Monday, October 29, 2007

Restoring trust in the charitable sector.

If the recently announced self-governing code of ethics proposed by Imagine Canada is not enough to restore confidence in the transparency of the Canadian charitable sector—and I don’t believe it is--what additional steps could realistically be taken?

Set fair guidelines for administrative and fundraising costs varied by sector and type of charity:

The first step that everyone seems to miss is that we need to establish what is a fair expectation of the percentage of funds needed for administration and fundraising. No non-profit can function without paying the rent, insurance, office supplies and staff salaries. And to be fair, it has to be noted that the percentage of the budget spent on administration and fundraising can vary widely in different charitable sectors. We want to remove any excuse for obfuscation in reporting by allowing adequate costs for legitimate administration and fundraising costs. Consider these two scenarios:

Charity A runs musical after-school activities for children. The charity has one paid staff member who does grant-writing, foundation appeals and writes letters to private donors for donations to support the work of the program. The bulk of the staff members time is spent in organizing the programs, contacting schools, preparing program materials. The charity operates out of donated school space. Less than 20% of the charitable organizations budget is spent on administration and fundraising.

Charity B exists to organize one annual high profile special event to raise money for a health related charitable purpose. Special Event fundraising is the most expensive method of fundraising. All of Charity B's staff are involved in fundraising and organizing the charitable fundraising event itself. Charity B provides no direct charitable programming but transfers profits to charitable organizations that do. In a good year, the large fundraiser realizes 40% profits on the investment in the event. In a bad year, only 20% may be available for transfer. Arguably it may be money that could not be obtained any other way.

These are extreme examples of the apples and oranges that make up the charitable sector. Too often unrealistic goals of lean administration and fundraising costs are expected by donors, foundations and government programs, without any consideration of sectoral differences or other factors affecting a non-profit corporations real costs. These unrealistic expectations by some funders leads to a certain climate of obfuscation in the charitable sector. If a good organizational leader knows that showing an administration cost low enough to qualify for project support is impossible, she/he will naturally think of ways of funding the extra very real administrative costs from another program. The administrator thinks “it’s all in a good cause”. Volunteer Boards become used to hearing that we have to “rob from Peter to pay Paul” because the portion allocated to be spent on administration and fundraising is just too low. And Boards will be tempted to think "everyone's doing it". In such an atmosphere it becomes hard to draw the line and know just what are the real programming expenses and just how high is your fundraising and administrative costs.
Funding bodies, sectoral umbrella/advocacy groups, and non-profit administrators have to come clean with each other and set realistic standards for administrative and fundraising costs in order to set realistic benchmarks that organizations can then measure themselves by going forward.

Introduce standardized accounting systems that are geared to non-profit management

If it is all about the numbers, then how we count and what we count becomes very important.

Current systems of accounting only make donors aware of the hard dollar costs and benefits of non-profits without offering any other tangible cost/benefit analysis. There are some huge misses as a result. One of the most obvious is the benefit to the community when huge groups of volunteers are involved in a charitable activity. The volunteers benefit in training and a sense of well-being. They take skills back to their jobs and communities. Their work gives huge benefits to the charity whom they work for. Conversely what are the costs when a non-profit turns over its full staff almost annually because of poor management? Donors are funding unnecessary staff training and potential law suits when human resources practices are below par. But that’s not on the balance sheet either. A charity that is creating great work in the community with a mainly volunteer force supervised by a few paid workers may look identical on the books with a floundering charity with the same number of staff and little real activity.

We also need standard accounting practices to separate project versus operating expenses because so many of us are paying operating expenses out of portions of project funds. This is a legitimate practice when a number of project budgets have small amounts of administrative costs factored in. Keeping track of what is allowable becomes complicated as number of project streams increases. Having worked in one charity where large sums of project funds were allocated to administrative and fundraising costs, while being posted as program costs, I have seen that it can be done without ringing alarm bells at audit time.

Professor Jack Quarter, at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education, Social Economy Centre, has been doing some ground-breaking work on Social Accounting that should prove useful in any initiative to restore public trust in our charitable sector.

Once new non-profit accounting standards are adopted it will be necessary to communicate these new standards through professional accounting bodies to assure that accountants, bookkeepers and auditors are aware of the new practices.

Accounting professionals to be held accountable

When things go off the rails in the corporate world, everyone looks to the corporate auditors. How did they miss this? Was there collusion? Should the auditing firm be punished?

But does this happen when it is disclosed that charitable funds have been misallocated to admin and fundraising in charitable institutions? Why not?

In the past I have attempted to make an auditor aware of deceptive practices in an organization I was employed by and was frozen out. I reported the auditor and the Board Treasurer ( a chartered accountant) to their professional regulating organization and got no response. Why? The rationale I received was that they were volunteers or working below the usual fee, doing a good deed, and therefore couldn’t be expected to give the due diligence of a professional accounting job. This didn’t strike me then or now as acceptable.

Should accounting professionals be held accountable when private donations and public charitable funds are misused? That’s a question for the profession and the public to consider.

Sharing of information among charitable funders

Currently in researching information about a charitable institution you can find their charitable return information online which gives you broad categories of where they receive their funding from. You can also access information from some of the big foundations and government programs and discover the size of their program contributions to the charity.

What you can’t find out and what isn’t shared between funding bodies is what they have actually funded. This results in charities being able to double-fund activities and staff salaries with impunity while channelling the dollars into those administrative costs and fundraising costs that they really don’t want to report.

More information has to be publically available.

Volunteer Board Training and Information

In theory all non-profits and charities are governed by a volunteer Board of Directors who exercise a stewardship function within the organization. In actual practice, the Board is often comprised of very busy people with good hearts who really want to believe that their charity is doing the good job. Most of the time they are right.

Unfortunately, the main source of information and training on Board functions is often a non-profit manager who could have a vested interest in making the charity look more successful than it is. Boards need some measure of independence and Board members really need training and information on charitable standards of business practice that comes at least in part from somewhere outside their organization. As all charities have to provide a list of Directors as part of their annual information return, Revenue Canada could serve as a source to send all Directors a regular update on industry standards and provide the means for Board Members to be alerted to the tell tale signs that something might not be quite right in their organization.

Providing Disincentives for Breaking Ethical Standards

There are currently few mechanisms in place to deal with organizations that break existing ethical standards in raising charitable funds or who misallocate charitable funds. While it may be difficult for the small donor to trace the use of their funds, the same is not true of government programs that make tax dollars available for charities. When a public funder discovers a major breach of ethics, there should be repercussions and disclosure.

It is in the interests of all ethical and hard-working charities to see charitable licenses revoked for those that don’t play by the rules and contribute little or no social good.


Almost everyone who has worked in the charitable and non-profit sector has had at least one horror story about unethical practices. Most never get reported. One simple reason is that there simply is no one to report the situation to outside of the organization’s own Board of Directors. Plus there is a lot of pressure to disregard the accounting irregularities on an “ends justifies the means” argument. Employees who take the step of going to the Board can find themselves jobless and without a reference, often not listened to at all. I know of one instance where a loyal staff member stealed themselves to take a troubling set of facts to a Board Member. The next day the manager came to her office and said, "Everything you tell a Board Member will come back to me in a few hours and if you ever do this again you will be fired and you will never get a job in this sector again." Even when groups of staff go to Boards of Directors, they are often simply labelled troublemakers. One of the first things a non-profit manager with something to hide does is try to isolate the Board from the Staff and discredit any staff member who might have knowledge of misdeeds. Boards should be highly suspicious of managers who inform them that direct communications between organization staff and Board is “inappropriate”. After seeing this suppression of staff in organizations I’ve worked with in the past, I’ve come to the conclusion that we need a Canadian tip line for charitable and non-profit wrong-doing and whistle-blowers need protection from reprisals in the workplace. We can’t solely depend on over-worked, under-informed volunteer Board members. Imagine Canada has taken the lead in formulating a new ethical standard for charities. They may the be the logical body to administer a tip line on charitable fraud and other unethical practices.

