Category Archives: vision

Building community together: Northern Exposure arts conference

The Wells Hotel

The Wells Hotel

I spent Thanksgiving in the Cariboo town of Wells, BC (population 259) at the Northern Exposure conference.

Here are my reflections on what we did, how we did it and what it enabled; in so doing I hope to draw the curtain back a little on effective design thinking-inspired meetings that help people move to the next level – whatever that is for them.

Putting the team together

Island Mountain Arts‘ ambitious conference attracted about 75 festival organizers, arts organization staff and volunteers and musicians from BC’s northern and southern interior, the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii, and the Yukon.

Island Mountain Arts (IMA – named after a local mountain, called Island) has been operating its renowned Summer School of Art since 1977 and over the years has expanded with a Public Art Gallery and Gift Shop, an International Harp School, the Toni Onley Artists’ Project and the award winning ArtsWells Festival of All Things Art.

Julie Fowler, Executive Director of IMA, invited me to facilitate this conference, based on my previous work with SPARC – Supporting Performing Arts in Rural Communities and the Yukon Arts Presenters Summit. And she recruited co-presenters and panelists from across B.C. to ensure a wide range of perspectives.

A common purpose: creating community

Speaking with Julie, we quickly established a common purpose: to build up a better networked rural festival and arts community.

My approach as facilitator and presenter was focused on creating spaces for participants to get to know each other, share knowledge and know-how, and encourage collaborative learning and action planning. Julie and her wonderful team took care of conference logistics, meals and showcases  – 16 in total – at the local Sunset Theatre and the Wells Hotel. She arranged two sessions tailored for musicians.

The conference also had its share of great food by chef Sharon and the kitchen crew and a fine assortment of beverages at showcase and reception venues. Being in a small place, the conference moved as a whole from breakfast at the Wells Hotel to the Wells Community Hall for conference sessions, back up the street for lunch and showcases and then back for more learning. We shared dinner and conversations and then went off to the Sunset Theatre for showcases. A late evening snack invariably appeared at the Pub to maintain the stamina of musicians and participants alike.

I feel that having participants move together in this way, sharing meals and conversations in ever changing configurations, made for closer connections and more meaningful, relevant learning.

Pre-conference professional development

Participants discuss marketing

Participants during the audience development session.

The pre-conference professional development day on audience development was attended by most of the conference participants. I delivered a well-honed workshop; modified as usual to suit the rural context. This session was highly interactive, with lots of conversation by all participants and practical learning. This was followed by a full slate of 15-minute 1-on-1 sessions with me. The nine participants brought a wide range of marketing and organizational questions to these intensive conversations.

At the same time, Emma Jarrett, a performance coach, conducted a fantastic hands-on workshop for musicians and anyone else interested in honing their presentation skills.

Creating an open learning environment

I borrowed a networking exercise from the Yukon Arts Presenters Summit (Let’s Get Connected) which in turn the Yukon organizers had modified from SPARC. The four topics were:
•    who you are and what you do
•    your hopes and dreams
•    what you’re seeking
•    what you have to offer

Networking

During the Let’s Get Connected process, participants had four 10-minute segments for reflection and conversation at tables of 6 each. A quick way to meet 20+ participants in an hour.

All participants had their picture taken at registration. They recorded the information on their print outs and then discussed it with their group. Every 10 minutes a room full of participants stood up and found a new table of six to move to the next topic. It’s an amazing free-flowing choreography.

With the sheets we created a Living Wall that served as a reminder of the breadth and depth of knowledge and experience each and every participant brought to this conference.

It was a powerful beginning that I feel set the tone for a true working conference: Participants heard their own voices from the start; felt valued as experienced organizers; and they became collaborators in co-creating our conference.

After a short coffee jaunt up to the hotel, I gave a well-received keynote on Co-creating a Culture of Place, in which I made the case, as I have at other conferences, for Vibrant communities fueled by the arts and its community-engaged partnerships. Much of the data in that keynote comes from The Value of Presenting study. This study continues to deepen the conversations about arts presenters and their role and impact in their communities.

