Monday, December 29, 2008

Year-End Reflections

It's December 29, 2008, and I'm staring down a pile of year-end work, getting a bit introspective about the past year. In COPPeR-specific terms, we had a banner year. While several of our formal programs launched in 2007 (The COPPeR Pages, PeakRadar), 2008 was really the year we became "real." We moved into our downtown office and arts information space (and then moved across the street in August!), we hired full-time staff and we dove into our work connecting people with arts and cultural opportunities in the Pikes Peak region. From our collaborative "Art Creates Community" bumper sticker advocacy campaign to the inauguaral Arts and Business Awards Lunch we co-hosted with the Chamber; from the release of the Sounds of the Pikes Peak Region CD to the launch of our cultural planning process, it truly was an exciting year. I am very proud of the ways in which we have been telling the story of our strong creative community, but the fact is, we here at COPPeR are storytellers, and without the numerous artists, arts organizations, cultural institutions and arts educators in our community, we would have no story to tell.

That's why I feel it would be disingenuous to ignore the turmoil that is taking place around us. The past few months have been filled with economic uncertainty, and I believe it's time to get real about what we may face in the coming months. The current recession is unlike anything our country has faced in many, many years, and the new global economy is shifting and changing in an unprecedented manner. Here in Colorado, we often feel the effects of such events later than our friends on the coasts. (I have a friend in New York who works for Morgan Stanley and is a big supporter of the arts who posts daily status updates on facebook: "___ still has a job." He's been doing this since October.) For example, we are extremely fortunate that the housing market in the metro Colorado Springs area has not been affected by the mortgage crisis nearly as badly as other communities around the country.

However, the budgets of the City of Colorado Springs and El Paso County are in serious condition. Voters struck down ballot initiatives that would have provided essential services to our community. Sales tax revenues are down. Businesses are closing. Unemployment is up.

And unfortunately, in our society, the arts are often the first thing to be eliminated when times get tough. Nonprofit arts organizations are especially vulnerable when charitable giving is down across the board. Food banks are experiencing extremely high demand for their services, while simultaneously suffering from fewer donations. We as a society are trained to think of the arts as an auxiliary function to basic human existence and not as a core part of who we are. Of course you out there who are reading this know that is patently untrue. Now, in fact, it is more important than ever to recognize the importance of creativity, innovation and imagination. Our future depends on it.

And guess what? Times will continue to be tough. I was especially saddened this fall to see the closing of WeUsOur in Manitou. And coming up this week, Edifice Gallery is also closing its doors. Both commercial galleries, they served as incubators for fresh, young, hip and wacky talent that just isn't seen in many other galleries. Their openings always had imaginative urban art, great music and incredibly quirky people. I'm unsure how their closing will affect some of the younger art community. Similarly, Smokebrush has trimmed down their exhibition space and staff (though with some exciting new educational programs planned for Woodland Park). Unfortunately, I have a feeling we'll see more of this in early 2009.

The good part? I feel confident that we will see great insight and action from our established arts leaders. The Dream City initiative is connecting and enriching people across sectors to engage in long-term planning for our region, with the power of the arts at the core of its message. We also have many new arts leaders in our community, among them Nathan Newbrough at the Colorado Springs Philharmonic, Sam Gappmayer at the Fine Arts Center, Caitlin Green at the UCCS Gallery of Contemporary Art and incoming executive director Amber Cote at Futureself. What I find most inspiring, however, is the hundreds of individual artists who have felt inspired and empowered to become part of the broader community. We can and must depend on their vision and leadership if we are to succeed in making this a community united by creativity.

On a national level, we have an incoming president who is looking to celebrate the arts. Thanks to the superior advocacy work of Americans for the Arts, Obama is able to talk about the importance of the arts in a meaningful way. After the bitter 2008 election, this is good news for arts supporters.

When times get tough, people start having difficult conversations. I'm optimistic that those conversations will generate positive change and worthwhile activity. I encourage you to visit Westaf's year-end prediction post by clicking here. Also, check out the blogroll on the right column of this blog to see what other arts bloggers are talking about around the nation.