With all these steps in place, we can establish what the standards are, communicate those standards and weed out the few bad apples. The result will be restored public trust, an end to misallocation of charitable dollars, and a better working climate for some of the most idealistic and selfless workers in the Canadian workforce.

Self-policing code of ethics for Canada's charitable sector announced

The Association of Professional Fundraisers is show below updating its professional code of ethics in 1964. More than 40 years later the Canadian Charitable sector is catching up!

In the wake of exposes by the Toronto Star of fundraising practices by some charities that have resulted in as much as 90% of funds raised going to fundraising and administrative costs rather than charitable work, the charitable sector has announced the implementation of a self-policing code, reported in the October 22/07 Toronto Star story, “Charities Launch self-policing code” by Kevin Donovan. (note that link is time sensitive)

Is it enough?

The public is worried about donating wisely and--on the other hand-- those of us that work in the non-profit, charitable sector understand that the problem of getting the most bang for the charitable buck is deeper and more complex than the simple solutions suggested as first steps. We have some idea of where the bodies are buried.

The frustrating thing for those of us working in the sector is when we see a great program working very effectively in a sector fail to gain support, while a noisy charity that really does very little beyond generate hoopla and organize fundraising events, gets media attention, celebrity support and commands public dollars.

Through Imagine Canada, charities are being asked to sign a voluntary code. One of the first provisions of the new code is that signators will not use commission fundraisers as this practice can lead to both aggressive marketing and the use of charitable funds to simply pay fundraisers. The information that is missing in this recent announcement is that the Association of Fundraising Professionals has included this rule in their code of ethics originally adopted in 1964! Using commissioned fundraisers has been regarded as both sleazy and ineffective by non-profit managers for at least a decade. So it is shocking to hear large charities like Sick Kids and World Vision only swearing off the practice in 2007.

The next provision of the code mentioned in the October 22/07 article is that charities will adhere to a code of honesty in reporting to their donors. Imagine Canada is said to be cracking down on “wild claims of success by the charitable sector.” Good idea but very vaguely worded.

Nowhere in the report is there a clear criteria how “wild claims” will be detected nor how the sector will amend the practice. While some issues are more complex, there eally there are a number of ways that some charities deceive the public that could be identified, a test of accuracy applied and the practice cleared up fairly easily. One example is the use of self-aggrandizing and confusing titles for organizations and programs. Many organizations have “International”, “World” and “Canada” or “Canadian” in their titles. The public can be expected to presume that an organization with “International” or “World” in the title has directly-administered programs in a number of countries around the world. The sector should/could agree that having directly-administered programs in less than a set number of nations, (7, 5, … 3?) and using “International” or “World” in the charity’s name or program title, is deceptive. By the same token, charities that describe themselves as the X organization of Canada, lead the public to believe that they offer programs and services to Canadians in a number of provinces. Imagine Canada should include benchmarks for the use of these common attributions.

Another way that “wild claims” could be curtailed is by adopting a strictly enforced standard for reporting on statistics for programs. This is straightforward for programs that are solely and directly administered. It becomes more difficult in jointly-run programs. Sometimes charities give small donations to programs and then claim the entire program and its activities as part of the work of the charity. Real collaborations between agencies in the charitable sector is to be encouraged, but the public should be able to tell clearly who is responsible.

Here is an example of the way this numbers dodge can work in the charitable sector. Charity X raises money to run a cross-country literacy program that involves authors in doing readings in remote communities for the purpose of both literacy awareness and also to promote local literacy programs. Then charity X contacts grass-roots organizations and gets them to do all the work, undertake the lion’s share of the work and all the marketing expense in organizing the events. Perhaps a small “how to run your event” manual is written by Charity X from freely available material found on the internet, providing a token organizing effort. Another token support is given to the event in the form of subsidizing author airfare for example—transferring a small amount of funds raised to actual program costs. Meanwhile there is virtually no work or expense by charity X other than the transfer of that small portion of funds raised and yet Charity X takes credit for a national series of literacy awareness events, and furthermore enhance their reputation as a national organization while potentially running no real programs in Canada and keeping the lion’s share of money raised for their administrative and fundraising operations. A staff salary is paid to a “program coordinator” but that person’s daily work assignments relate to fundraising and general administration. A report to donors on the project includes the information that X people attended events in 15 locations across Canada and X dollars were expended on program costs, however the report on program costs includes the salary paid to someone for administration and a pro-rated portion of administrative costs such as photo-copies, office suppliers… even if none of these were used for program materials. About 80 % of funds raised is claimed as being used in “program costs” with a modest 20 % being accorded to administrative support of the program. However a hard forensic accounting look at the program might show that only 10% to 20% of the money donated to the program was transferred to direct program costs in the form of low hassle airfare subsidies to grassroots groups organizing their own events.

This is the complex face of garden-variety “wild claims” in the charitable sector. This type of practice is damaging to the climate of giving in Canada. It also hurts legitimate charitable organizations, and is poisoning the working climate in the non-profit sector-- both within “bad apple” organizations and within the good organizations who struggle to compete with the “bad apples” who misreport activities, results and proportion of money spent on administration and fundraising.

While Imagine Canada is to be commended on this first step of a self-governing code of ethics, it is a very, very small step. Much more work is needed and it is not clear that this can be accomplished by the sector itself. In my next article I will attempt to write about what I see as a sickness in the heart of some charities and non-profits and some thoughts on how to tackle those difficulties.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

So you want to know how to get more bookings as a classical performing artist?

Daily as an arts manager I receive dozens of unsolicited emails and material from artists I've never heard of and those materials are instantly discarded to clear my inbox and desk of excess clutter. Meanwhile I sometimes meet talented artists who ask, "how do I get booked to play more?"

Quite a number of years ago I had my first fulltime job in arts administration in a major US orchestra. I assisted the General Manager in administering the contracting of guest artists. The first thing I was told was to throw out all unsolicited material--no one wanted to see it, or hear it. I was horrified at the waste and for awhile made the effort to return the material--only to be met with angry inquiries and indignant letters about why I hadn't put the material in the correct hands! Needless to say, from then on I simply trashed unsolicited promotional packages.

So if emails, glossy packages and promotional CD's won't get you a booking, what will?

Our business, the music business, is very much a word-of-mouth industry. Most of your bookings are going to come from direct or secondary contacts in the industry so you have to make sure that you make as many contacts as possible and that all those contacts are very positive.

1. The Music Director: When you perform with a conductor, remember that individual is likely also Music Director of 1 or more additional orchestras or ensembles. Find out about those connections, show interest, get details and you may be on the way to a follow-up performance with one of maestro's other groups.

2. The Orchestra: Remember that many of the musicians in the orchestra have contacts with additional orchestras and ensembles, and may themselves be administering a chamber series in the area. Be cordial and friendly with orchestra members and find out about these networking opportunities.

3. Arts Administrators: Far from all programming decisions are made by Artistic Directors. Often decisions are left up to Artistic Administrators and General Managers, and certainly administrative vetoes are something to be avoided. Unpleasant, pushy, demanding and disorganized guest artists are just unlikely to be invited back. And if you have an agent who falls into this category, you might like to re-think whether that bull-dog attitude is good for you in the long run. If your agent managed to push someone like me into exceeding the orchestra's capacity to pay or accommodate you in some way this time---enjoy it. You are extremely unlikely to be asked back and word that you are difficult or your agent is difficult will be telegraphed from manager to manager in short order. So unless you are a leading international virtuoso whose whims must be tolerated, think twice about bullying orchestra administrative staff. They will accommodate you once and then write you off the list. Remember that smaller organizations may not be able to provide as much as larger organizations. The simple willingness to take a taxi rather than demand personal airport pick-up will endear you to many a harried administrator's heart!

