Working

The Long Read

Jobs are not big enough for people. It’s not just the assembly line worker whose job is too small for his spirit, you know? A job like mine, if you really put your spirit into it, you would sabotage immediately. You don’t dare. So you absent your spirit from it. My mind has been so divorced from my job, except as a source of income, it’s really absurd.
—Nora Watson, editor

 

I’ve come across Studs Terkel via his good friend Kurt Vonnegut, who quotes him in A Man Without a Country, his memoir-esque final book.

Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do is a collection of over 80 interviews conducted in the 1970s with Americans from all walks of life. Studs Terkel, a broadcaster and oral historian, manages to both create a warm space for an intimate conversation and make himself transparent, and the transcripts read as insightful monologues constantly flowing between the personal and the universal. Working has been turned into a musical and adapted as a comic book by American Splendor’s Harvey Pekar.     

 

This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence – to the spirit as well as to the body. It is about ulcers as well as accidents, about shouting matches as well as fistfights, about nervous breakdowns as well as kicking the dog around. It is, above all, (or beneath all), about daily humiliations. To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of is. (…) It is about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying. Perhaps immortality, too, is part of the quest. To be remembered was the wish, spoken and unspoken, of the heroes and heroines of this book.
Introduction

 

Working tells the extraordinary stories of ordinary people, and the everyday grind of those in the limelight – in their own voice. Policeman, bus driver, pharmacist, professional hockey player, farm worker, switchboard operator, airline stewardess, actor, doorman, piano tuner, gas meter reader, private eye, hair stylists… sit for a while with Terkel, in their home, in a tavern, in the boss’s office, and share a moment with him, opening up about their life, their feelings, their dreams. Some have already put a lot of thought into what they’re being asked to talk about, for others it feels like they’re discovering themselves in the conversation, revealing their inner contradictions and sometimes finding resolution. There’s a precious quality of individuality that comes through every single interview, but also a sense of interconnectedness that emerges from the accumulation of stories.

Studs Terkel made a point of scouting for people whose voice is not often heard, those who toil in the dark, are oppressed, marginalised, or trying to escape their golden cage. Class, race and gender loom large in the life choices of Terkel’s interlocutors. Barbara Herrick, a farmer’s daughter and award-winning writer / producer in the male-dominated ad world, is often ignored by clients at meetings – or asked to make them coffee – until she starts one her brilliant presentation. Roberto Acuna, farm worker, born on a cotton sack, picking the fields seven days a week from the age of 8, now organising for the United Farm Workers of America, has one wish:

 

If people could see—in the winter, ice on the fields. We’d be on our knees all day long. We’d build fires and warm up real fast and go back on the ice. We’d be picking watermelons in 105 degrees all day long. When people have melons or cucumber of carrots or lettuce, they don’t know how they got on their table and the consequences to the people who picked it. If I had enough money, I would take busloads of people out to the fields and into the labor camps. Then they’d know how that dine salad got on their table.
—Roberto Acuna, farm worker  

 

Some are fulfilled by their job:  

 

People imagine a waitress couldn’t possibly think of have any kind of aspiration other than to serve food. When somebody says to me, “You’re great, how come you’re just a waitress?” Just a waitress. I’d say, “Why, don’t you think you deserve to be served by me?” It’s implying that he’s not worthy, not that I’m not worthy. I makes me irate. I don’t feel lowly at all. I myself feel sure. I don’t want to change the job. I love it.
Dolores Dante, waitress

 

Others suffer from the daily drag, the erosion of their rights, the contempt from management:

 

All I do now is get up in the morning, go there, and I don’t be thinking about that. Like a machine, that’s about the only way I can feel.
—Will Robinson, bus driver

 

Some lose their illusions:

 