I hope to see you at a concert, play, opening, festival, coffee shop, class, workshop or some other creative place soon. Happy 2009!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays from COPPeR

Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Notes from Americans for the Arts' National Arts Marketing Conference

Kevin Johnson’s Americans for the Arts National Arts Marketing Project Conference (AFA NAMP) Summary

I don’t have a marketing background, I’m more of a techie. So when COPPeR's Executive Director Bettina Swigger encouraged me to apply for a scholarship to the AFA NAMP Conference, I saw a great opportunity to learn a ton. I was fortunate enough to receive a full-scholarship to the conference that paid for my round-trip airfare, hotel and conference fees. I felt like I was in way over my head at times, but I did my best to tread water and really enjoyed myself at the conference—and I learned a lot of valuable information from the presenters, other conference attendees, and from the experience itself. I’ll just briefly tell you about what I considered to be the highlights of the three-day event.

Day 1 Keynote - Word of Mouth with Ed Keller from Keller Fay Group
Everyone’s heard that “word of mouth” is among the most effective marketing tools any business can utilize. But Keller offered evidence that indicates that this isn’t just hooey: he claims that the small minority really does make a big impact. In his book The Influentials, Keller writes that one American in ten tells the other nine how to vote, where to eat, and what to buy—these people are the Influentials. So who are these folks? They’re the people who make society, culture and the marketplace run. They’re the people who are self-reliant, active and engaged with their communities, they’re connected socially and civically, and they act on their passions–whether it’s a passion for creating beauty, or for what they believe really matters—so what results is that these people motivate, inspire and influence others.

Although we are regularly bombarded by advertising that is assumed to have this phenomenal power over the consumer, Keller says people still overwhelmingly make their decisions about spending their time and money by talking to other people. Some of the research Keller cites indicates a substantial differential when comparing the measured effectiveness of advertising versus the consultation of friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers (and even in some cases, family!) The areas Keller identifies as most susceptible to the influence of word of mouth include the obvious—which restaurants to try, attractions to visit, and web sites to use—and some that surprised me, like which prescription drugs to try and what to do about retirement planning.

He talked a lot about utilizing social networking technologies like Myspace and Facebook. “Be where the information is,” Keller says.

The next session I’d like to outline was called Online Space: The Final Frontier
This session demonstrated how some cutting edge arts organizations utilize new media and Web 2.0 tools like streaming video, blogs, podcasting and web site interactivity to engage with and add value to the lives of their audiences.
The Science Museum of Minnesota’s Science Buzz web site showed how a museum, for instance, can integrate their exhibition components into interactive materials generated by both museum staff and site visitors. The innovative content associated with Science Buzz has changed the way visitors perceive the Science Museum and has spurred new partnerships and funding opportunities.

Then in a lunchtime session, Karen Brooks Hopkins from the Brooklyn Academy of Music spoke about the intersection of marketing and fundraising. I found this to be one of my favorite moments while at the conference—the food was pretty good, but the presentation about BAM’s operations was stunning. BAM both maximizes the use of their facilities (which are numerous and very impressive) and ensure that their marketing and fundraising efforts “speak with one voice” as she put it. I can’t really do justice to what she was able to deliver, so I’ll just say that I highly recommend checking out BAM’s web site to get more information. (

Next: Advanced E-mail marketing – Eugene Carr from Patron Technology detailed strategies for creating compelling subject lines for mass email messages, design tips that can be the difference between a closed window or a click-through, some low cost/high impact list building techniques, and behavioral list segmentation.

If you don’t already, I would suggest using a service like Constant Contact or PatronMail for your mass-communications. These services can be relatively low cost (especially for nonprofits) and include vital tools like list management features, metrics for tracking your efforts, ready-made templates in a variety of styles to quickly build your emails, and survey technology to gather feedback from those that you serve.