4. Other arts organizations. Don't forget the decision-makers in other local and regional arts organizations when you are performing. Likely you have more complimentary tickets than you can use. Invite decision-makers to be your guests at a performance. Don't just invite the top people. If they can't come, invite the Marketing Director, the Arts Administrator, the Program Assistant. Word of your great concert will travel in that organization.

5. Your web site: While aggressive forms of marketing (email spam, mega brochure mailers) are a waste of money, having a good up-to-date, easy to find website is essential in today's world. When I hear about a potential artist, I immediately Google them. If I can't find information right away I form a negative impression.

In addition, once I have booked an artist I need photos, bios, quotes from reviews. If they are all on your site, your promotion gets started months before artists who have to be asked for promotional material or who send material in paper format. We are simply too busy to be efficient at re-typing, scanning and editing copy that is in such an inflexible format. If you want to have more control over how your bio is edited, provide a number of "brief bio" options on your site. If you have one two page opus, be prepared to only see the first paragraph or two in print most of the time. If you think that's your agent's job, how well are they doing it? If not too well, it might be worth your while to bite the bullet and put your own site together.

6. Reviews--You need them. Post them on your website and circulate to all the contacts that you make in your developing career. Extracting a few choice quotes makes it easy for your bookers to get your promotion off the ground all that much faster!

What do you need to be booked?

1. Talent.
2. Opportunities for decision-makers to hear about your talent directly or through trusted contacts.
3. A comprehensive website for research purposes and promotional purposes. (doesn't need to be fancy)
4. A professional and agreeable attitude with everyone in the business so you don't shoot yourself in the foot!

Friday, September 07, 2007

IBM Workers to stage virtual strike in Second Life

The calendar is on the wall for strike planning, the strike headquarters is ready, even the T-shirts on on the rack ready to be donned.

It's just another day in union organizing, right?


Because this strike is being organized in virtual reality and some of the strike action will take place there also. You can read all about it here.

I spoke to one of the organizers yesterday and the biggest push right now is to get workers who haven't used Second Life to sign up and get oriented in the world. The global union organization has done a good job of providing bare bones orientation. In fact Linden Labs could take some lessons in concise information as included in the unions sign up kit!

Even as I spoke, interested activists were teleporting into the centre from around the globe and offering help to novel action.

The union headquarters can be found inworld at Commonwealth Island 103.171.22

Friday, July 13, 2007

Will the real Second Life please stand up?

Very interesting post yesterday about the myths and realities of the virtual reality world, "Second Life".

As a habitue of Second Life, I agree with the statements. Second Life is fun, it's growing and there is a lot worth logging on for!

Yeah, it's not perfect. There's a lot of commercialism and seedy stuff that I have no use for but there is also the same heady feel of the early days of the internet. I love what people are doing on "Better World Island" a community for peaceniks and environmentalists full of hopeful displays and opportunities to learn about work going on in international development and conservation.

I've recently joined an intentional community on Cedar Island dedicated to exploring some of the positive uses of technology for education and social empowerment.

And strange as it seems I also have joined a virtual Quaker Meeting, pictured above at one of our regular Saturday am meetings.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Arts Programming

The third in a series of articles on arts administration.

One of the most frequent questions an arts administrator gets asked by members of the audience or interested others is, "How do you decide what's on the program?" Or, on a very bad day, "How did that damned piece of trash get programmed?"

When I served as interim General Director of Opera Ontario, I played a key role in an initiative to look at the processes within the organization with a view to reforming the human resource structures that supported those processes. Here's what the artistic planning flow chart looked like.

Whether you can read the fine print in the diagram or not, it should be clear that the answer of how program planning happens is not a simple one! This is true of all arts organizations but I am going to speak from what I know best, the planning processes in orchestra, opera and music presenting organizations.

Central to the planning process is the relationship and exchange of ideas between the Artistic Director or Music Director and whomever is in the key Artistic Administrator role--in the case of the chart above the Central role in planning is the relationship between the Music Director and the General Director, with many other streams feeding information into the mix.

Sometimes audience members assume that the Artistic Director or Music Director is solely responsible for what gets on stage or is heard in the concert hall. While the AD has a key role in setting the priorities for the season, usually decides on the theme for artistic seasons and the repertoire for many concerts, it is rare to find a situation in which the AD takes total responsibility for artistic planning. Why?

Time is one obvious factor. In a major US orchestra where I served as Artistic Coordinator, the Music Director spent 14 weeks with us during the year, half of that time was spent in rehearsal, leaving little time for Artistic Planning meetings. Many Music Directors lead more than one orchestra and have active guest conducting lives. Our orchestra performed 150 concerts during a 39 week season. It's not hard to see that others would have to connect the dots in the Music Director's plan for the season. The Music Director would set out the plan for major concerts, plan the repertoire, indicate some guest artists, shortlist alternatives and leave it to us to try to make happen. We'd touch base over the roughly three years that it takes from initial plan to season announcement, tweaking repertoire, artist line-up and schedule.

In addition to the input from the Artistic Director, arts organizations have to listen to their audience, consider what their budget can manage, keep on top of trends in the arts community, listen to the needs and abilities of their musicians, consider priorities of government arts councils, and consider other funding sources for programming. Secondarily, arts organizations have to consider links to other programming, ties to festivals and/or community events, and finally, the logistics of production planning.

I frequently hear from audience members who wonder--sometimes with considerable irritation and longing--why we "just can't program the music that everyone knows and loves." And there are several answers.

The first one is that audience taste IS a huge part of what we think about when we program--but it can't be the only thing. Experience has taught arts administrators that even the audience tires of programming that only offers them mainstream repertoire. The fact is that people don't know what they like until you offer it to them. The sucessful Artistic Director will offer their audience the occasional unfamiliar fare that will fit well with more familiar programming to tweak their interest and give them something novel to think about. Only then does the programming stay fresh.

We pay our Artistic Director for his/her vision as an artist and we have to respect that vision and not subjugate it unduly to audience taste. But obviously we can't pay our Artistic Director if no one comes to the concerts so those two polarities are really an important balancing act in programming. But they are not the only forces.

In thinking about the development of our musicians, we have to provide them with some new challenges to keep their artistic lives interesting and to retain the best musicians--a goal that also serves our audiences well.

We also have to consider the mandate of our national, provincial and municipal Arts Councils in developing and supporting artists and the body of creative art within their jurisdiction. More than once I have heard Board Members in meetings--sometimes with Arts Councils--say, "but you are penalizing us for programming what is popular, what the audience wants".

Yes they are, .... and .... what's some ways, that's their job.

This is astonishing news to rookie Board Members who often believe that the job of Arts Councils is to reward the number of bodies you put in seats at your concerts. Quite the contrary. The Arts Councils' job is support the development of art with a longer view--to support that which is not commercially viable, or not yet commercially viable, and in particular to foster the artists and creative arts within their jurisdiction.

So if your organization relies on funding from government arts councils--and in Canada music organizations derive an average of 30% of their annual budget from government sources according to the last survey of the Business and the Arts Council--then you have to consider in what way your programming can utilize local artists and music composed within our own country, province and municipality. For those of us that care about the future of the art form, this is not an onerous task, but really makes us a living part of the art form as opposed to serving in the other important role of being curators of the art of the past. Where would Mozart have been if the audiences of his day turned up their noses at "new music" and refused to listen to what were then contemporary compositions?

Participating in community festivals can provide several huge bonuses to arts organizations and this participation generally impacts on programming. (eg. In order to qualify for a regional Mozart festival, you generally have to program Mozart.)
Sometimes the reverse happens and programming can suggest festival possibilities. As General Manager of Soundstreams Canada in 2003-2004, we were programming a major concert of works by R. Murray Schafer on the occasion of his 70th birthday year. It seemed likely that others would be doing the same and so we looked about and asked those organizations to join us in packaging and marketing our various concerts as a Schafer festival.