After lunch, I had the pleasure of working with Janet Rogers – a Mohawk/Tuscarora writer and broadcaster from the Six Nations in southern Ontario, who was born in Vancouver and has been living on the traditional lands of the Coast Salish people (Victoria, BC) since 1994 –  to share information and lead a conversation on Cultural Tourism.  I provided context and laid out a cultural tourism landscape. Janet led a conversation on how to access indigenous artists for festivals and events, and encouraged making the necessary contacts early in the event planning process. She proposed that in so doing we could move from the acknowledgement of traditional lands into meaningful inclusion and full participation by indigenous and non-indigenous artists. After all, Aboriginal tourism is seen as a key aspect of expanding Canada’s and BC’s cultural tourism potential.

I felt this was an important and open conversation about an area many of us want to get right but also feel some insecurity about. These protocols are new to most event organizers. What excites me is that meaningful change can happen through our individual decisions and actions, by getting to know each other and speaking openly and respectfully to each other. We don’t have to wait until everything is figured out in the big picture.

Living Wall

A small selection of our Living Wall.

Concurrently, Music BC presented a session for musicians on all of the sources of revenue available to them for their work.

I moved the programmed afternoon networking round tables outside to a walking conversation – thankfully the rain held off and the winds had died down.

Sharing stories and action planning

On the last day of the conference we were in Barkerville.

The morning featured five inspiring stories presented by Julie Fowler, ArtsWells Festival/Island Mountain Arts; Carla Stephenson, Tiny Lights Festival; Karen Jeffery, Sunset Theatre; Deb Beaton Smith, Rifflandia; and Miriam Schilling, Xatśūll Heritage Village, Soda Creek.

The panelists – participants conversation drew the curtain back a little on how to build success, how to sustain arts in small communities and the kind of perseverance, experimentation and serendipity it takes. Everyone was eager to share their experiences and it felt like the perfect transition to move toward action planning.

But first I led a practical workshop on integrated online marketing with Fraser Hayes‘ able assistance. Fraser is the station manager of CFUR Radio in Prince George; a community radio station that has built a substantial integrated online footprint to complement its broadcasts. More insights and specific action items tumbled forth and then we were ready for lunch, a walk about this amazing restored gold rush town and the final two showcases.

The conference concluded with action planning.  First I asked everyone to write down key take-aways from the conference, their next action steps and desired short and long-term results. The process requires participants to write the information out twice: one copy to take home and the second copy to be shared with participants. In this way we hope to facilitate network building. (I borrowed this format in condensed form from the Yukon Arts Presenters Summit which was facilitated by Jerry Yoshitomi.) Writing this down twice gives more time to reflect and form greater commitment to taking actions. This exercise moved seamlessly into a robust conversation around participant-identified topics. We collapsed about 10 (!) suggested topics into three broad areas: programming, operations and youth. Participants quickly gravitated toward their topic and a number of specific ideas for collaborations and resource sharing were brought forward.

Finally, in closing, we ended as we began: with participants having the last word through sharing highlights from their own action plans.

It seemed everyone felt confident that this conference was not merely the culmination of a long-standing dream, but that it would be the catalyst to move forward with closer ties between participants and their organizations from all over rural BC.

While the conference concluded officially, conversations continued into the night as some participants stayed for Thanksgiving dinner and more pub time.

More than a week after leaving Wells, these days continue to reverberate in me. I am grateful for the new connections, the new friends I made and for being part of this special community of festival and arts organizers.

New office in Whitehorse complements Ottawa location

Since 2011 my work has taken a decidedly national turn with many visits in every province and territory for research and consultations, training workshops, client projects and conference presentations and keynotes.

Business licenseTo facilitate growing demand and durably expand my client portfolio I have opened a second office in Whitehorse, Yukon in September 2015. You might wonder why Whitehorse? It’s simple: I love the freedom of the Northern landscapes and its magnificent mountains and I have been making friends and working with colleagues who do inspiring work, leading work, at the edges of this vast country. The Yukon has an amazing scene that makes Whitehorse and Dawson brim with arts and culture of all sorts; winters are even busier than summers for all the music, theatre and community activities.

