12 posts categorized "nonprof"

March 11, 2013

Check-In

I don't really have much to say. Haven't lately, which is why I haven't posted. But I did promise (myself) that I'd post weekly, and I'm way overdue. So here's what I've been thinking about:

  1. Was told recently by a friend trying to sell an urban fantasy series that the agents say UF is over. It's a depressing thing to say when you've just told somebody you're working on a UF series. Also: do I care if the industry says "UF is over"? If I do actually finish this book and nobody buys it, I'll just post it on the web.
  2. If I got well again, would I go back to being an arts administrator, especially an executive? I have no idea. I know the first thing I would do would be to go away somewhere and get da nobble finished. In fact, my first priority would be to get my writing habit reestablished (something I'm trying to do now.) But would I go back to a regular arts admin job and let it potentially swallow up my writing practice (again)? Hm.
  3. I'm going to cut my hair short this week. This is what I'm thinking. I need a short haircut that doesn't read "guy," and that works with wavy hair. Thoughts?
  4. Trying to get it through to my parents (who are in town for a month) that I can't see them every day. If I do, I can't do anything else. Sigh.
  5. This kerfuffle makes me tired. This fight was already fought. Why was it unfought? Why are we fighting it again? Argh! I love this, which is Kate Harding saying basically: we all have to live in this world and make compromises with the institutions that run it. Being a good feminist doesn't mean you never compromise; it means, rather, that you cop to your compromise when you make one, and admit that you're contributing to the status quo, even while you're explaining why you did it.
  6. And finally, this is this week's happy.

September 13, 2012

How to Write a Grant Proposal

ETA: After reading a bunch of "How To Write A Grant Proposal" articles online, I realized that the grantwriting landscape for other sectors must be different. So please note that this post is written from the point of view of a grant writer and grants panelist in the nonprofit arts sector specifically. All such grants I've encountered so far have very specific application forms and sets of questions, which is why I didn't include a format for the grant narrative here.

I wrote this post at Hyphen magazine in 2005 after I'd sat on a couple of grantmakers' review panels and seen the horrific mistakes so many people make when they write grant proposals. Then Hyphen switched platforms and the formatting got all screwed up so you can't really read the post anymore. And in the past few years I've wanted to send people to this post because I think there's some good info in here. So I'm reposting (most of) it here, with proper formatting. I'm also adding some new info, so it's not exactly the same post. Oh well.

HOW TO WRITE A GRANT PROPOSAL:

  1. RESEARCH FUNDERS: DATABASES. Find a database of funders/grantmakers and research the ones who make grants in your geographical area and in your field. If you're a complete beginner, go to the Foundation Center's website. They have lots of resources and tips and hold grantwriting seminars all over the U.S. Webinars, too. They also have a database you can use online for a fee (or in one of their locations for free.) Once you've made up a list of funders you need to whittle this list down. Look at specifics, including: what kinds of programs do they fund really; how many grants do they make each year (i.e. do they hand out enough grants to include new orgs?), how large are their grants (i.e.: is it worth your while to write this grant for the amount of money they're giving?), which specific organizations have they funded recently? (i.e.: do they fund organizations like yours?), what is their schedule? (i.e.: if they don't have a deadline, when is the best time for you to submit your grant?), etc. If a funder's guidelines fit you perfectly, but they only give out three grants a year to three orgs which are 10 times your size, then this is not a realistic prospect. Look for the ones who give out lots of grants of different sizes to orgs of different sizes. Look for the ones who specifically are looking for new orgs to fund.
  2. RESEARCH FUNDERS: FUNDERS' WEBSITES: Once you have a more realistic list, go look up each funder's website and read all the information there. Often, their website will give you a lot more to go on, including: their mission, their intentions with specific grant programs, more about whom they've funded in the past, etc. They'll also usually have their actual grant application available for download on their website, which you need to read thoroughly.
  3. FIND OUT WHAT THE FUNDER'S REAL CRITERIA ARE. I cannot emphasize this enough. A lot of grant application questions are worded vaguely. Do not break your brain figuring out what information they want from you. Find it out from them directly (see #4). If your programs do not fit in with their criteria, don't write the proposal. Do not convince yourself that you should try it anyway. There are always more applicants than money and the funders will be deciding among the applicants who clearly fit their criteria. The ones who clearly don't fit their criteria will be the first into the circular file. Which leads us to:
  4. CALL AND TALK TO A PROGRAM OFFICER IN DETAIL. That's what the program officers are there for. They would vastly prefer wasting ten minutes of their day running through your programs with you on the phone and finding out right then that you don't fit in with their criteria, to having to spend a few hours processing and reading your grant application and making the whole panel read it only to discover the same thing. Save yourself and everyone time and work and talk to the program officer first. In detail. On the phone. Don't wimp out and email them. This is an opportunity to get the funders on your side. CALL them.
  5. FIND OUT WHO IS ON THE REVIEW PANEL. Are they the foundation's board members? Are they your peers (people who run similar organizations)? If your program is employing orphaned street kids in Atlantis, and the panel is made up of wealthy New York professionals, then you might have to explain to them the background and implications of your cause, and argue saving street kids over, say, saving whales. But if the panel is people who also work with third world street kids, you don't need to argue the relative value of saving street kids. You will, however, need to make a really good argument for how well your particular program works. Make the argument your audience needs to hear.
  6. GIVE THEM THE INFORMATION THEY WANT. If they want to know how your employing the orphans program fits in with their mission of saving the environment, tell them that employing the orphans who are cutting down trees for fuel will save those trees. Don't tell them that saving the orphans will cut down crime and poverty in Atlantis and bolster the self esteem of a whole generation. They may appreciate this, but they won't fund it. Answer their specific questions thoroughly and convincingly first. Then, if you have space, give them the other strong elements of your argument. But only if you've answered their questions first.
  7. DON'T BULLSHIT. Even the most naive funder will be able to tell bullshit from the real thing after reading a hundred proposals. Applicants who fit their criteria exactly will tell them so in specific language. Applicants who don't tell them so in specific language, clearly don't fit their criteria exactly. If you don't match one of their essential criteria be honest about it and tell them why you don't. They might be willing to overlook it. But if you try to cover with obfuscating language, you will be wasting their time and they won't give you the benefit of the doubt.
  8. BE SPECIFIC. Don't just tell them that you "save the environment by saving the orphans". Tell them exactly how you save the orphans ("We employ them in one of our twenty partner businesses and organizations as paid interns and then train them up to be full staff members") and exactly how this saves the environment ("The main threat to the rainforest in Atlantis is clear cutting by orphans. 90% of the children we work with were formerly engaged in illegal tree cutting. All of them learn a new, sustainable skill which takes them away from environmentally unfriendly practices for life.") Break down the elements of your program for them. Walk them through it, so they get a real, vivid idea of how your program works. The more they understand, the more they will like you.
  9. BE CLEAR. This means employing good writing techniques. Give them an overview, break it down, and then give details. Make sure your argument is clear and all the details are there to support the argument. Don't throw in extraneous shit. Stay on track and on target. Make your sentences short. Don't use lingo or big words. Funders aren't stupid, but they do have a lot of grant proposals to read. The easier yours is to read and understand, the more they will like you. And the reverse is also true. Oh yeah, and get the damn thing proofread before you send it off.
  10. GIVE THEM HARD DATA ON HOW YOUR PROGRAM/S IMPACT YOUR CONSTITUENTS. The best designed program ain't shit if it doesn't have its intended impact. If your grant doesn't show that your program is working then no one will give you money. Anecdotes are great, but evaluations are better. If you're not collecting data, start doing it now! Start evaluating your programs, and then be sure to put in a few sentences about your impact into the grant, whether they ask for it or not. "We train young people in environmentally sustainable job skills" sounds pretty good, but "We train young people in environmentally sustainable job skills. 89% of them are still in environmentally sustainable jobs 10 years later. The rain forest around our target area has recovered by 12% in the last 15 years" sounds very fundable.
  11. TAKE EVERY OPPORTUNITY THEY OFFER. If they offer a workshop on how to write grants for them, go. If they let you send them supplementary materials, get some supplementary materials together. Your goals here are two: 1) to get as clear a picture of their process as possible and 2) to give them as clear a picture of your program as possible. Don't be brief, be complete.
  12. ASK WHY YOU'RE REJECTED. If you get rejected, call them and ask them why. Ask them for notes from the grant review (if these are available to you). Get as much detail as you can from them. Be friendly and get them on your side. There is always next year, and the year after that, and the grantseeker who does his/her homework is the one they like and remember.