The advantages to this sort of festival are: the ability to pool marketing dollars and get more marketing than any one arts organization could afford, cross-marketing between the audiences of each arts organization, the access to special funds ear-marked for festivals, sharing resources of various kinds between arts organizations, package deals that benefit arts attenders, the ability to build comprehensive arts education events around the thematically linked events. Programming for existing festivals or to make festivals possible is a win-win for everyone.

Less obvious to the audience members may be the links that the arts organization is making to educational or audience outreach initiatives. For example, the audience members at an orchestra series may not know that the programming of three works relating to literature over three concerts, is part of a "Literacy in Education" project that is being delivered in community High Schools. Programming those works not only builds cross-curricular connections for students but also allows for some economies for the orchestra in being able to apply some of the educational program funding to administrative costs and rehearsal costs, as allowed by the program. Building an educational program or educational concert on repertoire being offered on a main stage concert makes that program more affordable.

Audience outreach programs both deepen the enjoyment and understanding of existing audience and are initiatives that reach out to potential new audience members. For an example this season, my orchestra, the Toronto Philharmonia, is doing some outreach to the Chinese community that lives within the audience catchment area. We have programmed this concert which features a composition for erhu and orchestra and Chinese classical music artists, in the hopes of engaging newer members of our community and attracting the investment of Chinese business and corporations in the area. But we wouldn't have programmed it unless our Artistic Director thought it was great music and fit well in the context of this season. We also hope our existing audience will find the program engaging, broadening their experience to the sounds of a Chinese traditional instrument--albeit in the context of a western orchestra concerto.

The importance of programming within budget is largely self-explanatory but the way this plays out within the program planning team may not be so clear. We start with a draft budget of assumptions about artistic costs. When one concert is finalized over-budget because the soloists could not be contracted for less or the Music Director insists on a larger orchestra, we have to make up the savings on another concert. This can involve decisions ranging from presenting an emerging artist, a concert with a chamber-sized orchestra or deciding that the concert must be programmed entirely from music that the orchestra owns--to save on music rental and shipping costs.

Of particular interest to artists is how those rare "emerging artists" spots are filled. It is simpler to tell you how they don't get filled. In my experience it is never because an agent has talked us into it or an unsolicited CD arriving on our desk has blown us away. Agent material and unsolicited CD's are disposed of unopened in most arts organizations--a terrible waste but no one has the time or inclination to review them and returning the material costs us money. Most often the Music Director has heard the young artist perform with another orchestra, a recital or at a competition, and extends an invitation to the young performer to appear with the orchestra in a future season. Occasionally the recommendation can come from another trusted source. Sometimes organizations tap into young artist programs from Europe or Asia that subsidize travel or otherwise help with the programming of young artists from their country. Lastly, we may choose to develop and promote the careers our own musicians by offering them a concerto appearance. This year our orchestra is presenting our Principal Violist, Jonathan Craig, playing the lovely Walton Viola Concerto on April 10 2008. details.

When people ask me about how financial considerations affect programming, they are often asking whether corporations, major donors, foundations or government arts councils force particular programming choices on the orchestra. I have to say that I have never known that to happen--which surprises people. What happens more often is that we have two or three artistic ideas and only one of them finds sponsorship. We look at the mandate and interests of a corporate or foundation funder and pitch them the program that we think might appeal.

How does production logistics affect programming? Usually a program starts with one artist or repertoire selection that is non-negotiable and all else is built around that core.

If we have X artist playing Y concerto, we first consider the instrumentation of the chosen Y concerto. If it has, for example, harp and trombones as part of the orchestration, we'll want to utilize them in the other half of the program--or at least we'll have that option. If the concerto has a smaller orchestra with limited brass, no harp, no piano, we may want to look at a complimentary programming selection within the instrumentation of our core selection. Otherwise we are adding cost to our program--perhaps to little artistic value.

What else? We consider the problem of seating latecomers in building our program--the main reason why so many concerts begin with short works-- and we have to also think about our concert order.

I overheard a group of audience members speculating recently about why the symphony was on the first half and the concerto was on the second half--a less frequent concert order. Speculation ranged from, "they wanted to stop people from going home at the intermission who just came for the soloist", through, "that symphony would have put me to sleep in the second half", to "they wanted to end with a bang!"

All excellent thoughts and worthy of consideration. However, the real reason was that the opening small work at the top of the concert had orchestral piano as a part of the instrumentation. Had we also had the piano concerto in the first half, we would have been required to move all of the violins off stage, move most of the violin section's chairs and music stands, then move the piano from the rear of the orchestra into soloist position--all while the audience sat twiddling their thumbs and rattling their programs. A tasteless interruption in a beautiful evening of music.

These are just some of the factors that must be balanced in programming an arts season. And finally, despite the varied considerations and forces acting on programming, the season must emerge with a sense of unified artistic vision through the Music Director's ability to say "no" to whatever great or cost-saving idea might come forward when it really is just not artistically possible.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Purpose of Music

An acquaintance recently stumbled across some old musings of mine on the Arts Journal site. It brought memories flooding back of memorable conversations with enigmatic, deep, controversial composer John Tavener.

originally posted @ August 6, 2004 10:46 am as a comment on Arts Journal

During two years as General Manager of Soundstreams Canada, a new music concert presenter in Toronto, Canada--the conversation we hosted that most animated the music community here was a lecture given by Sir John Tavener. He was in town at our invitation for a concert we were presenting of his music. It might be added that unlike the small attendance at most new music concerts, this was an SRO concert. We crowded about 1200 into an 1100 seat cathedral and had to send hundreds home in disappointment. Clearly this is a voice that is reaching people musically.

Prior to John's arrival, he and I had discussed by phone, the fact that both the music community and the theological community wanted to sponsor a lecture and there was insufficient time in the schedule for two such events. At his suggestion, and with the cooperation of the two sponsoring faculties, we had combined the two into a lecture entitled, "The vocation of the sacred artist".

In the lecture Tavener presented the view that music had a purpose and that purpose was to reach the soul of individuals in an uplifting, encouraging and enobling way. The purpose of music was fulfilled when the audience left the concert hall feeling troubles lifted and with a desire for a better world, filled with beauty. He continued in voicing the opinion that music had lost its way when composers began to use music as a way to express their personal tragedy and turmoil, unloading that depression and tortured visions on the audience. In so doing, he continued, the composer was contributing to a negative world-view and the entropy of a corrupted civilization.

Although I found myself uncomfortable with a certain black-and-white nature to his arguments, I found myself fundamentally agreeing. The idea that "if the world is to be saved, it will be saved by beauty"-- a Tavener quote that so struck me that I made it the featured quotes in our marketing campaign--was certainly the central theme to my own love of music and what I want to achieve in music and also what is at the root of my own assessment of "good music" and "bad music". I don't necessarily want music to make me "feel good" but I want to leave the concert hall with the sense that my soul has been touched and nourished.

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Rostropovich, the world loses an authentic artist

Mstislav Rostropovich, dead at 80, fulfilled in life--not just some--but all of the functions that great artists play in our society. First and foremost he was a virtuouso master of his instrument, but that alone did not make him an important force in our society or in the living life of music.

He not only requested, he demanded that the composers of his own time created new works for his instrument and his virtuosity and style of playing was a living part of the creation of new music. In premiering 245 new works for cello, he took risks and played some works that audiences never wanted to hear again, but also gave birth to some wonderful music that are already standards in the cello repertoire.

He embraced the role of artist as truth-teller, independent of political pressure. Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, said of Rostropovich in 1990 that "he took a stand … for the basic truths of life, and he did not compromise." He not only spoke out against political suppression and control of the arts in the Soviet Union but took great personal risk in sheltering dissident novelist and Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Retaliation for this act of courage led to the great cellist being ostracized by the Soviet arts establishment at the time.

Celebrated as both a hero and an artist, Rostropovich could have dedicated himself to a few concert appearances and recordings but instead he kept pioneering new music but also was dedicated to the development of young musicians as a mentor, conducting and working with a number of youth orchestras and presiding over a great number of masterclasses.