I am thrilled and grateful to work with remarkable clients in Ottawa, too. I take great care to ensure we have plenty of time for face-to-face meetings as much of the impact of our work together lies in the deeper discussions of research findings and insights and the decision-making on implications and next steps.

As I have done for the first nine years of Strategic Moves, I continue to partner with research companies, marketers, creatives and digital whizzes whenever a project benefits from a larger team to deliver the desired results.

Splitting my time between Ottawa and Whitehorse means I have a new favourite airline: Air North has established a twice weekly, direct flight between Ottawa and Whitehorse with a short stop-over in Yellowknife. That means a commute of merely 7 hours to shuttle between my offices: shorter than any other airline and usually cheaper, too.

Finally, contact information is unchanged. As always you can reach me at:

  • 613-558-8433 (mobile, text – gotta love those “long distance included” plans)
  • ipetri@strategicmoves.ca.
  • Skype @ inga.petri
  • WebEx for online meetings.

All to say, I am as accessible as ever and the high degree of responsiveness my clients are accustomed to will continue to be my calling card.

My physical whereabouts in the next few months, pending any additional conferences, workshops and client meetings:

  • Ottawa, ON – until October 7
  • Wells, BC – October 8 to 13
  • Whitehorse, YT – October 14 to 26
  • Kelowna, BC – October 27 to 31
  • Ottawa, ON – November 1 to 4
  • Yarmouth, NS – November 5 to 8
  • Ottawa, ON – November 9 to 12
  • Whitehorse, YT – November 13 to 22
  • Ottawa, ON – November 23 to December 18
  • Whitehorse, YT – December 18 to January 10

[January 2016: For updates on my engagements across Canada click here.]

I’m excited to increase Strategic Moves’ footprint and to see what new opportunities and connections it will bring about.

Nuit Blanche Whitehorse

2015 Nuit Blanche Whitehorse – The Whitehorse Steam Laundry participatory piece by Sylvie Binette.

 

Nuit Blanche Whitehorse - webs

2015 Nuit Blanche Whitehorse – Doily Webs by Nicole   Bauberger and Jessica Vellenga.

 

Leadership matters: Reflecting on the Yukon Arts Summit

My mind keeps returning to the Yukon Arts Presenters Summit. I had the rare benefit of debriefing with Michele Emslie, Summit organizer and Community Programming Director at the Yukon Arts Centre, over a few days and assisting in reviewing the personal and group action plans to which participants committed.

I am struck by the leadership capabilities that underpinned the success of the summit; qualities that go beyond being adaptable or seeking to be relevant to stakeholders.

Design thinking applied

Rather than define and solve a specific problem, the organizers held themselves to a different standard based on a broad goal: strengthening the Yukon arts presenting eco-system. Making such a broad goal central meant that much effort was spent on creating the conditions in which participants could discover and define the actions that were important to them. At heart of this design thinking approach lies understanding that a combination of empathy, creativity, analysis and synthesis as well as having explicit spaces for convergent and divergent thinking are essential. In short, by taking this approach, organizers succeeded in creating a space in which a diverse group of participants could learn, reflect, be inspired, meet and talk together and arrive in new places together.

Co-creating an intentional journey

There was no pre-defined destination, no agenda in terms of specific outcomes, no boxes to check off, no need for linear progression. Rather, there was an invitation to join together on a journey of discovering common ground and action priorities.

The organizers were focused on empowering participants from the start, knowing that the summit is its participants. They asked potential participants to co-create the content through soliciting feedback on hot topics and burning issues. 60 responses came in! Organizers listened carefully and found five key themes to address. An important  effect of this open, listening approach was that the tone of the summit, its ownership was already in the hands of participants well before they could even register for it.