CAVEATS: This is about writing organizational grants. Also, keep in mind that every grant panel is different and every funder has a different process. Some of these things just aren't going to apply always. Good luck!

November 02, 2010

NaBloWriMo: Please Join Us!

Dear Donor,

Sorry to address this letter in a form letter fashion, but I'm afraid I don't know how to mailmerge ... or to export a mailing list from our database ... or to get into the database in the first place. So I'm just going to photocopy the printed list from last year (thank God for my predecessor's mania for hardcopies) and cut and glue it onto the envelopes. I'm sure there's an easier way, but I don't know it. (If you know how to do any of these things, I sure could use a volunteer. I'm a program man myself, not an admin.)

I'm writing to ask you to make a donation to the Save Our Forests Alliance.

As you may know, it's been a hard year for the SOFA. We lost half our board of directors in an "attempted coup" and then the other half resigned when they discovered that their takeover was illegal and they'd have to invite the first half back for mediation. The first half declined to return to where they weren't wanted.

But their loss, right? After all, we're the premiere anti-deforestation organization in our part of the Midwest. Anyone who can't put the mission ahead of personal agendas doesn't need to be a part of that. But we know that you, dear Donor, are an intrinsic part of that.

The only downside to losing selfish board members was that our treasurer was in charge of our accounts, and s/he won't return my calls (I was advised by a lawyer not to name names or hint about genders on official documents,) and there's something strange going on with the bank misrecording our account activity so that our accounts are reading zero. But I haven't been confirmed as executive director by the board (because we no longer have one; that should all be fixed as soon as I get ahold of our advisory board members and get them to step onto the board on an interim basis, but as I said, I can't get into the database so I don't know who they are; if you're one of our advisors, could you please email me at nickt@sofa.org?) so I can't access our account records or demand an accounting from the bank. They keep referring me to our former treasurer.

Because our now-erstwhile E.D. had been fired previous to the board breakdown (the one thing they all could agree on was that the only effective leader in the organization had to go) the remaining managers couldn't access the accounts, and the staff couldn't be paid. No one wanted to listen to my explanation that it would all be sorted out eventually, when our lawsuit came up in court and we were able to get a judge to order our bank records to be released. So we lost our entire staff. No one was willing to work on spec or (God forbid!) volunteer for a few weeks. I understand; we're in a recession. But the forests can't save themselves, can they?

We at SOFA know that you know they can't. Which is why we need your help today. We're asking our most loyal donors to make a gift of $500, $100, $50, or whatever you can afford, to help us continue our valuable work.

We have the infrastructure, and the programs in place. All we need is some interim funding to get our operations going again. We still have that giant spool of nickel-plated chain, shiny and new and waiting to bind our volunteers to the trees in front of the capitol building. We still have our office (for another month, until the eviction goes through) and it's not to late to pay up our back rent and stay here! We could even start programming again, if our volunteer coordinator would only send me the spreadsheet of volunteer contacts. I know I shouldn't have slept with her when I knew I was getting back together with my girlfriend, but the girlfriend didn't work out after all, and anyway, I don't think our forests should be punished for my mistake, do you?

Please help. We can't do this vital work without you.

I'd enclose a remittance envelope, but I don't know where they are. I've put our address at the bottom of the letter however (I would have used letterhead, but I don't know where that is, either) to make things a little easier on you. I'm writing you because I know that you, like me, still have the passion for our forests, and can still see the forests without getting lost in the trees of doubters and haters and less-than-committed people.

Together, we can make this country great again. Please give today.

Our best wishes for the holiday season.

Sincerely,

Nick Tanner

Interim Executive Director

p.s.: Don't forget to ask your employer to match your donation! You could double or triple your donation that way! Please give today!

 

This is my second NaBloWriMo instant fiction post: short short stories I'm writing every day throughout November, mostly inspired by online videos and images. Stay tuned for another one tomorrow.

June 25, 2010

Reading Update

Shailja Patel Migritude

A. Lee Martinez The Automatic Detective

Talking about Shailja's book would break two rules: reviewing a friend's book and reviewing a book I'm publicizing professionally. But I will mention that it's a book made from a performance made from spoken word poetry. And that I've seen the performance twice (and loved it!) And that I was surprised at how well the book read on paper. That is all.

The Automatic Detective is a lot of fun. I dragged out the reading of it by only reading it on the BART, otherwise I would've gotten through much sooner. But keeping it to a BART reader gave me something to look forward to on the BART. I even chose BART over driving the other day so I could spend my travel time with this book.

The novel revolves around the protagonist robot, Mack Megaton, who has been acknowledged as having the free will glitch in his programming that confers sentience, and who is four years away from completing his probation -- at the end of which time he'll become a fully recognized citizen. Mack requires probation because he's actually a killer robot created by an evil genius -- a killer robot who then refused to serve his purpose. There are worries, not least in Mack's own conscience, that Mack may break one day and start killing people.

Anyhoo, Mack is a bit emotionally distant from the world, but he does have a few friends, chief among them the wife and daughter of the family next door. The wife ties his tie every morning (he doesn't have the manual dexterity to do it yet.) One day, he surprises a thug in the act of terrorizing the family, and in the confusion, the prescient (mutant) daughter is able to slip him a note telling him to look for them. Then the family disappears and someone blows up Mack's apartment.

From this point on, we're in a classic noir, except for the cartoony sci-fi world ... and the fact that the femme fatale isn't fatale. It's, as I said, a lot of fun, and seamlessly pulled off. Loved it and highly recommend it as pure entertainment. No redeeming social value.

August 11, 2009

Editorial Work Is HARD, Asshole!

Argh!

I wasn't gonna mix into this discussion (in fact, I've said pretty much all I thought I wanted to say before) but dude. Come on.

We're back to the stupid argument about whether editors just take what's coming in through the transom vs. what writers whom they've invited to submit have sent them vs. what they've read before. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? Are those the only options? WHEN DID EDITORS BECOME SO FUCKING PASSIVE?

Okay, look, I come into fandom via "literary" fiction, not the other way around. And yes, a lot of lit fic editors are lazy fuckers, too. But the basic expectation over there is that you get work by:

  1. calling for submissions
  2. keeping up with your peers so that you know what other editors are publishing. This is so you know what's current in the field, but also so you know what's being overplayed, so that you DON'T publish that.
  3. research into new authors, works, and trends. That's what this post is about, so keep reading.
  4. inviting interesting writers to submit. You know who's interesting by keeping up with the field and doing your research.
  5. maintaining relationships with agents and writers and asking them to find or create specific types of work. This is more proactive than #4, which passively asks specific people to submit what they've already written or to submit what they want to write for your collection. #5 is about actively shaping what people write; and it gives you the opportunity to give writers new opportunities, and to push promising writers in new directions, if you are so inclined. This is a tactic used for books primarily, but can be used for themed anthologies as well (and is so used, frequently.)