We were caught up in the American Dream. You’ve gotta have a house. You’ve gotta have a country club. You’ve gotta have two cars. Here you are at ten grand and getting nowhere. So I doubled my salary. I also doubled my grief. I now made twenty thousand dollars; had an expense account, a Country Squire—air-conditioned station wagon given by the company—a wonderful boss. We began to accumulate. We got a house in the suburbs and we got a country club membership and we got two cars and we got higher taxes. We got nervous and we started drinking more and smoking more. Finally, one day we sat down. We have everything and we are poor.
Fred Ringley, ex-salesman, farmer

 

And some take action:

 

When I worked as a bartender, I felt like a non-person. I was actually nothing. I was a nobody going nowhere. I was in a state of limbo. I have no hopes, no dreams, no ups, no downs, nothing. Being a policeman gives me the challenge in life I want.
Vincent Maher, policeman

 

Some find meaning in their life, beyond their job, by becoming reluctant leaders:

 

I was one of the organisers here when the union came. I was as anti-union in the beginning as I am union now. Coming from a small farm community in Wisconsin, I didn’t know what a union was all about. I didn’t understand the labor movement at all. In school you’re shown the bad side of it.

Before the union came in, all I did was do my eight hours, collect my paycheck, and o home, did my housework, took care of my daughter, and went back to work. I had no outside interests. You just lived to live. Since I became active in the union, I’ve become active in politics, in the community, in legislative problems. I’ve been to Washington on one or two trips. I’ve been to Springfield. That had given me more of an incentive for life.
—Grace Clements, felter in a luggage factory

 

We meet those who have found their calling, like Father Leonard Dubi, son of a steelworker and radical priest, taking on corporations and politicians to fight against pollution, poor planning decisions and corruption.

Others are making both a life and a living:   

 

I knew when I was eight years old that I wasn’t going to amount to anything in the business world. I wanted my life to have something to do with adventure, something unknown, something involved with a free life, something to do with wonder and astonishment. I loved to play—the fact that I could express myself in improvisation, the unplanned.
—Bud Freeman, jazz musician

 

And there are those who are still searching, like Charlie Blossom, upper middle class college dropout, hyperbolic hippy on a brief stint as a copy boy for a Chicago newspaper, who bring sunflower seeds to his co-workers and dreams of murdering his capitalist boss.

For a job that is similar on paper, two workers might have completely different attitudes – because so much of how they feel about it is down to the level of autonomy and responsibility they are offered or have carved for themselves. To quote Norma’s words, they are satisfied when they can put their spirit, whole and sincere, into what they do, when the job is big enough for them to be a full human being. Studs Terkel makes no comment outside his introduction, he passes no judgement on his subjects, but the fact that he features so heavily union members, second-chancers, angry young women and men and people fulfilled by creating value and connections to others and to the world is a strong hint at the kind of society he favours. And when articulating the need for change in his Introduction, he goes on to quote yet another union leader:

 

Perhaps it is time the “work ethics” was redefined and its idea reclaimed from the banal men who invoke it. In a world of cybernetics, of an almost runaway technology, things are increasingly making things. It is for our species, it would seem, to go on to other matters. Human matters. Freud put it one way. Ralph Helstein puts it another. He is president emeritus of the United Packinghouse Workers of America. “Learning is work. Caring for children is work. Community action is work. Once we accept the concept of work as something meaningful—not just as the source of a buck—you don’t have to worry about finding enough jobs. There’s no excuse for mules anymore. Society does not need them. There’s no question about our ability to feed and clothe and house everybody. The problem is going to come in finding enough ways for man to keep occupied, so he’s in touch with reality.”

 

Terkel concludes: “Our imaginations have obviously not yet been challenged”.