Deep respect and trust in each person’s wisdom

The organizers showed a deep, easy respect for each person and their knowledge and experience. This was apparent in every facet, including activities like:

  • The Friday morning networking exercise using a photo, paper and markers to answer four questions: who are you/ what do you do, what is your hope for the future, what can you contribute to the summit, what do you need from it.
  • A gift exchange: each participant was asked to bring a gift that represents something about them, their work or their community (using their imagination rather than pocket book). These gifts were randomly distributed at lunch and then everyone read the brief note that was attached by the giver and talked about what significance this gift held to them. There were all kinds of wondrous giver-receiver match ups and the exchange made for a profound sense of connection and some fun. 100+ people managed to share in plenary over lunch while staying on schedule for the entire conference.
  • Each day’s opening reflections, ranging from an elder’s prayer to Haiku to Gramma Susie.

Wisdom comes from many places and, in particular, the spaces in between.

Action-oriented

The summit schedule was action-packed, not because of featuring talking heads or experts, but because of its focus on facilitation, conversation, meeting and thinking together, and action planning. (As a speaker, I felt I was well briefed heading into the summit!) As a result this summit produced several big ideas and actions through collaboration, rather than consensus. Perhaps most important, it resulted in the ownership of these ideas residing within the community itself, owned by various champions and those who gathered around these big ideas. Conference organizers didn’t get a long task list back, but rather received a strong mandate to remain stewards of the process, facilitate the next steps and to continue leading by encouraging leadership from within the arts community.

Using Open Space methods, participants pitched these initiatives for discussion.

Using Open Space methods, participants pitched various initiatives for discussion and to see which ones were strong enough to warrant concerted action.

A network = An action community

I believe we are seeing a profoundly different kind of arts presenters network emerge in Yukon. Not one that becomes a membership-based service model over time and that might suffer the eventual difficulties that have become so well documented for many membership-based associations; but a living, breathing, creative community that gathers around common actions (which require a just large enough group to be interested in working together), that is highly responsive to emerging and changing needs, and that delegates authority to all participants while benefiting from unhurried and effective stewardship provided by the Community Programming Director at the Yukon Arts Centre (YAC). Finally, YAC is ideally positioned for this role as it is a territorially created arts centre whose mandate includes strengthening arts as an important cultural, social and economic force in the Yukon Territory as a whole.

This close-knit, open network grounded in shared leadership and personal commitments, will show us how big ideas can be realized through concerted actions – unfettered from needing to establish narrow service priorities or delegating authority to a few (like a board of directors) – and thus able to grow and shift as the situation warrants.

What’s the matter with numbers?

With thanks to CAPACOA for commissioning my response to the Culture Shock debate entitled  “Hard Facts VS. Proverbial Truths: The Impact of Arts & Culture on Canadian Citizens & Communities” held on November 20, 2014 at the Community Knowledge Exchange Summit.  Moderated by Canada Council for the Arts CEO Simon Brault you can watch the archived livestream here

Billed as #CultureShock, Alain Dubuc, a journalist and economist, and Shawn van Sluys, who heads up a philanthropic foundation that works to make the arts more central to our lives, debated whether “For arts and culture to be fully valued by society, their impact must be demonstrated with hard facts” or whether proverbial truth are sufficient.

The case for telling the stories of transformation and understanding through art was made eloquently. Yet, I was more struck by the economist’s assertion that hard facts are “the best way” rather than “the only way” to ensure we fully value arts and culture.

This debate brought to my mind Daniel Kahneman’s observation in Thinking, Fast and Slow  that humans  have a propensity to believe that “what you see is all there is.”  He cautions us that we can easily miss important parts of a situation because there may be more going on than meets the eye.

And that reminded me of the old adage that what we count is what matters.  By inference that suggests that we actually count what truly matters, and that those things left uncounted do not matter.  In the arts much of what gets counted are ticket sales or attendance as a percentage of capacity. Until recently, little attention has been paid to collecting the stories, let alone data points, of impact and benefits of the arts. In my view, just because some things are (relatively) easy to measure, like attendance or GDP or employment figures, that does not mean that they tell the whole story – or the most important parts of the story. Conversely, just because some things are harder to measure that doesn’t necessarily make them any less important or, for that matter, immeasurable.