What boggles my mind is not that SF readers are ignorant of the editorial process, but that the implication that has been coming out of this argument is that SF editors DON'T GO THROUGH ALL THOSE STEPS. Somebody please tell me I'm wrong about that!

Because "resting on the laurels of what you've already read" is not one of the above steps, and is not part of the editorial process. People who are experts in a field are chosen to, or permitted to, create anthologies because they have a strong background in the field that allows them to understand the new stuff that they're seeing, and NOT because they've already read everything they need to read to create an anthology. Anthologizing is hard work not because you have to read so much slush (get an intern to weed that shit out) but because of all that other work you have to do. And if you're not doing it, you're doing a piss-poor job.

So, to get down to the nitty gritty, as someone in Tempest's comments asked to do, how do you -- not "become a good editor" but -- change the way you do business so that your editing becomes more than an exercise in futility? Here are some steps:

  1. Go out an read diverse stuff. This is not hard. There is google. Go to google and look up "African American fiction anthology," "Asian American fiction anthology," "New Women Writers," "LGBT Fiction" etc. Check these books out of the library. Read them. Then pick the two or three writers whose stories you liked the most AND WHOSE STORIES YOU HATED THE MOST, and read a book each by them. Look them up on wikipedia and find out who their influences and mentors were and read a book each by them. Etc.
  2. Go to Wiscon, Diversicon, Gaylaxicon, whatever, and talk to people who don't look or talk like you. Ask them what they're reading and what they think you should be reading (the answer to these two questions will usually be different.) Take notes. Then GO READ some of what they told you to read.
  3. Send your calls for submissions out to all the people of color you know and ask them to forward it. Follow up with them a week later and ask them where they sent/posted it. Sign up for those lists/groups and follow up on those lists/groups a week later with a personal invitation from the editor to EVERYONE ON THE LIST to submit work. Also go here and send calls for subs to these folks and follow up. ALWAYS FOLLOW UP!
  4. If you are a real editor, then you live in a real city with real readings. Go to them. Ask around for the POC/LGBT/Women's/whatever readings and attend them. They will be mostly boring or painful. That's how it is. You have to dig for gold. Keep going. Every time you go, talk to two people you don't know, especially if they look like they're in charge or if they know a lot of people. Ask them to recommend other readings in the city you should see. Carry cards and call for subs fliers with you. EVERY SINGLE TIME you see writer you think is remotely good, hand them a flier. In fact, hand them to writers you don't think are that good either, and ask them to pass it around. Do this in every city you go to.
  5. Keep doing this. This is not a remedial course that will eventually finish, after which, you will now be diversified. This now how you do your job. Keep doing your job.

Yeah, sounds impossible doesn't it? Right? Right? I mean, who has time to do all that learning about writers and keeping up with writers when you have so much ... editing to do?

And before you ask, YES I HAVE DONE IT, not as an editor, but as a multidisciplinary arts curator. I did it for four years, spent four years going out almost every night to shows, talking to total strangers and asking them to send me stuff, designing and printing calls for submissions and handing them out everywhere, etc. etc. Yeah, it's a full-time job. That's why they call it "a full-time job".

As far as editing an anthology goes, I haven't done that, but it's akin to (but a lot more serious and long-term than) the work I put into creating a reading binder for a writing class. Class reading binders are about book-length, like a short anthology, and need to demonstrate a variety of writing techniques clearly. They also need to tell a variety of types of stories so the students have models of the types of stories they can tell, so that they aren't limited by the narrow scope of their current imagination (my writing assignments tend to focus on both content and form.) And, as a writer of color who generally teaches writing in the context of community antiracist organizations, I make it a point to make my binders diverse in terms of who is writing the stories, their point of view, and their content.

So, how do I do all of this? Dude. I read. A lot.

I ask my list-servs (I've been on a few writers' and readers' list-servs) and I ask friends that I know are readers and experts. And then I go online and look up reading lists, and go to Amazon and look up anthologies and then get them out of the library.  And read them. And mark them up with those bookmark post-its, so that I have stacks of books around the house that look like they're wounded and bleeding (because if a book was wounded, wouldn't it bleed pink paper?) These are books with subtitles like "An anthology of fiction about 9/11" and "New African fiction," and "Poetry About War."

And, here's the thing: I START OUT with, not a quota system, but a food groups scheme: this meal has to have meat, veg, fruit, grain, dairy. And it has to fit into another of my diversity categories: one of the formal ones, and one of the content ones. So I can't just grab at random one story each by an Arab, African, Asian, Latino, and Native American about their families. One of these stories has to be science fiction, and one has to be about war, and one has to have a sex scene in it, and one has to be a coming-of-age. One of these stories has to be in first, one in second, and one in third person. One has to be minimalist, and one has to contain a lot of lists, and one has to be written in lush, lyrical prose. Etc.

Yes, I start out there, with the categories, but I don't end there. Because the most important thing I talk about with my writing students is LIFE, or that mysterious something in a story that makes the whole piece of writing come alive for the reader. So, just any contemporary fiction by any Arab or Latino won't do. It has to get under my collar, whisper to me, pop, or just make me uncomfortable. It has to be alive. I'm fine if it's going to make the students angry, as long as it makes them feel something.

I made a spec fic reader for high school students once that included Jaime Hernandez' first few pages of his Locas series, and a story by Ursula Le Guin. I chose both of these because they were both from genre-changing writers, and because I thought the pieces were cool. The Locas piece baffled them: comic books weren't about Latina punk rock chicks arguing about their waitressing jobs and then becoming rocketship mechanics! WTF? And the Le Guin story, "Darkrose and Diamond," pissed them off. It was a sort of YA-ish coming-of-age story about a kid who had magic but chose to pursue his gift for music instead. His choice angered them incredibly because they were led to believe this was a story about the acquisition of a superpower, and instead the protag chose to ignore the standard reader wish-fulfillment.

These discussions, about stories that I thought they would love, became incredibly rich discussions about reader expectations, and the rewards and dangers of subverting them. The kids actually learned more than I intended to teach them. And at the end of the class, those two stories were the ones they remembered the best.

If I hadn't made a point of making that SF reader diverse, if I had just gone by the white, male classics, I might not have thought to include Jaime Hernandez, or even Ursula Le Guin. The point here is that when you go for diversity -- by setting up food groups or quotas, by going for work that has challenged you or others in the past, by taking a chance with something slightly outside the mainstream -- you often get more even than you thought you were getting. You often get a challenge you didn't realize was there, a subversion that hadn't occurred to you, a lesson you didn't know needed to be made.

Yeah, it's a shitload of work. And this is just the reader for a class. It's not an anthology for the ages. It's not going into libraries and personal collections. It makes no claim to definitiveness. Imagine how much reading you would have to do for that.

But that's the job, Asshole. And if you're not willing to do that much work, then don't make anthologies. THAT'S why people are so pissed off at Mammoth Mike Ashley, not because he's a white male, but because he didn't do his job, and the rest of us marginalized folks are gonna suffer, as usual, for it.

July 14, 2009

I'm Teaching A Blogging Class (post #666)

Hey Bay Areans,

I'll be teaching a weekend blogging workshop through Kearny Street Workshop this weekend in San Francisco's SOMA district. Saturday is a free two-hour blogging 101 class for absolute beginners. The goal will be to set up your first blog. Sunday is a three hour blog writing and marketing workshop with me and Glenda Bautista that costs $50.

You can get details here or below. Please spread the word to those folks in your life who want more blog in theirs!


Weekend Blogging Workshop

July 18-19, 10:00am - 1:00pm
KSW @ PariSoMa, 1436 Howard Street

This weekend intensive blogging workshop will take you from beginner basics to blog bragging rights. Sign up for one day or both, and get into the blogosphere.