It is interesting that Rostropovich's father was a student of Pablo Casals, because he was definitely a cellist in the Casal's mold. Brave and uncompromising, Rostropovich spoke truth to power in words, deeds and music.

The challenge is there for all of us in the arts to have the courage to follow in his footsteps.

See also: The LA Times, The Washington Times, Robert Amsterdam's blog on Russian Politics,, The Guardian

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Non-profit Board responsibility for Human Resource Policy

The second in a series on arts management.

The World Bank has been in the news recently with the focus on the misdeeds of its CEO, President Paul Wolfowitz. As the revelations have come forward in the news, it has been publicized that a whistle-blower brought allegations of conflict-of-interest and other irregular human resources practices to the bank’s Board of Directors who took no action on these allegations. In retrospect, the Board looks pretty foolish and was certainly not fulfilling its stewardship role.

What is your board’s policy on whistle-blowing? What role does your board have in assuring that proper human resource management practices are being followed? If you can’t answer those questions, then this article is for you.

Board responsibility for human resource policy:
Boards do have a responsibility to assure that their organization is following fair and legal human resources policies. Beyond assuring the health of their organization and being good employers, the board’s oversight of human resource policies has fiscal implications and boards generally understand their responsibility for fiscal stewardship. High staff turnover costs money in training new staff and the expectation that new staff will be less effective during the period while they are familiarizing themselves with the job and key tasks. Egregiously inappropriate human resource management puts the organization at financial risk in a variety of ways: human rights complaints, employment standards complaints, wrongful dismissal law-suits, and fines and penalities for late or incorrect employment benefit deductions are obvious financial repercussions of poor human resource management. Less obvious is the loss of sponsorships, donors and grant funding when the “buzz” in the community about your organization is that it is ineffectively managed and a poor employer.

Separation of Board and Management responsibility:
“But what about the separation of management and board responsibilities?” you ask. “Isn’t human resource policy a management role?” The role that board plays in human resource management can vary, but it is an important one.

The role that board plays in human resource policy needs to be clearly defined in the organization. And the personnel policies of the organization also must be clearly defined.

This is one aspect of non-profit governance where Board and Management must work together and where responsibility is shared. Boards can sometimes overstep their bounds and compromise the role of manager by becoming involved in day-to-day supervisory management issues. But washing their hands totally of human resource policy issues—often in a mistaken belief that this is the way to show support for management’s role—is unacceptable. Doing so is to abdicate a key responsibility of the Board for stewardship of the organization’s financial position and reputation in the community.

Defining the Board’s role in human resource policy:
What defined roles can a non-profit board assume in human resource management? The answer depends on the size of the board, the size of the organization, the role of the board and the strengths within the board. Initially in a new organization or an organization without any human resource policies, the board will likely want to develop and assume responsibility for writing a human resource manual of policies, ideally in cooperation with management and department heads. In developing the organization’s first human resource manual the Board should 1) look for resources from national/provincial agencies supporting non-profit organizations, 2) collect manuals from other similar organizations to its own, and finally 3) look for evidence of existing policies within its own organization.

Finding existing policies in your organization:
How do you look for policies within your organization when you don’t yet have a human resource manual? Ask everyone in the organization to send you copies of memos and decisions that have been made on any human resource issue. If employees have been allowed to carry vacation time accrued for a year in your organization, you don’t want to write a policy that allows for no accrual of vacation time. You want to be consistent and fair in your development of policies. You may be pleasantly surprised by the amount of policy that is in place within the organization. By bringing these policies together in a manual, you make them accessible to all and reveal the few places where policy development is needed.

Ongoing Board oversight of human resource policy:
Boards can write policies, approve policies or merely warrant that proper personnel policies are in place. But in all cases they should be aware of the existence of a human policy manual and assure that those policies are appropriate and appropriately followed. Often a committee of the board, made up of individuals with particular expertise in human resource management is charged with the job of writing and oversight of human resource policy. This committee may be mandated to write all policy or take on only key policy areas as articulated by the Board.

Health and Safety policy:
Non-profit boards often forget health and safety issues when writing human resource policy. Don’t make this mistake. Beyond office workplace safety issues such as repetitive strain injury, non-profit organizations often engage in activities that can place employees at risk. You want to be on the record as mandating that employees follow safety precautions when lifting heavy materials, operating machinery or traveling on company business. You want to assure that federal and provincial safety standards are known and followed. If your workplace is large enough to require a Health and Safety Officer, insure that your Personnel Policy Manual articulates the procedure for selecting one. Accidents will happen, but you want to assure that you have policies in place to protect employees from being asked to engage in unsafe practices. Non-profit workers have reported violations such as being asked to work in food bank warehouses without safety boots or hard hats while stacking crates that could crush them if they toppled. Arts workers have been asked to ride unsecured in the backs of trucks carrying exhibition materials weighing tons, and workers have been made sick after being exposed to toxic levels of print fumes from working in unventilated conditions with boxes of thousands of freshly printed brochures.

Conflict resolution:
What is the Board’s role in workplace conflict resolution? Conflict resolution should be a part of the employment policies articulated in the personnel policy manual. The volunteer board understandably does not want to hear day-to-day employee complaints. If they are, this is symptomatic of a flawed system of dealing with complaints in the workplace. But it would equally be a mistake to shut down dialogue with employees. A policy of never listening to employees would pave the way to a future embarrassment similar to the one facing the World Bank Board this year. They were presented with the evidence of management wrong-doing and they shut down the employee bringing them this evidence. As a result the employee went to the press.

Progressive system of dispute resolution:
Within the personnel policy manual there should be a clearly articulated progressive policy for employee complaint resolution in the same way that there should be a progressive discipline policy for employee violation of company policies and job role expectation.

What does this mean in practice? It should mean that the first step in any employee complaint is that the employee first discusses the matter with their direct supervisor, or where that is inappropriate (for example if the complaint were to involve harassment by that very supervisor) then to go to the next level of authority. Response to the complaint with a suggested plan of action should be delivered to the employee within a reasonable time frame that should be spelled out in the employee manual. Should the employee not be satisfied with the action plan, the organization should provide a vehicle for a final appeal process. It should be clearly stated in the employee policy manual that no punitive action for employee complaints will be tolerated by the organization.

Board role in dispute resolution:
The Board should provide some means for employees to carry complaints forward beyond the management level. By the time employee complaints are heard by the Board, usually two or more attempts to resolve the complaint will have been made at the staff level, departmental and upper management. It should be noted that it could be construed as a violation of the employee’s right to privacy to force the employee to discuss their complaint in front of the whole Board. Instead it is often advised that the Board develop a Personnel Committee to meet with employees in a confidential manner and to share their deliberations with the Board, without violating confidential information about individual employees. Such a committee will usually be comprised of two or three individuals that the Board views as having the best skills for such a committee.

It should be noted that in a unionized setting, the Board's Personnel Committee will work within agreed upon arbitration processes.

Other duties of the Personnel Committee:
Other duties of the committee will include annual evaluation of the Executive Director or General Manager, periodic reviews of compensation levels in the organization relevant to the sector, reviews of organizational structure/departmental structure, and the important task of exit interviews. Exit interviews provide a series of snapshots of the organization from different vantage points from people who can provide impartial viewpoints as they no longer have a vested interest in protecting their jobs or advancement within the organization. A policy of exit interviews is effective only when conducted with all possible employees. It is less useful when the Board only chooses to interview either positive or very angry exiting employees.

In smaller organizations, one or more representatives of the Personnel Committee may be involved in employee evaluations and in all cases the Board should assure a fair, objective, consistent evaluation process and that evaluations are in a standard written format with opportunity for employee response.