Some tips: most of these are really simple things like send your e-blast out on a consistent basis so that readers learn to expect it, offer occasional low-cost giveaways to increase subscriber interest, always ask the people you’re in front of if they would like to subscribe and be judicious in the use of exclamation marks, all-caps and other potentially annoying text embellishments—rather, choose your words carefully so that you can more effectively communicate your excitement.

Learn how to interpret your email statistics so that you can determine when you need to make adjustments. You can also analyze the particular interests of portions of your database which you can then segment into smaller, more focused groups. By focusing on the preferences of a specific group, you can deliver a more compelling, and thus effective message to your audience.

Day Two’s keynote was delivered by Alan Brown from WolfBrown Consulting. Alan delivered an unexpectedly entertaining presentation on customer database segmentation. His work focuses on understanding consumer demand for cultural experiences and on helping cultural institutions, foundations, and agencies to see new opportunities, make informed decisions, and respond to changing conditions. By using values-based questions in the creation of audience participation surveys, he’s able to offer measurement tools that assess the intrinsic impact of performing arts experiences. By analyzing this information, arts presenters can make better informed choices about the programming they offer. None of this sounds terribly interesting, but I swear to you, he was a hoot and the techniques produce powerful results.
Neat stuff – I am a sucker for great design, and I picked up—literally--pounds of marketing collateral during my time in Houston. One particular campaign that I thought was really cool was “Get Your Art On” produced by the Austin Circle of Theaters. This two-week city-wide celebration of arts and culture coincided with the Americans for the Arts National Arts and Humanities month and the CreateAustin initiative, which is a community visioning project similar to the DreamCity 2020 endeavor that you’ve no doubt heard about. They produced a slew of cleverly executed marketing pieces including stickers, a series of whimsical postcards, posters and even coffee sleeves—all starring a very cultured Armadillo and all emphasizing how the arts truly matter in their community.

Finally, the coolest thing about the NAMP conference was discovering that thanks to the leadership and invaluable experience of people like Susan Edmondson and Bettina Swigger, COPPeR is already doing a lot of these things. For me, it was an affirmation that we’re heading down the right track and made me really excited to come home and get back to work.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

YouTube Symphony Orchestra

The latest in social media/arts intersection: Behold the YouTube Symphony Orchestra!

Any local musicians planning to participate?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Congratulations to the Chorale!

Congrats to Don Jenkins of the Colorado Springs Chorale for his well-deserved special recognition for making the Pikes Peak Region the best place to work and live through his work with the Chorale at the Chamber's Annual State of the Region Luncheon. Kudos to the Chamber for recognizing great music's ability to contribute to our quality of life. I love to see the arts celebrated in this fashion!

Don has been a true friend to the arts in this region for many, many years (I won't say how many). He's also been a real champion of the work COPPeR is doing to raise the profile of our arts community. And I'm proud to say he has been an inspiration - and instigator - to me personally and professionally. Congrats, Don. Bravo!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dream City Video

Check out the new SpringsTV video about Dream City: Vision 2020.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dream City Exhibit at the FAC Modern

Now through January 10, please come visit the Dream City exhibit at the FAC Modern. Opening reception (and an open house here at COPPeR) tonight, December 5 from 5-8 p.m.

The Dream City initiative has inspired community collaborations centered in artistic and creative production. The Fine Arts Center, in partnership with COPPeR, the Gazette, FutureSelf, and Pikes Peak Community College, present Dream City 2020: Through the Eyes of the Artist-Past, Present and Future. To represent the past, a selection of historic photographs by Harry L. Standley from the collection of the Pioneers Museum will be on view. These photographs capture the nostalgia of Colorado Springs’ past with views of Tejon St. and other familiar places. Our present and visions for the future are showcased through the works by artists with very different perspectives. New works by beloved local professional artists Jay Miller and Laura Ben-Amots will be on view alongside works from up-and-coming amateur student artists. All their works were inspired by one particular photograph by Standley as a point of departure, and the finished outcome gives the viewer a sense of pride and hope for our city--a “Dream City” that can be envisioned and become a reality.