DAY ONE: Writing 101 with Claire Light
Saturday, July 18, 11am - 1pm

This FREE two-hour class will help absolute beginners get off the ground. We will discuss what a blog is; what things (skills, technologies) you will need to start a blog; how to actually create your blog; and how to connect with the blogosphere so you're not casting your pearls into the void.

Prerequisites: familiarity with email programs and web browers; moderate skill with Microsoft Word; possession of a laptop with wireless.

Cost: FREE
Minimum class size: 4

To register, please email ellen@kearnystreet.org with your full name and contact info.

DAY TWO: The Art of Blogging with Claire Light and Glenda Bautista
Sunday, July 19, 10am - 1pm

This three-hour paid class is designed around examining blogging as a writing form, or a written art form. We will discuss blogging as a form; what are its opportunities and limitations; what is commonly done within the blogging form and what are some interesting outliers; what technologies exist to facilitate blogging as a writing form. We will discuss "blog marketing" not as a commercial enterprise but as a method of connecting to a community that furthers the art of the blog. We will also do writing exercises in various blogging forms, on the internet. The result of this three-hour workshop will be a number of blog texts and a group project (for example: a blog carnival, or possibly even a group blog.)

Prerequisites: you must have a laptop with wireless for the session and have an established blog; this session may not be ideal for absolute beginners.

Cost: $50 per person
Minimum class size: 5

To register by check, please send check or money order to: Kearny Street Workshop, PO Box 14545, San Francisco, CA 94114-0545. Or pay online by clicking here and then clicking on the Buy Now button.

December 02, 2008

Liveblogging "Continue the Conversation - Bay Area Cultural Participation"

I know, I know. You fell asleep halfway through the title. And today's event that I'm liveblogging might not be interesting for anyone who isn't an artist or a nonprofit arts administrator. But then again, I think they've got some fun stuff planned, including a performance by Paul Flores and ... something by Favianna Rodriguez (does it really matter what? Everything she does is cool.) So I'm holding out for the "hmmm ... iiiinteresting" possibility.

Okay, what this is: a "convening" (read: mini-convention) of artists and cultural workers in the Bay Area, especially the East Bay, under the aegis of a consortium of foundations. This has something to do with the Wallace Foundation, and something to do with the San Francisco Foundation. And that's the best I can do three minutes before the show starts. I'll fill in the blanks as they do.

(ETA: A little background: The San Francisco Foundation and Grants for the Arts, two of the Bay Area's primary grantmakers, got funding from the Wallace Foundation to give out individual artist commissions to address "How rapidly changing demographics and/or evolving technologies impact the ways in which artists and arts organizations across the region connect with audiences." I proposed to liveblog APAture 10 (which I ended up doing for myself here), but instead of that proposal, John Killacky asked me to liveblog an artists and orgs convening instead. That is, this one. I worked together with Nicole McGovern of Helicon to set up a Twitter @reply page where people could send comments during the event, as well.)

Here's the info: Tuesday, December 02, 2008 from 1:00 PM - 6:00 PM (PT) at the Oakland Scottish Rite Center. I'd say just come on down since it's free, but they required an rsvp and it "sold out" at least a few days ago. (Wow! Iiiiiiinnnteresting.)

I'm here, I'm all set up. I just posted instructions to the Twitter page on how people can start posting to our Twitter page. (If you have a Twitter account.) People are going to be conversing via Twitter during the convening ... which may or may not be an overly optimistic statement.

The place is organized in tables, labeled with artistic discipline. My first fellow "Literary" person gave me this tip: the "Have Fun Do Good" blog by Britt Bravo. Will check it out. But first, I have to load up on liquids.

1:16 PM: And we're starting with a welcome from Samee Roberts from the City of Oakland (Arts Division). Says: no way to quantify how many artists in Oakland. We are poised on one of the most culturally rich regions of the world. 957,000 people are exposed to art--and a bunch of other statistics I didn't catch. Often the city art programs are the ONLY art programs left in the schools. Arts one of five key growth industries in Oakland in the coming years. Attracting more nonprofits and supporting the business end. Launching major arts marketing initiative in the spring. Today's event is an all-Oakland production.

1:21: Diane Sanchez from East Bay Community Foundation. Makes a joke about tables labeled "Other." Is talking about John Killacky, arts program director at the San Francisco Foundation, and listing his accomplishments when I tune back in from explaining to someone how to make a post to Twitter. Killacky's experienced every side of arts organizing. (From what I've heard, it's all true about him. He works his butt off to support the arts in the Bay Area ... and knows everybody.) Intros John Killacky.

1:23: John Killacky speech:

Shout outs to the folks involved in this event. Mentions previous, smaller convenings. Group of them also brought back the arts office in the City of Oakland. (Applause.) Describes scene when councilman says "Artists, I have heard you. The money's back in." Time of community power.

Could spend the whole afternoon bemoaning the economy. One of the things we need in a bad economy is a loyal and expanding audience, so today we're going to talk about our audiences, and our relationships to them. New demographics and changing technology. Shout out to me. Points out Twitter.

The Wallace Foundation focused on arts organizations around the country and looking at community. Last year Wallace invited Kary Shulman at Grants for the Arts and Killacky to talk about collaboration. Five other cities were invited. Experiment in which Wallace is staying with them for four years, eleven orgs in Bay Area.

(Sigh. I missed a whole chunk of what Killacky was saying because my wireless connection went down a bar and all this stopped loading very fast and I was struggling to manage it. Sorry! He was just talking about what's happening today. Also introduced someone whose name I missed.)

1:34: Killacky again:

Cellphones off except for Twitter. No formal breaks today. There are speakers and a performance "expert," but really today is about your conversation and the "World Cafe" discussion.

Introducing Paul Flores. Poet, playwright, spoken word artist who's been on HBO. Asked him to accept commission to do performance text. Bilingual piece.

1:37 Paul Flores:

Start with funk music and a video of latino youth in SF, the Mission. (Darren Leon at the next table is sit-dancing to the music.) Here comes Paul. Music fades out but Paul stands in front of screen with images running, he's in the scene and also popped out of it. Busting spoken word. (How long does a poem have to be before it becomes a play? How cohesive does a story have to be to be a narrative?)

Beautiful, "mission communist chicano" standing in front of an image of sneakers on power lines. Back in the day, the poets in the 'hood. Shout outs. "Machetes, machetes, machetes in their voices." The part about the food. "The readings were never paid," but they ate well. Sweeping history of the movements from seventies to now, shout out to technology. Mentions his size (he's big). Ends in 1995.

1:44: More conversational now. In 1995 left Chula Vista and came to SF. Met *and here he describes every type known to man*. Everybody was a poet.

Goes into a character with a stick-up-the-ass American accent, dropping items of cultural savvy. Turns him on to poetry slams. Story about SF State and a girl selling Guatemalan textiles. Already has a dress to use for her rape poem. Why does everyone in SF want to go somewhere else. He's only ever wanted to come here. Jack Kerouac fan. "Poet or die ... I think I'm dying." He's a punk ... but cool. Starving.

Girl selling textiles actually daugher of a colonel who burned people during the war. Valley girl Spanglish accent, but had purpose and really wanted to move to El Salvador. Had a plan to move to the jungle and marry an Indian. He doesn't have a plan. His upper-middle class parents not a good example. Realizes that all the Mexicans in the Mission could also be Salvadorean refugees. Listened to the Spanish being spoken around him and it was amazing. It was like being in a foreign country. He's a refugee, too. Everyone saying "Son of a bitch."

1:52: Back to his own persona? No. Now he's a woman activist sitting on the ground trying to sell poetry to passersby. Will trade a book for a burrito or piece of pan dulce. selling revolutionary poetry, not to immigrants. They don't need reminding. Back in the day, shout outs to revolutionaries of years past. Bone through my hair, spear in my hand, tribe. Stood out here and told the truth about property. Everybody wants to live in a loft, like a fishbowl. You a businessman underneath that goatee? Tattoos, body piercings.

