center or open Nan Goldin’s photo books for display. Instead, the ICA rejuvenated the usual nods to women artists by inviting any and all members of the community to help close the gender gap in who authors and edits Wikipedia pages on the female artists included in their collection and exhibitions. The Museum provided computers, wi-fi, and reference materials in addition to digital and research training. In exchange for their contribution, participating researchers and writers got free admission.

The March efforts at the ICA and other museums were part of Art & Feminism; a campaign that has been working since 2005 to “improve the coverage of cis and transgendered women, feminism, and the arts on Wikipedia.” The organization was founded in response to the fact that only 10% of the editors of Wikipedia are female and the researched accounts of all but a few women artists are sparse, at best. The organization is having an impact, in 2018 alone, 22,000 pages were created or improved by over 4,000 participants at more than 275 events around the world.

This is not a blockbuster exhibit with banners and press that will open, host crowds and then close. It is “just” rapt attention to re-wiring how much people know about women as artists – for years to come.

We might – at last — have a big picture discussion of diversity, equity and inclusion in arts and culture in the U. S.: how musicians of color are missing in orchestras; how theaters and directors have to confront color conscious casting; how ballet companies need to invest in earlier and more equitable pathways for young dancers; how archivists have to know their holding in Black oral history and early photography of Native American communities.

But what we don’t have is a commitment to re-wiring the entire DEI house. Taking off from the ICA’s edit-a-thon, what if cultural institutions took on “No choice too small” campaigns, asking about the daily, nearly invisible, practices that comprise their institutional DNA:

  • Who edits the web page? Whose picture is up there? What are they doing?
  • Who makes the list of on-call photographers and videographers?
  • Who heads the ticket office?
  • How are auditions conducted? What feedback do applicants get?
  • Who is on the sound crew? How are individuals promoted? What are the apprenticeship opportunities?
  • Who gets prime time slots as a docent? Who listens to the narratives they tell? Whose questions they answer?

“One should consider equity a process, not a thing. It is an ongoing and sustained course of reflection, discussion, and inquiry of courage, compassion, and creativity to seek out and act on blind spots due to power, privilege, and bias.”[1]

[1] Don Long, National Association of State Boards of Education & Ace Parsi, National Center for Learning Disabilities, in Student Self-Advocacy Requires Deeper Policymaking” EdWeek, May 15, 2018.
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When I originally wrote my nonprofit textbook in 1979, it was in the form of a series of mimeographed chapters duplicated and shared with a class of Harvard University students.  There was no book that included what I wanted to teach, so I wrote my own material.  In 1983, when Prentice Hall published these chapters in book form, I assumed that I and others would use it for the few years the volume stayed in print.  Now in 2018, as I contemplate whether I might need to come out with a fifth edition to supplant the one from 2012, I marvel at how the field of nonprofits has had to reinvent itself over and over again and I have had to keep up.

There are countless examples over those 35 years, but let me share a few:

  • The most obvious is technology.  The original edition of the book had a chapter on the use of computers in nonprofits.  I soon realized that it made no sense to include such material in a book that would be used for many years. Can you even remember when punch cards were used for recording information or when a word processing machine came with its own built-in chair? Changes in technology have outstripped the pace of rewriting textbooks. Perhaps my favorite change is that administrators no longer have to worry about a systems crash denying them access to critical data files the night before that important board meeting.  Now, instead of storing data in a giant server in the office, files sit safely in something called a “cloud” that is exponentially more reliable.
  • Of the chapters that did survive, none went through more revisions than the marketing chapter.  From outlining how to place press releases in print media in the 1983 edition to discussing how to gain attention through social media in the 2012 edition, every facet of marketing has evolved.  While these changes have democratized the process of reaching the public, they have also exponentially increased the “noise” above which a nonprofit’s message must reach.
  • Institutional funders like foundations have changed over the decades as has the way nonprofits interact with them. Remember the good old days of “responsive grant-making” when foundation published guidelines and welcomed proposals from anyone. Today that has given way in many cases to “initiative grant-making,” where much of a foundation’s giving portfolio is pre-assigned to organizations that can carry out an initiative on the funder’s behalf.
  • Many funders have also shifted their emphasis from ensuring the health and “excellence” of nonprofit organizations to placing greater emphasis on analyzing the constituents these organizations serve. Organizations’ value is increasingly measured by its effectiveness in reaching a broad constituency.  Some have described this shift as moving from supply-side to demand-oriented grant-making.
  • A related development is the changing approach to community-based programming.  In the 1983 edition, I reflected what the field referred to as “outreach” – a benevolent image of nonprofits providing largesse to disenfranchised populations – a kind of charitable act of giving on the one hand and taking on the other.  Today, the field talks about “connecting” with communities – a transaction in which both parties gain.