Key indicators of an organization with effective human resource policies:

1. A Board approved consistent and regularly updated employee policy manual that is provided to all employees.
2. Employees are aware of company policies, can articulate them on query, and compliance is high
3. Most complaints are resolved at the departmental or management level without Board intervention. The occasional complaint that comes to the Board level is dealt with according to established policy.
4. Management and Personnel Committees work together on human resource policy and have good lines of communication
5. Annual evaluations of management and staff are consistent, fair and transparent. The results are written and staff response is invited.
6. The organization never or very seldom experiences law suits for wrongful dismissal, complaints to outside bodies regarding employment practices.
7. Staff turn-over is low in comparison to other similar organizations.

If all or most of these key indicators are present in your non-profit, congratulations, your board is doing all it can to promote a healthy, effective organization with high employee productivity and little risk of financial repercussion due to violations of workers rights.

Key indicators of an organization that needs to work on human resource policy.

1. No policy manual exists, or if it exists it is hard to find, inconsistent, has large gaps in policies.
2. Employees are unaware of company policies or employees have conflicting understanding of company policy based on local memos and departmental policies. Confusion leads to disregard of company policy and low compliance.
3. The organization lacks an effective dispute resolution process. There is no “court of last appeal” in the organization. The Board either hears nothing about disputes within the organization or periodically is inundated by employee complaints, deputations by employees. The Board lacks any policy for dealing with these employee complaints and either shuts them down, ignores them or takes on management roles in dealing directly with situations in the workplace.
4. Management and Board have no authentic communication on personnel issues, there is no committee of the Board charged with personnel issues. Board has a “not our business” attitude, shuts down or deals punitively with whistle-blowers, or alternatively, interferes in the daily business of management by instituting decisions on employee policy without consultation with the manager. No exit interviews are conducted. Staff are warned that communication with Board members is inappropriate and will be punitively dealt with.
5. Evaluations are sporadic, inconsistent, verbally conducted without written format or report. There are no objective measures applied nor is there opportunity for employee rebuttal or response. Evaluations seem punitive, only occurring when a manager has negative news to impart. Evaluations are without oversight. Alternatively, evaluations only contain good news and feel-good messages and board involvement is only requested to rubber-stamp good news pronouncements from uniformly positive evaluations.
6. The organization has experienced a high level of wrongful dismissal complaints, status of employment complaints, allegations of human rights violations, employment standards complaints, etc.
7. High staff turn-over is common-place in the organization. The organization has recently experienced a mass exodus of employees fed up with workplace unfairness and management inconsistency.

If your organization has to say “yes” to only one of these 7 points, likely you have one area of human resource management that you need to address in order to assure that you have an effective human resource policy. But if you answered “yes” to two or more points, your Board is leaving the organization open to potential financial loss and/or reputation loss. At the very least you are not doing your best to keep the resources of high-achieving, experienced employees productively employed in your organization. You are letting your employees down and compromising the Mission of your organization.

Some resources for the non-profit Board in Human Resource Policy:
A Checklist of Human Resource Policy Indicators for Non-Profit Boards
A Guide to Human Resource Policy for Non-Profit Boards, from Human Resource Council of Canada

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Developing a new Arts Manager role

(The first in what I plan to be a series of articles on arts administration and volunteer board development.)

Many arts organizations begin their existence with a single artist--an Artistic Director/Founder supported by a volunteer board and perhaps some paid staff members in administrative support roles. Some arts organizations begin and end with this configuration, not living past the lifespan of their founding artist.

Others through growth or succession-planning begin to contemplate hiring their first General Manager or Executive Director . If your organization is at this point then this article is for you.

It's natural that in the selection process that Boards focus on finding the best candidate for their position and articulating the new role of General Manager or Executive Director in their organization. Most do this well and there is a lot written about finding the right candidate.

However, what most organizations in this position don't think about doing--and where there is little guidance available--is to take the time to consider how the Artistic Director's role is going to change, how the Board's role is going to have to change to accommodate the new manager, and how the day to day life of the organization will change.

Without prior organizational planning and consultation about what responsibilities and authority the Artistic Director wants to surrender or is willing to surrender, the new General Manager or ED is going to be launched on a collision course and the organization will have a rough adjustment process. It will be very difficult for the new manager to be the change-management facilitator. Failure rates for first managers are high.

You know you want your manager's job description to complement the role of the AD, but, do you really know what your founding Artistic Director does in the organization or are you basing this on assumptions? Don't just ask him/her. You need to actually observe how time is spent. It may prove to be a different picture than the Board imagined. This observation can be accomplished best by job shadowing on a few days scattered through as long a period as possible. At the very least, much less reliably, ask your AD to keep a time chart for a week to indicate how time is spent.

What excites your Artistic Director? What part of the job do they really love and will they find hard to share or relinquish? Again, don't just ask them, but observe and reflect on past experience. They may believe that they love artistic planning but if planning is always late and haphazard but grant applications are always masterful and ontime, then the assertion that artistic planning is top priority might be suspect. Our actual priorities are not always the same as what we believe our priorities should be. Ignore this and you may hire an excellent grant writer as a manager but your AD, who it turns out loves the "thrill of the hunt" that grant applications entail, may refuse to surrender the grantwriting. Meanwhile your artistic and production planning may continue to be late and haphazard because no one in the organization is priorizing that work. If you have an AD who is best at some of the administrative roles associated with a manager, maybe you need a different configuration to complement that business savey. Perhaps you need an Artistic Administrator or Producer role.

Once you have done your homework on the strengths, weaknesses and interests of the AD, you are ready to construct a job description for your new manager that complements your Artistic Director. Be aware of clusters of responsibilities so as not to create fragmented roles that are unworkable.

Next consider the authority that must match the responsibilities that you have given each role. Imagine and forsee likely scenarios. For example, if you have given the Artistic Director full power over artistic planning and the new manager the responsibility for maintaining the organization's positive bottom line, what happens when the Artistic Director proposes a project that is not in the budget? Can the manager veto the project? Does the Board need to amend the AD's job description to require him/her to seek budget approval? This is a central issue that is the downfall of many AD/ED relationships. It needs to be understood by all members of the Board that vetoing a project because it is too costly or too late in the planning cycle for successful integration in the season, is not artistic interference. If the authority is not given to the manager in this instance then what will the process be? Will the Finance Committee of the Board make the decision?

Who ultimately is in charge? This may seem like a simple question but I have experienced an organization where the Board President on hiring the new manager believed that new role was one of sole organizational leadership, the new manager believed their role was one of joint leadership and the AD believed that he continued to be the overall organizational leader. Spell this out and make sure everyone is on the same page. Does your organizational chart reflect the correct structure? Have you changed the organizational constitution and bylaws if needed to reflect the new management role? Is your salary structure consistent with the organizational chart? For example, do you have someone paid as an outside consultant who is shown as an employee or manager on your org. chart? It is always dangerous and unethical to misrepresent an employee as a contractor but it is particularly inappropriate to have an outside contractor making day to day financial decisions and signing contracts for your company on a permanent basis. Yet some arts organizations don't consider the implications of having staff report to a contractor. Some board members may be unaware that their ED or AD is paid through a private service contract.

Who supervises junior staff? If you assume it will be the new manager, does your AD appreciate that he/she can no longer ask the nearest person to research something for him/her? Be realistic. There may be need to assign some staff support to the AD but that should be spelled out. What happens when this step is neglected? In all likelihood, the AD will continue to function as they have in the past, directing junior staff as they see fit. Junior staff will have two bosses with conflicting assignments. Good staff will suffer while opportunistic staff will manipulate in various ways. Your new manager will have their authority compromised in a way that will be hard for them to recover from.

Consider the planning/activity cycle for your organization in light of the job description you are giving your new manager and consider where you may need to finetune other job descriptions. If you have asked the new manager to provide a budget by April of Year One for the Year Two starting August 1, then when does your Artistic Director have to provide a completed program? A deadline for artistic planning must be set a month or more before the budget deadline. If you have set a deadline for the development of a season brochure or catalogue then artist decisions and contracting must be completed well before this deadline. Failure to consider these relationships in the planning cycle will leave your organization in the dark as to why things are delayed.