Now back to his own persona. (A lot of this funny, but my response time is slowed by typing. Nobody else near me is laughing or reacting. I wonder why.)

2:00: Now he's doing a puppet show with beer cans as puppets. Three beers. I can't see the brands. One is Coors. "Wannabe test tube gangster" Three gangsters talking shit about each other. Somebody holding forth about Sam Colt. One of them is sick and somebody goes to get a guy named "Gato." Gato is a can of Tecate, shorter than the others. Sam dies. Argues over baseball teams and shoots Tecate can.

2:03: Back to persona: reminds of incident when Glickstern of Liquid club beat some Latino patrons with a crowbar and wasn't convicted of anything.

Poem about this and gentrification, hipsterdom. "Are you doing that crowbar thing?" Everything is "_____ thing." "How could gentrification be violent if artists started it?" "That English-only thing ... that electronic hate-mail thing ... that Mexican beer is better at room temperature thing ... doing the volunteer at the pirate store instead thing ..."

How was I different from them? Fought for afterschool arts programs, not bike lane. Couldn't call himself an artist in the Mission until he was evicted. Came to Mission looking for an audience. Now when he walks through the neighborhood, he only sees tourists.

2:09: John Killacky:

By-play with Flores about baseball teams. Paul says Cubs might make it because look at Obama.

Killacky intros Holly Sidford of Helicon Collaborative. She authored reports on various things I didn't quite catch because I was looking at how to spell her name. (Sorry! I'll fill in blanks later.) She'll set the frame before we do World Cafe.

2:11: Holly Sidford:

Was asked to set the frame for the conversation. Trying to hit the key ideas they hope will frame the discussion.

Theme is change: in the economy and community. Is cultural participation changing in the Bay Area? How is that change afffecting you? (Missed the last two. Dude, I do wish speakers would slow down around the key points.)

Change is inevitable. Strains of economic crisis only illuminate trends going on for a while. Rahm Emanuel: a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. Thriving in times of significant change requires five attributes:

  • anticipating and analyzing what's going on
  • having right attitude, not feeling like victim
  • capacity to adapt and change
  • articulation and communication, consistently
  • audacity think big, think bold, don't get beaten down by current circumstances.

Short term crisis brings opportunities to address long term challenges. So don't do anything that won't address long term goals. Don't try to save jobs that are going to be lost anyway. Anticipate what the world will look like five years from now.

Fight idea of retrenchment and death by a thousand cuts. Any org can cut 10% and look the same but 30% cuts or more will change the orgs. Will have to rethink fundamentals of org.

We are in a global economic upheaval and we're not taking this seriously enough. We are in a once-in-a-lifetime gale that is ripping up the bases of our economy. California will be particularly hard hit. State deficit will balloon. If the auto industry and financial sector are going through a mass transformation, then the arts "industry" will as well.

How the arts have weathered previous crises: in 4 of 9 recession years totals of arts giving increased. But this is different. Responses of audiences vary but in hard times they tend to shrink and their tastes become more conservative. And applications to art school go up. (general rueful laugh.)

This impacts:

  • revenue--earned and unearned
  • audiences--appetite and capacity
  • programming--scale and frequency
  • partnerships--ripple effects
  • venues--cost, availability.

Need to maintain adaptability b/c all of this is uncertain.

2:20: Lists some statistics about Asian and Latino community growth, white community decline. Rising elderly population. Shows graphs. 27% of Californian population is immigrant. Will grow to 36% within 12 years. (Boy, these are great graphs! I hope they post these. I'll ask them to.) Breaking down ethnicities in Bay Area counties now and in the future.

Implications for arts industry? Young Latino audiences, aging audiences. What themes will artists explore? What technologies? Institutions? How will people manifest support? Continued contests over immigration, language, growth, and public resources. Likely to get more intense. Bigger, more diverse, and older population, smaller working-age population. Immigrants will be supporting Baby Boomers. Women in workforce needed to support aging population.

Alan Brown did a study of cultural engagement patterns in the Inland Empire. Home is most common setting; places of worship and parks are also big for African Americans and Latinos. Taking photos, singing, musical instruments, social dancing are all big. Twice as many  Latinos as whites participate in ethnic heritage. Participation is changing: increasing, doing it themselves. Strong and growing desire to create and share what they create. Technology lowers barriers to artistic expression.

Ways of participating: Inventive, interpretive, curatorial, observational, ambient.

2:31: Obama zeitgeist: Lesson for Cultural Sector:

  • people want to be inspired; want link to a higher purpose and the future
  • the improbable is possible with the right strategy--applying lessons of community organizing, neighborhood by neighborhood
  • entitlements are dead--sense of entitlement, that is--could be what sank Hillary and McCain
  • empower the young--hire young people, respect them
  • participation is our most important renewable resource--Obama's the most diverse campaign, 2.5 million contributions, 1.2 million donors under $100? Made it easy for them to give small amounts.

Participation is our most important renewable resource.

(Good talk. Really interesting points. I hope they post that powerpoint presentation.)

2:36: People from Helicon speaking and explaining "World Cafe" concept. We're getting into small groups of five or six and discussing ... stuff.

World Cafe core assumptions:

  • The knowledge and wisdom we need is present and accessible
  • Collective insight evolves from honoring unique contributions:
    • connecting ideas
    • listening into the middle
    • noticing deeper themes and questions.
  • Intelligence emerges as the system connects to istelf in diverse and creative ways.

We're splitting into small groups by discipline.

ROUND ONE: This first session will be about 25 minutes. Describe your experience of how cultural participation is changing. What lessons have you learned?

I'm going to sign off now and I'll check in at the end of each group.

3:14: So I was in a group with Emily Sevier of CCI, Khan Wong and Valerie Tookes from GFTA (lotsa funders here!) and a ceramic artist who didn't put on her name tag until the end. We talked about new technologies of course. Khan is a gamer! We talked about expanding communities online, and how online apps and games (like World of Warcraft!) are changing the type of cultural participation that happens online. Also how games (like Guitar Hero! You Rock!) brought arts participation back into the home.

ROUND TWO: New question: How would you describe the Bay Area arts community's experience of how cultural participation is changing?

3:20: I'm now at a table with Isaias Rodriguez of YBCA, Samee Roberts of City of Oakland, Rene de Guzman and Indra Mungal of the Oakland Museum. René and Indra talked about Museums being the television model: where you have to be on the couch at 8 PM to see your show. But nowadays, with TV shows online, you can watch what you want, when you want. How do museums update? I complain about bad museum websites.

3:42: The most interesting result for me from this discussion was the consideration that Favianna Rodriguez' really amazing and successful real-world studio sales couldn't happen without the internet. The internet changes the way we organize things in the real world ... not just how many people we can get to the event, but how the event operates. Talked about the long tail of internet commerce.

ETA: This was a really interesting discussion group, but because I didn't take notes during the time, I've lost a lot of what we said. Bad Blogger!

ROUND THREE: The question is what do you see as the future possbilities for cultural participation the Bay Area given what you are hearing today (including your conversations and the context presented)?

3:46: I was looking for a table with total strangers and found it! Nirmala Ramalingam of the San Francisco Foundation, Sherwood Chen, Sade Huron, Jonathan Darr of Young Audiences of Northern California.

I mention my previous museums online complaint and Tate Modern website Tate archive is recommended.

We spent a lot of time going over what was said in previous sessions. We didn't much get to the question at hand, but did talk about the need for arts education to be put back in the schools.

4:14: HARVEST: harvesting ideas after the three rounds.