 

40 years on, technology has accelerated automation far beyond all expectations, education is still preparing young people for jobs and structures that don’t exist anymore, and chronic mass unemployment and underemployment are robbing many out of the right to make a life, fulfilled and dignified, out of making a living.
We need to challenge our imaginations to try out new ways of learning, of being together, of caring for each other and the world, and of valuing what is being produced within and outside formal contracts of employment. Universal Basic Income, or Citizen’s Income, is making its way into the mainstream, with pilots under way in Finland since January 2017 and starting soon in Ontario. It redefines the meaning of belonging to a community, enabling people to care for each other and removing the stigma of negative ‘benefits’; and it challenges the notion that employment is the source of all value, conflating money, status and identity.

Jazz North Originals Survey

Programming

Following a sector consultation with 25 artists and artistic directors, a pilot project with Manchester-based composer and improviser Rodrigo Constanzo and research into promoters’ operational capacity, Art of Festivals is conducting a survey on behalf of Jazz North to understand better how commissioning new music can be better supported.

This next stage of development aims to establish a consolidated approach to commissioning new work that can assist the jazz sector in building relevant partnerships and encouraging new thought processes.

There are 3 different short surveys for artists, promoters and arts managers / creative producers with commissioning experience. For any questions about the project or if you want to discuss your experience in more depth, email me or indicate your interest at the end of the survey.

 

Artists

Have you been commissioned by a festival or venue to create a new piece of music? Please complete the Artist survey.

Promoters & Curators

Do you commission new works or present projects with multiple components, such as residencies, participation or education? Please complete the Promoter survey.

Arts Managers & Creative producers

Do you have experience working on commissions or projects with multiple components, such as residencies, participation or education? Please complete the Producer survey.

 

jazz-north-logo

The Jazz Papers

The Long Read

I’ve just started to develop a new project for Jazz North tentatively called northern originals Phase 3, a follow-up to the consultation and pilot project I ran from 2013 to 2015, and right now I’m trawling the Internet archives to unearth policy and research documents about strategic planning and audience development for jazz and contemporary music. As this is something that could be useful to anyone interested in the future of jazz in the UK, I’ve listed what I’ve found so far below in chronological order from older to newer, and will add more as they emerge.

 

Jazz – the Case for a Better Investment

(Jazz Services, 1993)
pdf online

A Policy for the Support of Jazz in England

(Arts Council England, 1996)
pdf online

How to Develop Audiences for Jazz

(Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, 2001)
pdf online
market research and industry conference

Contemporary Music Enthusiasts: How can we persuade people to try something different?

(Heather Maitland, Journal of Arts Marketing, 2002)
pdf online

Guide to Getting Bigger Jazz Audiences

(Heather Maitland, Jazz Services / EMJAZZ, 2011?)
pdf online

Rhythm Changes: Historical Overviews of Five Partner Countries

(Bruckner-Haring, C. & Whyton, T. (eds.), Graz, 2013)
pdf online

New Music : New Audiences final evaluation report

(New:Aud European project, 2014)
pdf online

Audience Development: The Road to Success

The Long Read

I was recently invited by Jazz North to talk to the new crop of artists selected for Northern Line – a subsidised touring scheme – about growing their audience through social media. As I’ve also done similar workshops for jazz promoters, I know it’s a great way to join the dots and tackle audience development on all fronts. However, artists and small independent promoters don’t have access to much data – so tools like the Audience Agency’s Audience Spectrum are not very helpful for their needs. For that type of public, I usually explain audience development in terms of distance, with existing audiences as the core circle, and other audience groups to be reached as being gradually further away: the more in common they have with the music, band, venue, club…, the closer they are, and therefore the easier and less costly they are to reach. It’s not a very sophisticated approach, and I felt that it was time to revise it a notch. Luckily, I came across the New York-based Wallace Foundation via a mention on France Musique of their current 6-year $40m investment in audience development, supporting and analysing the activities of 26 performing arts organisations. This funding programme is based on previous initiatives that are well documented on their website, so I started digging into their resources.