If information is power, what about corporate communications? Is your AD willing to keep a manager in the loop on program planning? Or will the new manager learn first about projects by seeing work junior staff has been asked to perform? The communications requirements that you set in place at the outset will determine the directional flow of communications.

Is your Board ready and able to support the new manager's role? Do you have a management committee in place? Is your Board stacked with personal friends of the AD, making it difficult for impartiality should conflicts arise? If so, you might want to consider expanding the Board with some new members. It's great to share the AD's vision as a Board, but you are also going to have to support your new manager. Lastly are there management roles that the board has taken on that now have to be signed over to the new manager. Often finance committee and marketing committee roles become less "hands on" with a new manager and this adjustment has to be foreseen and planned for.

Once you have considered all these questions, you should be in good shape to find a good manager for your organization and not lose time spinning your wheels in change mangement.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

CBC changes--Letter from the President of the Canadian League of Composers

published with permission of the author:

Dear members of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage,

I am writing to you as President of the Canadian League of Composers, and request that you enforce the Broadcast Act of 1991 with regard to CBC radio.

Recent changes in CBC's broadcasts diminish the long-standing working relationship between Canadian composers of concert music and the CBC, as well as their required commitment as public broadcaster to provide rich, original content that reflects the diversity of Canada.

You may refer to my report on the meeting I had with CBC Senior Management <>.

Please note the lack of commitment to the Canadian Music composed by our membership of 400 composers (which, when added with the Canadian Music Centre's Associate Composers equals 1000 artists).

Most importantly, recent changes at CBC Radio Two meant the cancellation of Two New Hours, the only program dedicated to Canadian Art Music. It had a devoted and plentiful following, and its loss is devastating to our field. Moving more closely to the commercial broadcasting category of "Adult Contemporary". the CBC begins to emulate commercial radio, counter to its mandate as a culture-driven--not numbers-driven broadcaster. Radio One's programs Freestyle and The National Playlist are two recent examples of the move to commercialism prior to the recent changes at Radio Two.

Significantly, Canada was instrumental in formulating and signing a recent UNESCO act pledging to support and respect diversity of creation in all its forms. In making the current changes, we feel that the CBC is, by including content available on commercial radio, reducing the diversity of public broadcasting. Canadian poets, scientists, writers, composers, etc. are losing their place on Canadian Public Radio, and we request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage carefully review and enforce the CBC mandated role in our culture.

Unfortunately, as stakeholders in the CBC, we were not informed of this meeting, and are therefore unable to arrange our presence on such short notice, but as president of the organization representing Canadian Composers, I represent to you the collective views and concerns of our membership.


Dr. Paul Steenhuisen

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Saturday, March 31, 2007

CBC kills Two New Hours

Two New Hours producer, David Jaeger with Norwegian composer/performance artist Maja Ratjke (left) and Canadian composer Melissa Hui (right) in happier times .

Canadian music has been dealt a serious blow by CBC in their decision to axe the award-winning show Two New Hours, the last broadcast bastion for the live presentation of new Canadian art music. This program was truly world-class, occupying a prestigious place in the international music community and among international classical broadcasters. Knowledgeably moderated by host Larry Lake and produced by Canadian composer, David Jaeger, it was a jewel that has been thoughtlessly cast aside.

Will CBC stop presenting Canadian art music entirely? No, it seems not, but the replacement show, The Signal, in its initial show has broadcast only a small sampling of serious Canadian music from recording. By relying on recordings rather than taping live concerts as Two New Hours did so successfully for 30 years, CBC is presenting the works of composers who have already met with some success, rather than being a launching pad for new voices. It has ceased to be a partner in the creation of a unique Canadian musical voice and canon.

How do we create a Canadian canon of music with so little support from our national public broadcaster? Canadian icons like R. Murray Schafer came to international attention in large part through their concerts being broadcast by CBC and through CBC exchanges with international public broadcasters.

What is happening at CBC? Their corporate communications all cite a need to appeal to a younger demographic and have a larger market share. Surely this is a problem for commercial radio rather than public radio. Is not the mandate of public radio to serve the interests of the development of a national body of art and to serve the interests of minorities within the population--those NOT served by commercial media. Surely there is a plethora of commercial radio stations serving the interests of teens and young professionals with a taste for pop culture. One might say, "serving the lowest common-denominator".

As an arts administrator I have become familiar with the basic criteria of Canadian national and provincial public funders when it comes to grants for Canadian performing arts. If it is populist it is deemed to not require public support, or require less support--the marketplace will fund it. If it has artistic merit but is unlikely to find an immediate audience--so not commercially viable--it is deemed to need support from the public sector. To give just one example: in 2001 I was serving as interim General Director of Opera Ontario when Canada Council of the Arts threatened to cut our funding in large part, because our opera seasons were--at that time--deemed as too "popular" in presenting standard opera repertoire rather than taking risks with new opera and less-performed works. We were encouraged to increase our presentation of Canadian works and Canadian artists to receive public funds. We made adjustments and commitments to new programming and a policy of presentation of Canadian artists to re-coup those funding cuts.

So why is CBC, a publicly-funded radio station being allowed to pursue a course of populist programming, when a regional opera company could not? And indeed once the CBC management has managed to wreck a national treasure--one of the things Americans have envied us for--and deliver radio and television just like their commercial "competition" will politicians not turn around and say, "why are we funding this"? I sure would.

Does the rush to serve the youth market even make sense?

It may have escaped the marketing braintrust at CBC but the older demographic that they have traditionally appealed to is not disappearing, but rather growing, as the baby boom matures--and older citizens will always be with us. The CBC seems to be saying, "if we don't attract young people, our audience members are all going to be dead in 10 years" but this is a very simplistic analysis. Every day people are getting older, so there are new people always entering the mature demographic that has a taste for thoughtful, challenging programming in news, opinion and the arts. And serious music has always appealed to a larger proportion of the older demographic than youth. This has been true for centuries.

The CBC move to axe Two New Hours was made quietly and swiftly before effective opposition could be mounted. Now that the changes at CBC Radio Two are in place, there is opportunity for the mature, sophisticated music community to speak out if their interests are no longer being served by their public broadcaster. We need to reclaim our public broadcaster. In the meantime, oddly enough, in the Toronto market, the classical music community is being best served by WNED FM from Buffalo, NY.

Radio culture used to flow the other way across the border.

Want to speak out?

Lobby your MP to keep CBC Radio Two free of commercial pop music
Find your MP here

Contact Mark Steinmetz head of CBC Two programming

Contact members of Heritage Canada committee responsible for commenting and recommendations on the role of CBC as a public broadcaster in preserving Canadian culture

Read another more informed and involved voice on the demise of Two New Hours.

(I will add more links to this post as I find them)

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Mel Swart

There were a wealth of newspaper tributes to Mel Swart this week--one of the founders of Canada's New Democratic Party, dead at 87. I won't echo the tales that everyone has heard.

But I have a few personal memories that stick with me. Mel's example of a life-lived together with his various words of wisdom have always been a big part of my own definition of democratic politics at its best. And that's important to reflect on in times when we most often see democratic politics at its worst.

I'd met Mel first in the 1980's but I only really got to know him when I was working on Peter Kormos' 1996 campaign for the leadership of the Ontario New Democrats. This was an enterprise that most of us on the campaign team knew had a slim to no chance of ultimate success. Despite this realistic assessment, our view was that this initiative had to be undertaken in order to get some items of principle onto the convention floor for discussion. And in that latter task, we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams-- as issues which had been shut out of the leadership debate came to be its central focus.

During the campaign, I ran into people who said things to me like, "You're insane." "You people can't hope to win." "What are you doing?"

What these people didn't understand or had forgotten was the many successes of the NDP in opposition. You don't have to win to have a voice and, ultimately, the success of the ideas outlives the success of individuals.