Changes:

  • people have to get into the electronic public space
  • attentiveness to younger people's perspectives
  • social networking for marketing and communications
  • redefining sense of community
  • multilingualism, multicultural, multiracial
  • definition of "culture" is much broader
  • increasing self-curating; ipods; harder to get audiences to take risks; at same time a yearning for connection; social dancing is exploding
  • changing look of performances
  • participation is more in demand
  • arts are becoming more democratic; elite art forms becoming more unpopular
  • accessible, neighborhood-based and family-based activity

Possibilities:

  • barter? easier to carry a credit card than a chicken; embrace being different things to different groups
  • importance of arts education; audience development
  • opportunity to tap into nonarts groups
  • arts could function as amazon functions--if you like this maybe you'd like this
  • wikipedia doesn't have more obscure stuff; use wikis to make more stuff available
  • arts groups interacting with nonarts groups, social change element
  • partnering with existing local agencies for transportation
  • expertise vs. participation; access for public to make their own traditions.
  • adopt web standards, tagging system, pull each other's feeds
  • Obama's push for rebuilding country's infrastructure, make sure some of those funds are earmarked for artists (yes! the new WPA!)
  • artist-led integration of arts technology to inspire; BA perfect place to incubate that relation.
  • does technology widen or close cultural gap?

4:35: now, take 30 seconds to reflect, then we'll do a modified version of "open space." Come up with a topic of a discussion you'd like to be part of. Then people who propose topics will be leading discussions.

Topics:

  1. drawing audiences to East Bay arts events
  2. what this recession means, the value of cultural participation in terms of civic action
  3. how to engage audiences to participate more actively in specific art projects
  4. getting artists and programs for people in the baby boomer generation
  5. how do we hold the dept of education accountable to getting arts education
  6. organizing a lobbyist in washington to influence obama re: arts
  7. people who are using media technology and other internet tools and resources for cultural participation (Isais)
  8. how oakland and east bay arts orgs can cross promote
  9. new paradigms for sustaining nonprofit orgs
  10. next steps after this event

4:58: Technology group is by far the largest group, and splits very reluctantly into two groups at moderator's insistence ... and then only when Isaias and Favianna, who are leading, each take a different group. I'm with Favi's

She asks: What apps do you use? I'm just gonna list them here:

  • constant contact--email management
  • facebook, myspace, linkedin, tumblr--social networking sites
  • surveymonkey
  • typepad, wordpres, blogger--blogging sites
  • youtube, tubemogul--video share
  • gmail
  • googletalk
  • paypal
  • yahoogroups
  • basecamp, dot project--project management
  • google docs
  • flickr--photo share
  • itunes, amazon--creating product lists

What great models have you seen of people's use of technology?

  • Using paypal to facilitate money exchange.
  • Integrating blog posts with event announcements; integrating different media/apps: embedding videos into event announcements
  • Using tagging, keywords, trackbacks to increase traffic to website. But this requires cost/benefit analysis b/c it takes time.
  • What about rights to images on Flickr?

5:15: Back to center. Each group is going to share one thing they talked about.

  • What's the deal with the recession? group: Keep the conversation going, have another forum on this topic specifically, use your space to convene, have a barter board.
  • Audience participation group: identify how to let ppl into creative process, which is fragile and messy.
  • Getting Boomers to begin creating art group: celebrate those boomers who may have given up a while ago, create intergenerational art opportunities.
  • Next steps group: creating an online way for Bay Area arts orgs to communicate with each other. Also, a physical space.
  • East Bay arts orgs attracting audiences and cross promotion groups (which were actually two groups which melded): openly foster a culture of collaboration among arts orgs of the East Bay. Don't be territorial.
  • Online media tech tools and how to prioritize them group one: good next step is to share best practices.
  • Creating new paradigms for nonprofit orgs group: changing language, 21st century language for fundraising; outreach on Obama campaign model; redefining funding levels to be more comfortable for those in the service area; what does sustainability mean?
  • Lobbying Obama for arts policy: reaching out to Barbara Lee and a whole list of orgs. (Did nobody get the memo about saying just ONE thing you talked about?) Arts to no longer be satisfied with crumbs, etc. (Wow, he's listing too many things for me to type.)
  •  Media group two: big list concept turns into genome concept (Amazon's "If you like this then you'll like ...")
  • Arts education group: willing to partner with other agencies to work with Ron Dellums' office; how to integrate arts into core subjects; understand what they're allowing students to miss out on and why this is unacceptable

5:25: We did amazing work today. Tip of the iceberg. (Seriously, though, are there ever next steps to these things?)

Closing with thank yous and ... oo! Next steps. Question answered. We can't have another day where we sit and talk about great ideas and not have any next steps. This is a four-year initiative. There will be many conversations, and there *can* be other activities. Can use these topics as workshop themes.

Closing with thank you and invitation to reception. Thanks to various participants and funders:

Wallace Foundation
San Francisco Foundation and Grants for the Arts
East Bay Community Foundation
City of Oakland
San Jose Cultural Office
Theater Bay Area
Staffs of Theater Bay Area, San Francisco Foundation, and Grants for the Arts, who staffed the event
Favianna and Reed who are producing a film about this, Moi, Paul for performance
Sound people and folks at Scottish Rite Temple
Paul McGovern who organized entire event

Okay, I'm off to the reception. Will clean up and add links and comments later tonight.

February 04, 2008

Carl Brandon's Black History Month List

Hey all,

As many of you know, I'm on the steering committee of The Carl Brandon Society, an organization dedicated to increasing representation of people of color in the speculative genres. We've polled our members and come up with a recommended reading list of speculative fiction books by black authors for Black History Month.

The idea is for you to read these books this month, forward this list around to your friends, take this list into your local bookstores and ask them to display these books this month, post the list on your blogs and websites, etc. I hope you'll all strongly consider at least picking up one of these books and falling into it. It's a wonderful list, and your February will be improved!

So, without further ado:

THE CARL BRANDON SOCIETY
recommends the following books for BLACK HISTORY MONTH:

  • So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan
  • Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
  • My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due
  • The Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust
  • Mindscape by Andrea Hairston
  • Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell
  • Futureland by Walter Mosley
  • The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
  • Zahrah the Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

And the 2005 CARL BRANDON SOCIETY AWARD Winners:

• PARALLAX AWARD given to works of speculative fiction created by a person of color:
47 by Walter Mosley

• KINDRED AWARD given to any work of speculative fiction dealing with issues of race and ethnicity; nominees may be of any racial or ethnic group:
Stormwitch
by Susan Vaught

(cross-posted at Other magazine blog.)

January 27, 2008

Avoiding Sensitive Conversations

There are times that I know I am not as good a person as I could be, but I don't really care. I know that I could exert myself more in this direction or that, but I don't care enough to.

But there are also times when I genuinely wish that I was a better person--more concerned about others and less about protecting myself. That happens around conversations about race with clueless white people. I have a lot of friends of color who really draw my admiration for their boundless patience and kindness for this type of conversation. I have none of that patience and kindness.

What I do, and a lot of others do this too, is as soon as someone says something awkward or insensitive, I either bowl them over with a rapid-fire critique of what they said, or I clamp my mouth shut and look away. In the latter case, I'll refuse to pick up the conversational ball, and just leave them hanging with the stupid thing they said, knowing that they did something wrong, but not knowing what.

Later on I'll have to recognize that I missed the opportunity to educate someone ... or at the least, to loosen someone's ignorance. And all arguments that it's not my job to educate people about race sound somewhat tinny. It's exhausting, having to teach people things that it's their own responsibility to learn by themselves, but I'm there, and I'm spending the time with them anyway. So what's my problem?