 

The Behavioural Model: The New Framework for Building Participation in the Arts

One of their landmark research pieces is the The New Framework for Building Participation in the Arts, commissioned from research agency RAND Corporation (which stands for R&D, not the Fountainhead author) in 2001. Based on 13 site visits and over 100 in depth-interviews with funded institutions, the report proposes a behavioural model to help arts organisations identify the main decision-making factors that lead to participation in the arts.

The model is based on four decision-making stages, each affected by specific sets of factors, that link background factors to attitudes, attitudes to intentions, intentions to actual behaviour, and past behaviour to future behaviour (p. 23):  

  • The Background Stage consists of the individual’s general attitudes toward the arts, a general consideration of whether to consider the arts as a potential leisure activity;
    • Influencing factors: the individual’s background characteristics: socio-demographics, personality traits, prior arts experience, and socio-cultural factors.
  • The Perceptual Stage (stage 1) is the individual’s formation of an inclination toward the arts based on an assessment of the benefits and costs of participation and where to obtain those benefits;
    • Influencing factors: perceptual factors, such as personal beliefs about the benefits and costs of arts participation and perceptions of how reference groups view the arts
  • The Practical Stage (stage 2) is their an evaluation of specific opportunities to participate;
    • Influencing factors: practical factors, such as available information on the arts, the costs involved in participation, and convenience
  • and the Experience Stage (stage 3) is the actual arts participation experience followed by a reassessment of the benefits and costs of the arts and assessment of their inclination to participate.
    • Influencing factors: the individual’s reaction to the actual experience

 

Type of Audience Development Activity

The report starts by defining three broad ways to increase participation in the arts – three types of activities that arts organisations can pursue, each with their own engagement strategy, and each responding to different organisational mission and values.

When setting out to build participation in the arts and develop audiences (both terms are used interchangeably in the report), organisations can either aim to:

  • broaden audiences (increase their size);
  • deepen them (enrich the experience of current participants);
  • diversify them (bring new groups into the fold).

Whilst all three types of direction could in theory be led concurrently, in practice only one or two at a time are likely to be both aligned with the organisation’s mission and achievable within its resources.

Audience Targeting

To build a targeted strategy, the next steps is to gather the right information about audiences, in line with the behavioural model:

  1. Background: Determine the target population’s inclinations toward the arts (eg. distinguishing between participants and non-participants, but also between non-participants who are inclined to participate and those who are not).
  2. Perceptual: Gather information about their motivations (e.g., whether they are looking for entertainment or enrichment, and whether they are more likely to prefer self-focused or social activities).
  3. Practical: Understand specific information about the lifestyles, specific programme interests and leisure activities of potential participants and how these groups stay informed about their leisure activities. This will help to adapt the programming, scheduling, pricing, and marketing efforts to the specific needs of the potential audiences.

The report recommends adopting an integrated approach to create an effective audience development strategy (p. 42):

  • Begin by considering how the organization’s participation-building activities align with its core values and purpose by choosing participation goals that support its purpose.
  • Identify clear target populations and base its tactics on good information about those groups.
  • Understand what internal and external resources can be committed to building participation.
  • Establish a process for feedback and self-evaluation (using both quantitative and qualitative methods).

 

15 Year Later: The Road To Success

Between 2006 and 2012, Wallace funded 54 organizations to develop and test approaches for expanding audiences informed by RAND’s guidance, and commissioned market researcher Bob Harlow to write case study evaluations for 10 of these organisations, presented in The Road to Results: Effective Practices for Building Arts Audiences (2014).

Across 10 very different institutions – a young people’s choir, theatre, ballet and opera companies, museums, galleries and art workshop providers – Harlow identified 9 practices that contributed to the success of their participation-building strategy:

  1. Recognizing When Change Is Needed
  2. Identifying the Target Audience that Fits
  3. Determining What Kinds of Barriers Need to Be Removed
  4. Taking Out the Guesswork: Audience Research to Clarify the Approach
  5. Thinking Through the Relationship
  6. Providing Multiple Ways In
  7. Aligning the Organization Around the Strategy
  8. Building in Learning
  9. Preparing for Success

Road-To-Results-Infographic-page-001

 

Each practice is illustrated in detail with examples from the case studies, and further reports into specific points provide even more learning opportunities to understand and adapt these principles – for example, Taking Out the Guesswork: A Guide to Using Research to Build Arts Audiences, published a year later, includes very practical tips on facilitating focus groups, including budget and timeline, guidelines on designing, conducting and analysing surveys and advice on working with market researchers.  