Mel was the fundraising chair for that campaign. I was the media chair. I remember calling Mel on the phone the first time and cracking up at the phone message. First there was about 10 seconds of nothing but wind sound and then a crackling voice like an old Edison cylinder that began with ... "This is Mel Swart talking to you on a (pause and carefully enunciated) telephone answering machine... " crackle pop.. I asked people, "How long has Mel had that answering machine, anyway?" It turned out--to my surprise--that it was brand new.

Throughout the time that Mel had been an MPP in Ontario he'd never had an answering machine at home, was always listed in the phone book and answered his own phone. Only when he "retired" did he feel that it was permissable for him to put the public at a little distance by purchasing an answering machine. It was his unfamiliarity with the device that caused him to be awkward in recording his message.

In this regard and many others, Mel really believed himself to be a "public servant" and lived that way. It just didn't seem right to him that he should not be as available as possible to the people that elected him to help them in any way he could and he was famous for pinching every penny of the legislative budget he was given. He never took an apartment in Toronto. Instead he drove two or more hours back and forth to his home riding of Welland everyday, sometimes making it in time to attend mid-week events and meetings. Of course there are also a lot of stories of him crashing on his office couch and being seen tiptoeing to the Member's loo in the wee hours.

Perhaps the thing that sticks with me most was an anecdote that Mel related that seemed humorous at the time but took on broader meaning as I have reflected on it over the years. A group of us were shooting the breeze about campaigning in general when Mel said,

"Well people want to talk more than they want to listen. So when you've got nothing they think want to hear I think it pays to listen. I worked a few times on some just hopeless campaigns and I'd walk up and say just one thing, 'what are you thinking about the election.'"

"And then I'd shut up and let them talk."

" They'd spout off for a few minutes and no matter what they said, I'd just smile and say, 'You sound like a New Democrat to me!'"

" I'd leave them scratching their heads wondering what they had said that fit with our political program and my hope was that it got them thinking and listening more to what we were about. I don't know whether it did or whether it didn't, but it sure was better than arguing and leaving them angry and closed-minded."

It's a funny story and a clever strategy but it's more than that.

Mel was telling us that politics IS more about listening to the people than trying to ram any "key messages" down their throats. And politics at its best is about developing some positive ideas--a political program--and engaging people in thinking about those positive ideas and reflecting on them. Would this set of policies would improve things for their family and community? His advice was to engage people in supporting your positive ideas and you don't have to waste your energy in in negative attacks on the policies of other parties.

Mel was passionate about ideas but always able to separate a difference of opinion from respect for individuals. He could hate an opponent's viewpoint on one issue while liking the individual and respecting him/her on other achievements or opinions. This statesman-like stance is so at odds with the unfortunate divisive politics that have become the norm. Communities are helped when politicians across the political spectrum can work together on issues in common.

It's unfortunate that in recent years the NDP has been better at throwing people out than attracting new people to share in a positive vision. Most recently the furor surrounding an initiative to attract spiritual progressives comes to mind. Mel was all about listening, about bringing more people into a big tent of progressives that shared key values. It was that positive, inclusive, spirit that made me want to work for the NDP as a campaign worker, volunteer and staff member. I hope as we individually and collectively reflect on Mel's legacy it helps us all to find that spirit again.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

CUIS Issue Follow-up

I have to report a change of heart at CUIS.

After blogging about my experience with CUIS, I forwarded a link to the entry to a communications person with a note about my disappointment.

Within an hour or two I received an email and then a phone call from a CUIS contact person reversing the decision to cancel my mother's home insurance. Did my blog entry make a difference? Who knows. But, this blog's stats show three log ins from the insurance provider in that time period. Screenshot of stats page below.

Certainly if I had done nothing my mother's insurance would have been cancelled.

I was told that there had been an error made by a "new call centre employee" and that this was totally opposed to the company mission. Well, I'd like to think that was the case but I dealt with three individuals over the past few weeks and each of them conferred with a supervisor before giving me an answer. One never called me back. The other two gave me the same answer--the policy would be terminated-- and I was told that a letter had been issued from the company to this effect, surely needing approval from a higher level. This leads me to think that anyone calling the contact number on their policy with a similar situation would receive this result. And unless they were able to access a higher level of decision-making through their own advocacy would lose coverage.

I congratulate CUIS on their speed at rectifying a poor decision but remain skeptical that this was an isolated poor call. It just shouldn't be this hard to get an insurance company to stand by a lifelong customer. But I'm sure glad that they made the right call in the end.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Warning for Families of Seniors insured with CUIS

Added Mar. 3. Be sure to read the follow up.


Original Post:

What happens if your aging Mom or Dad take awhile to decide that they are no longer able to live in their own home?

The home might sit empty while Mom or Dad bounce back and forth from hospital/nursing care and while the family decides what to do. Usually you notify the home insurance company and pay extra for a temporary vacancy Rider while things are sorted out.

However CUIS refuses to issue such a Rider in these circumstances as proven by my own experience. And it's difficult to impossible to find a new insurer in these circumstances.

Yes CUIS the company associated with the Canadian Credit Union movement and with organized labour refuses to insure the homes of vulnerable seniors in their hour of greatest need.

With 18 days notice they are terminating the home insurance policy of the widow of one of the Stelco Workers that took part in the General Strike of 1946 in Hamilton Ontario.

If you think that's a shame give them a call at 1-800-810-2847. If you are insured with them and might face this situation in a few years change your insurance provider and let CUIS know that their callousness to one old lady and her family made you switch your policy now.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New money for the Arts in Canada

Artists, arts audiences, and arts lobbyists were gratified by the announcement in the Canadian federal budget of new money for the Arts in Canada, with $50 million to be applied in the 2006-2007 fiscal year and an additional $30 million for 2007-2008.

Organizations waiting in line for their first Canada Council operating grant got excited that this might be their year to gain some secure operating funds instead of depending on the ups and downs of one-time project funding exclusively.

Not so.

In Canada Council's newsrelease of October 2006, the method for allocating the funds was not spelled out although it was suggested that one possible way of allocating funds would be through,"a special competition (in the case of arts organizations which currently receive operating funding) or through the Council’s regular programs for individual artists and activities aimed at increasing public access to the arts."

Nowhere in the public announcement carried in newspapers across the country, nor in Canada Council's press release was it made clear that in fact the Council was going to priorize giving money to its existing operating clients. Yet when the , guidelines were announced to apply for the new funding this was the language "Guidelines. Who is eligible? Organizations currently receiving annual or multi-year operating funds may apply.

And what if your organization is not receiving annual or multi-year funding? The answer, "No further action is required at this time".

While the Council suggests that additional money is being allocated to project grants to help non-operating clients, I could not find anywhere on the site how much money is being allocated to which programs.

Note that to become an operating client of the Canada Council, an arts organization must already be in receipt of funding from their provincial arts council. To become a provincial client, you must be supported by any municipal funding body for which you may be eligible. Canada Council operating clients are among the oldest and richest arts organizations in the country.

My organization, the Toronto Philharmonia, has been in existence for 35 years, 30 years as a community orchestra--called at that time the North York Symphony--and spending the last 5 years as a professional orchestra. During that time we've given an annual classic music series, provided educational programs to local schools and offered adult education opportunities in music appreciation. Hardly a newcomer to Canadian arts.

But we are not operating clients of Canada Council. We've been told that we stand a scant chance of being funded under the professional orchestras program simply because there is a lack of funds in the program and our location in the mega-city (although serving the former borough of North York)makes us a low priority for funding. While nationally, music organizations receive an average of 30% of their budget through government funding, our orchestra has to raise 90% of its funding through private funders and ticket sales. Yet we are ineligible to apply for a share of the new funding. Is this fair? Is this what you expected to happen when the new arts funding was announced?

Once again, it appears that the rich arts organizations will get richer while smaller arts organizations serving local communities get the short end of the stick. If you don't think this is fair, please feel free to comment here but also let your local MP know that you'd prefer that new arts funding be distributed to the poorest arts groups in the country, not the richest.

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