Do you have more examples of reinvention to share? Please share your examples in the comments below.

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As a nation of immigrants, much of the arts and culture offerings of interest to U.S. audiences have been based on the cultural heritage of their ancestral homelands. It is human nature to find comfort in what is familiar. In the last third of the 20th century, the expansion of the nonprofit arts and culture sector was fueled by the increasing appetite of white European descendants for Eurocentric arts experiences. With inexorable U.S. demographic changes on the horizon, these Eurocentric arts and cultural organizations are now struggling to find ways to serve many communities in which people of color will soon be in the majority.[1]

The major arts service organizations have devoted considerable energy to trying to motivate their members to develop diversity, equity and inclusion strategies. The League of American Orchestras has an extensive Diversity and Inclusion Resource Center and recently formed an audition preparatory partnership with the Sphinx Organization and the New World Symphony to increase diversity in American orchestras. A key focus of OPERA America’s recent annual conference was a forum on “Recognizing and Undoing Racism.” And, Theatre Communications Group’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Institute is a multi-year effort to transform the national theatre field into a more equitable, inclusive and diverse community.

These are all laudable initiatives to help mainstream organizations serve more diverse audiences, by becoming more diverse and inclusive themselves. What is not clear, however, is whether these efforts can overcome the root cause of low participation rates among people of color in traditional arts and culture organizations. According to Nina Simon, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH), “having the intention to be welcoming is not enough…If you want to be for everyone in your community…the most effective way to do that is to be representative of them and co-created by them.”[2]

While many mainstream arts and culture organizations have embraced initiatives to be more representative of their communities, very few have taken the leap to allow community participation in the creation process, except perhaps in the ghettoized sphere of community engagement activities. The authority and control for what happens on the mainstage still rests almost exclusively with professional artists, who may be disdainful of even the occasional involvement of untrained amateurs.  As in a real democracy, however, an arts organization’s stakeholders will feel real ownership only when they have meaningful power and influence.

At MAH, Nina Simon realized that the democratization of her arts organization – to be of, by and for the community it sought to serve – was not only the right thing to do, it was the only viable way to turn around its financial fortunes.  In the 7 years since Simon took over MAH, the annual operating budget has increased from $700K to $3M, the number of staff has increased from 7 to 32 and the number of annual visitors has increased from 17K to 140K.

The success of MAH’s micro-organizational efforts led Nina Simon to spearhead the launch of a nationwide OFBYFOR ALL initiative, the goal of which is “to engage 200 organizations serving 10 million community members by the end of 2020” by adopting new practices based on the belief that:

  • The more an organization is reflective OF its community, the more people feel represented.
  • The more programming is created BY the community, the more people feel ownership.
  • The more programming is FOR the community, the more everyone will want to participate.

To learn more about the OFBYFOR ALL initiative, check out the video of the launch announcement or use the free online organizational self-assessment tool.

[2] “Nina Simon: OFBYFOR ALL” from MuseumNext on Vimeo at 10:58, June, 2018.
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