(For those of you who genuinely don't know what my problem is, this is the nutshell: all poc have to deal with having their ideas and viewpoints invalidated to their face. A good example of this is when people ask me what my ethnicity is, I tell them, and then they dispute what I have told them about myself. Another example is when, say, a black blogger posts about his/her *personal* experience as a black person in a white-dominated world, and a bunch of white trolls tell them that they're  whining or simply dispute their understanding of their own *personal* experience. A major component of racial privilege is that the privileged are always right, and the Others are always wrong, even when the Others are talking about themselves. So getting into a discussion of race with ignorant white people is basically an exercise in asking to be invalidated and patronized about something you know more about than the person invalidating and patronizing you.

Another issue would be, of course, having to batter down someone's defensiveness about their own lack of racism just to have a conversation that you've had fifty thousand times already. You're pushed into a discussion that is tedious and fraught for you, and then you have to fight just to have the conversation in the first place, and just to get basic respect for your viewpoint. No, thanks.
)

I just had such an experience, from the other side, recently when trying to talk about class issues. I work for an organization that serves low-income people. Our clients have to fall below a certain income level to be eligible for our program. Yet all of our office staff positions--which pay well and carry excellent benefits--require a college degree and a high level of skillsets. So we're by definition a bunch of middle/upper middle class people serving a bunch of lower middle/working class people.

Our org culture emphasizes customer service, so our staff tends to get along very well with our clients. But there are inevitably a number of interactions which reveal class differences. Some of the projects that I am responsible for themselves raise interesting questions about class viewpoints and ways of proceeding with various tasks. But we're too busy at work--and probably too wary of engaging in such fraught discussions--to get into more theoretical conversations about class differences. We proceed at a very pragmatic level.

This weekend I met a woman at a party whom I had met before. She wanted to participate in my org's program but didn't qualify, so she had ended up going to another org. We were talking about various interesting things we'd noticed about the people involved in these programs and the programs themselves. I embarked on a thinking-out-loud moment about something I'd been thinking about but had never had the opportunity to talk about with someone who understood the background of this kind of work.

I wanted to say something about the strangeness of middle/upper-middle class workers serving low-income workers and helping them to become financially self-sufficient when the "higher" class workers, employees of a large organization, weren't financially self-sufficient themselves, but did earn more based on their high skill level. This was going to lead to some thinking-out-loud about how a higher socio-economic bracket meant access to a higher-paying state of dependency, and how popular programs promoting self-sufficiency for the poor were popular with many people precisely because they meant that we didn't have to deal with the question of how to give greater access to "dependent" but high-paying jobs to the poor.

I got about halfway through the first thought when the woman froze me out. She did the same thing to me that I do to clueless white people who say something stupid or offensive: clamped her mouth shut, looked away, and jumped into someone else's conversation while I was still talking. I don't know what it was that offended her: if I used the wrong word, or if she mistook where my comment was heading ... or if she didn't mistake where my comment was heading but just didn't want to go there.

And I'm not sure it really matters which it was. I'm pretty sure that this isn't the usual thing that people talk about when they talk about class differences (if they ever do), so what she thought she was protecting herself against was probably not what I was getting at. But if she did know where I was going with it, it may not be such a bad thing that she didn't get into it. Someone who is working her way through a difficult and time-consuming program to increase her own skills and self-sufficiency, doesn't need to waste any energy considering that the people who are helping her might be avoiding difficult discussions about access.

And if I used a offensive word or phrasing, I obviously don't know I did it.

Clearly I wasn't going to get the interesting discussion about class and access out of this woman that I was hoping for in any case. But what bothers me is that I don't know where I can go to get this discussion. I can't talk about these things at work, I'll be much more wary of talking about them with people I don't know well who are involved in these projects, and my friends who are up for such discussions aren't involved in this nonprofit field, so they can only talk about theoretical things. Yet I spend half my working day on this type of work. I don't have access to discussions about class differences.

Discussion is an essential resource; discussion with people who know what they're talking about is an even more important resource. As much as I and other poc resent being treated as a public accommodation in discussions of race, we are sitting on knowledge and experience that are an important--nay, essential--resource for truly informed and intelligent discussions of race. If someone is spouting ignorance, it's because they have not yet availed themselves of their access to such resources (you know, like libraries and the internet.) I wish I could be more of a resource to the people who actually need it. Maybe that would have a higher impact in changing the world the way I profess to want to change it.

And I'm not just saying this because I got smacked down this weekend. This certainly wasn't the first time it's happened to me and won't be the last. But these moments are a reminder of something I feel--perhaps less strongly--when I'm on the other side of the equation and just. can't. take. another. stupid. discussion. about how cool and funny political incorrectness is.

Ya know?

August 31, 2007

Munny, or Our Fucked Up Society Part 5673

I'm a professional fundraiser for a nonprofit organization.

How fucked up is that?

It just hit me. I'm sitting here in a cafe, killing an hour before I go to a meeting at another nonprofit organization (where I will be giving my work for free), and I pulled out a book to read, one I'm reading to be better able to raise funds for yet another nonprofit organization where I also give my work for free.

I was just at the Craigslist Nonprofit Bootcamp in the Bay Area two weekends ago and the keynote speaker pointed out that nonprofit people are more obsessed with money than businesspeople. Yeah, even the ones who deal with money.

And it's true. Our society is so centered around money, that any endeavor that doesn't have money-making at its heart has to spend more time proving its money-worthiness than for-profit endeavors. This includes academia, social service (both government and private), arts and culture at all levels, etc.

How fucked up is that?

How fucked up is it that someone at my organization spent money buying a book that teaches us how to convince people to give us money so that we don't have to be concerned about earning it? How fucked up is it that convincing people to be generous for a good cause is an industry? How fucked up is it that all of my friends--all of them--that I met doing nonprofit work, who have stayed in nonprofit work, have all ended up going into some aspect of nonprofit development or funding, because that's the logical step when you get good at what you do?

Of course, it makes sense that money is at the center of everything because, although it behaves erratically, money is the only measurable quantity of any importance in our lives. The moment you point out anything else measurable--the amount of a harvest, the loss of polar ice, the progress of a student ... or of a disease--its meaning--or meaningfulness--can be directly translated into a currency amount.

Which means the obvious, of course: that money has many layers and regions of meaning, and its behavior and idiom are bigger than we give it credit for on a day-to-day basis. (Sidetrack: note the use of "credit" in the previous sentence, i.e. a promissory monetary value.) Money is neither simply a strange and arbitrary evil at the root of all social ills, nor simply a way--the way--we assess and assign value to objects, labor, and processes.

There are a number of layers of meaning even within the simple process of raising funds for a nonprofit. For example, my current place of work has an extremely healthy system of funding streams, because they are diverse, and because the org keeps a good staff around to continually expand on existing streams and look for and establish new ones. Also, within each stream (say: individual giving, or private foundations) we have a very diverse population of donors and funders, from the very small and limited to the very wealthy and large.

This is because our mission and programs appeal to a very diverse set of people, yes, but it also means that we are able to articulate a vision of our mission and programs that appeals to a diversity of folks. And it also means that the need to appeal to a diverse set of people causes us to articulate an appealing and layered vision of our mission and program. And it also means that the need to articulate an appealing and layered vision of our mission and program forces us to have an appealing and layered mission and program, as well.

Do you like the palindrome nature of that argument? Which came first: the programmatic value or the healthy funding streams?

Ask that question of businesses as well. Which came first: the great business plan or the venture capital? Any dilettante will tell you that you can't get capital without a great biz plan, but can you create a great biz plan without knowing who it is that might fund you?

Ask that of great art. The masterpieces of 500 years ago were all commissioned. Think about that for a second. "Here's some money. Paint something on that wall that will brighten up the room and make me look wealthy." Why can't that be the straw that builds the camel's headdress? Or the new grant the Moneybags Foundation created for a specific purpose: why can't that grant be the thing that causes today's artist to take a simple step out of the comfort zone and into something great?