The key factor for success throughout these examples is the desire to learn from audiences and adapt accordingly, which implies a complex change management process that can transform an organisation from within. It doesn’t mean changing the programming offer or artistic vision, on the contrary: as these case studies evidence, the road to success starts by being confident that what you do is valuable and being proud to offer it to your audiences, but humble enough to ask them what they really think. Perceptual and practical barriers can be difficult to see or take seriously for staff who are immersed in the daily life of their organisation, and removing them requires more often than not a new collaborative effort between departments or levels, a change in organisational behaviour, a renewed sense of purpose. Across all 54 organisations that received Wallace’s multi-year funding to test and apply the RAND behavioural participation-building model, and specifically out of the 46 with reliable data, results were “surprisingly positive”:

over three years, the 11 organizations seeking to boost their overall audiences saw median gains of 27 percent. Results for the 35 organizations targeting specific audience segments were even higher—60 percent—though it’s important to note that in some cases organizations were starting from a small base.

 

The following table summarises the achievements of 10 case studies highlighted in Road to Success.

Case Studies Results-page-001

Planning Steps for Participation-Building

Without additional funding or detailed data, what can be taken from these studies to help small organisations and individual artists grow their audience? My next audience development workshop might look a bit more like this:

 

  1. Determine the direction of growth (broaden, deepen and/or diversify). Who do you wish to see at your next gig: more of the same people, the same people more often or completely different people?
  2. Understand the target audience, and specifically their levers of behaviour change: what makes them tick and what puts them off. What would they do more if they could? What are the barriers that hold them back? Observe, listen, analyse, be ready to be challenged and to change your ways.
  3. Start by applying small-step tactics that don’t cause a strain on resources, and monitor results carefully. This is a pilot phase to try new things out, which can include internal collaboration, new partnerships, modifying existing practices or implementing new initiatives. Lack of result doesn’t mean that the whole idea is wrong: it might just need to be presented or executed differently.
  4. Assess the internal changes (resource levels, processes, systems…) required to scale up successful strategies. This is an essential step to be able to deliver in a sustainable manner; this can also be a catalyst for change, as it will require long-term planning and full-organisation thinking.  
  5. Turn your mission and actions towards your audience: they should always be firmly in the picture, not an afterthought or – worse – a nuisance. This is where change can become motivational and lead to a higher level of emotional truth, a renewed sense of purpose, a more challenging – and more rewarding – way of working. 

Work in Culture?

Spotlight

I have been invited to talk about what I do for a living at a primary school’s Careers Day by a friend who volunteers there as a reader. He works in catastrophe insurance, so he is planning to bring wooden blocks to demonstrate earthquakes. I am wondering, of course, how I will manage to present what I do to a bunch of 7-year-old kids when I can barely explain it to anyone beyond my immediate circle of colleagues; but also whether there is any point in trying to convince anyone to follow in my footsteps when work in the cultural sector is only getting more precarious and discriminatory by the day.

Should I talk about the cost and length of training? A degree in any discipline is now £9,000 a year, and I’m not sure what you get to do these days without a Masters (I have two and am not especially overwhelmed with job offers). Then there’s the cost of Continuing Professional Development, to finally get to learn what they don’t teach you at school, keep up-to-date with the latest trends and do some crucial networking – all the conferences, courses and seminars that employers don’t necessarily put you forward to attend and are difficult to afford as a freelancer. And then there’s the ever-increasing sector precarity – zero-hour contracts becoming the norms in museums and venues, artist fees not quite a given, short-term and freelance contracts replacing secure jobs in organisations of all sizes. Not to mention the bullying, socio-economic and ethnic discrimination, unpaid internships

Maybe I should just stick to the brief: what I do, how I got there, what I like about it and what kind of skills I need to do my job, a few simple points to be covered in 5-10 minutes.