(Who am I arguing with? Myself?)

It's also not a simple bilateral assignment of value: good/bad; yes/no. Proclaiming an endeavor can start the money flowing, but only fulfilling the promise can keep it coming or increase it. So you shape a mission/program that will appeal to a diversity and then you have to start spinning plates. It's the desire of the diverse funding sources that you be this, that and the other thing ... plus, that thing over there, too. So you say you will. And if you're successful in being those things, very often what you've proven is not your essential virtue, but rather your ability to balance competing demands.

And this is one of the aspects of a healthy organization: the ability to balance a variety of equally urgent demands and satisfy them all. In this way, funding can both stimulate the development of an essential success skill that can be applied to all aspects of the org, and also measure and reward the development of that skill.

A bad org--or artist--or researcher--will create a program based on the stated desires of funders, so you don't want to do that. In that way, money corrupts--and it does so easily and thoroughly. And as time goes on and the corruption (otherwise known as "mission drift") works its black magic, the org's mission and programs become less coherent and successful and the funders leave the building. So an organization unable to maintain its essential purpose against the temptation of easy money is found out. No matter what people may think of their own judgment, hardened bullshit can be very hard to detect. But money simply will not flow towards the corrupted mission ... and will flow toward the tended mission, no matter how personally corrupt its gardeners are.

This is story of George W. Bush. He is criticized for staying a course that won't work, but look at his administration from the standpoint of mission, vision, and program. No president since FDR can be said to have evidenced so little mission drift as Dubya. He articulated a vision of his mission and programs which appealed to a diversity of people, and the money flowed toward it and kept flowing. It still hasn't stopped. And has he kept his promises? Fuck yeah. Has he followed his mission? Fuck yeah! Has he established and stabilized the programs he said he would? Fuck yeah! We need more nonprofit E.D.s like him.

Prob is, of course, our society is neither a special interest, nor a business. And running it like one is killing us. But that's a bit too much of a digression now. What was my point?

Oh yeah, money senses both purity and corruption, not of human morality, but rather of stated purpose. Money can't tell you if someone is good or bad, but it can tell you to a nicety if someone is successful and consistent in their goodness or badness.

Money is incredibly sensitive to variations in that value. It's the ultimate liquid, flowing into every possible crevice. And it's the people who deal the most with it--the financiers and appropriaters and uber-comptrollers--who understand this the best. It's also they who fall most easily prey to the idea that money is the only measurement of value. We all know this.

What's difficult to realize is that, although even the smallest child has a grasp of the concept that money isn't the only measurement of value, even the most sophisticated, well-educated adults often don't have a grasp of the simple fact that money is one of the best measurements of social value we've come up with so far.

Not the only one. And certainly not one you would ever want to use in isolation. But one of the best ones? Definitely.

I can't tell you how uncomfortable this train of thought makes me.

July 19, 2006

Brad Pitt and Envy

Via Gwenda Bond, this hatred-barely-covered-by-moth-eaten-snark commentary on Brad Pitt's new mission-oriented celebrity.

The writer, Hank Stuever, quotes Brad and Brad-loving celebmediates in their claim that neoBrad is a result of fatherhood. He then points out that most fathers (he neglects to say: middle and upper middle class fathers) respond to fatherhood by moving to the suburbs, buying gas-guzzling SUVs, and taking their jobs seriously.

But Brad wants more from us and for us. It turns out the future lies in this constant upscaling of the volunteer heart. Your child must now do charity work to get a diploma, your co-workers are training for another bike-a-thon, and your movie stars are forever looking for a cure -- not a cure for them, a cure for you.

To this, Stuever pleads poverty. Not relative poverty, but the actual variety. He doesn't reflect that the middle/upper-middle class sense of "responsibility" that drives otherwise perfectly serviceable men out to the suburbs in Hummers (which houses, cars and private schools then necessitate a six figure salary) isn't responsibility at all but a need to maintain the status symbols of class.

There are good schools inside cities. There's safe-driving to be had in a ten-year-old station wagon. You can raise kids on a decent, but not spectacular salary. But you can't keep up with the Joneses that way. I'm not complaining about the choices these men make. My parents made the same choices, and I might well do so too, if I ever have kids. I don't know if I'm rebellious enough to thoroughly repudiate all class associations.

But I'm thoroughly disgusted by Stuever's implicit claim that men of his class can't do otherwise because they're not rich and famous like Brad Pitt. He pooh-poohs the "upscaling of the volunteer heart" as if volunteerism were an upper class privilege. He even references 20th Century America's most reactionary idiot, as if her very name could put the kibosh on all of Pitt's pretensions:

That reliable anti-volunteer, Ayn Rand, would grab a barf bucket (not for you, for her). That sort of cynicism is so passe; you have not seen the light.

But the very idea of "charity work" as noblesse oblige passed (like bad seafood) out of the cultural understanding of pretty much everyone in the world except middle/upper-middle class Americans at the beginning of the 20th century. "Service", "giving back" and "volunteering" is something that we have absolutely no idea how many Americans of all classes participate in, because the narrowness of our definitions precludes any real intelligence-gathering. But as someone who's done a great deal of low-level community fundraising in my life, I've found that the poorer the community, the more likely they are to "do what they can" for good causes.

When canvassing for environmental causes, I got smaller, but much more frequent donations from working class neighborhoods. When asking for outright in-kind donations for a variety of organizations (as opposed to "sponsorships", where the org gives value back), I had much better luck with small-business owners than with companies. And, as any adult volunteer coordinator knows, when looking for reliable volunteers for one-time duties, like a mailing or a special event, call on the folks in your community with the lowest incomes; they'll be the ones who are most likely to say "yes".

It's not willingness, nor a "volunteer culture" that's lacking among poorer Americans, but rather information about how to and when to and to whom to donate your money and time. Which is where the celebrity bleeding hearts come in. They draw attention to causes and to organizations that have the infrastructure sufficient to handle large volumes of small donations. Far from being ridiculous, the Brangelinas of the world are serving a vital role in the economy of global service organizations: a vital PR function that can't be done any other way.

Everything about this tactic, though, seems a calculated insult to middle/upper-middle white men. That they might ever care about celebrity opinion is an insult. That an appeal from an undereducated prettyboy would work on them more than their own NYT-readin', independent-thinkin', unsusceptible-liberal-considered-opinion-actin' selves is a much greater insult. And the idea that they need to be prompted to "do the right thing" is the greatest insult of all. What they do for "the community" will always, inevitably, spring out of their own intelligence and knowledge of the world, like Athena out of Zeus's skull. They don't need no stinkin' badgers.

It never occurs to Stuever that Pitt might not be aiming at him.

Thus, Stuever's article was nothing more than cheap excuse-making. Brad Pitt reminded him of how little he's actually doing to make the world a better place, but he's damned if he'll let a prettier, richer, more desirable, and gorgeouser-woman-fucking celebrity tell him what to do. Stuever, who writes for the Washington Post, is too busy making money for his children to spend any time, or the remains of his tiny salary, on such silly things as rebuilding New Orleans or saving Darfur orphans. Fuck off, Brad Pitt, you can't fool America's intelligent(sic)sia.

(Cross-posted at Other.)

February 22, 2006

Tip Jar

Another new feature is that I've added a tip jar to the upper left. This means you can give me munny!

Unless otherwise specified (yes, you can say that you want me to have the munny!), tips to the SeeLight Tip Jar will go to the Carl Brandon Society, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction.

I'm a member of the CBS steering committee. You can read more about CBS here.

Our programs currently include two annual literary awards, and two annual writing workshop scholarships.

ps. I'm actually posting this on November 18, 2007, but I have to put it on the blog's first page for stupid administrative reasons.

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