Maybe I should also remember that it’s not just about convincing kids that my job is the best. There’s a huge opportunity to make them realise that if working in arts & culture is a serious occupation, alongside all the other professions represented that day – people working in health, sport, law, IT and insurance – it’s because it’s important in everyone’s everyday life. Art is for life, not just for school, as this Guardian Teacher Network blogger eloquently puts it: even in the few schools that still offer arts subjects, young people are stigmatised for choosing them, even though the transferable skills and increased self-confidence alone should be reasons enough to encourage them.

As early as primary school, dance, art and drama were offered in clubs because they aren’t the “real subjects” that we need for “big school”… There’s this stigma with the arts that only “unintelligent” students take those subjects. I still struggle to be taken seriously for taking arts subjects… But more than a year later, I’m reminded daily that taking GCSE dance was the best decision I ever made. While everyone complains about the subjects their parents forced them into, I am in the dance studio every lunchtime. Dance gets me into school. Dance gives me something to pour my head and heart into. It gives me a feeling of belonging, creativity, security and freedom… The skills that I get from the arts also help me hugely with work across the curriculum, from improving my analytical skills to making me more self-confident.

 

So, to answer the questions:

What does a Festival & Arts Coordinator do?

I organise festivals with music, art, theatre, food… and also smaller events, like writing workshops, one-off concerts and guided walks across the city.

I work with artists, venues and schools to create these events, then with designers and journalists to make sure that the event looks good and that people know about it.

Some festivals last 10 days and can take 1 or 2 years and a huge team to prepare. On the day of the event, I make sure that everything goes according to plan – there’s always something that goes wrong, from the weather to the main artist being stuck in a traffic jam, but it’s part of the job to fix all these problems, and usually no one even knows about what happens backstage!

How do you become a Festival & Arts Coordinator?

There are many ways – but you really need to love art and music, enjoy working with lots of people, be very organised and also happy to do things that are quite unusual or unexpected – it’s never the same every day!

I studied Humanities – English, French, German, Philosophy, History, Art… and Business Management, then I started working on a tourism conference. My first festival job was with the Manchester Jazz Festival, which was perfect for me because I love music – I played the piano, violin and guitar when I was younger, now I’m learning the cello.

There are a lot of different festivals – it could be about sport, food, theatre, film – it can also be a bit of everything at once. The best way to get experience and see if you like it is to volunteer for a festival: it’s fun, you’ll meet lots of people and you’ll get to see how it works from the inside.

What are the best things about being a Festival & Arts Coordinator?

  • It’s fun – I meet lots of people, I listen to a lot of live music, sometimes I also get travel to other festivals.
  • It’s very varied – one day I could be choosing the image for the brochure cover, another day visiting a venue with an artist to check that their band will fit on the stage, or training a team of volunteers.
  • It makes people happy – that’s really the best part of the job and it’s worth all the hard work.

What did you like at primary school that led to you becoming a Festival & Arts Coordinator?

Every year my primary school would put on a School Fair, a whole day of games, food, music to celebrate the end of the year. The children worked all year on a performance for the Fair – it could be theatre, dance or singing… I really loved the whole day – all the parents and children would be there, and older children who used to be at my school would come back just for that day because it was so much fun. I loved that we prepared for it all year – the children doing a show, the parents preparing food to sell at the stalls or making up games, like sack race, egg in spoon race, coconut shy … and then on the day everything and everyone would come together.

 

(image: Josef Franz, from an exhibition I saw recently at MAK Vienna)