Indeed, I think we gain the deepest insights through a purposeful combination of numbers and stories. For numbers are not meaningful by themselves. Numbers require context and an understanding of the intrinsic dynamics at play. In my work as a researcher and strategist, my task is not merely to produce tables and analysis, but to interpret findings and create meaning. It is this highly creative process of meaning creation and collaboration with all the decision-makers that can lead to new insight. And in creating meaning we bring the numbers to life through examples: the stories.

Some in the arts do not wish to speak the language of numbers which they equate with the language of business. From my experience working with corporations I know that yes, numbers are important, but many invest heavily in innovation and creativity in order to solve significant problems and improve quality of life through new products and services. The divide is not so great. Rather, we may well be just lacking translators or mediators; people who are proficient in both languages and who can help us understand each other better.

Watch the debate. 

Igniting a SPARC in Haliburton

I was invited to speak at the SPARC Symposium in Haliburton, Ontario this spring. The organizers had a clear vision for this symposium: to bring people working in all parts of the rural arts eco-system together to explore opportunities and challenges, collaborate across communities and open new doors for exchange, resource sharing and a new kind of network focused on meeting the needs of broad rural arts communities.

With that I sought to create an opening keynote that would help establish the conversation using stories and, yes, conversation. My key messages revolved around the ideas of “where there is a will, there is a way”, and a vision of “building vibrant communities fueled by the performing arts and its community-engaged partnerships” and my proposal to consider “public engagement through the arts” where arts are a means to an ends, rather than the end in itself. I told some stories based on my recent work with a focus on small, rural and remote places across Canada to give substance to these ideas through examples. I shared some data from The Value of Presenting study that shows just how much arts presenting organizations in rural and remote communities are leading the way in community-engaged practices.

The conversation and contributions by participants throughout the talk helped set the stage for a fully engaged, working symposium. I loved the energy, the thinking, the sparks that were flying over these four days in Haliburton.

I was also thrilled to see representatives of several regional presenting networks that I have been working with over the last few years at SPARC; there is much space for collaboration, strengthening connections and learning.

SPARC organizers have turned this and all the other amazing working sessions into a unique interactive online magazine. (Sticks and Stones Productions) You can also access my keynote directly on Vimeo. (The other keynotes and videos from the conference are also available there or through the online magazine.)

Finally, my presentation slides are posted on the CAPACOA site for download .

Over the summer SPARC has turned its attention to developing a follow-up conference this fall with the aim to constitute a rural arts network. If you are interested in these ideas, check out their web presence (web, Facebook, Twitter) and get on the e-news list.

Solving the Start-up Challenge: A National Sistema Organization

During 2012-2013 I led the needs assessment and feasibility study to explore the creation and purpose of a national service organization called Sistema Canada. This brief post discusses the status of this initiative.

Sistema Canada is in the crucial phase of securing financing needed to become a fully fledged organization. With a national feasibility study (PDF report: http://www4.nac-cna.ca/pdf/corporate/SistemaCanada_FeasibilityReport_en.pdf) complete, a strong vision for the role a national organization will play in strengthening the Canadian movement, the challenge of start-up is primarily related to not having that one crucial staff person in place.

While volunteer leadership is mandatory in Canadian charitable organizations through a board of directors, a lesser discussed aspect of sustainable organizational development is the crucial capacity that comes with a first dedicated staff person and how a partner organization can help achieve that.

It is a chicken and egg scenario where some substantive catalytic funds would fill a major gap. Without legal status in place, charitable funding is impossible to access directly. Without funding in place, a staff cannot be hired to drive forward charitable incorporation, prepare proposals and build all-important relationships. That means any interim fund development is a volunteer matter. Volunteers skilled in such areas tend to be busy people working in their day jobs; and in our case, in their own Sistema-inspired programs.

During the feasibility study, I was that paid project resource charged by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the National Arts Centre Foundation with moving the process forward, collaborating with the national steering committee (its members volunteered countless hours), seeking input from all Canadian Sistema programs, providing expertise, building scenarios and, ultimately, delivering the outcome via a report.  With a common vision and mandate agreed upon by constituents across the country, the next step is to find the right partner that can provide the needed financial support and help hire an Executive Director to kick start the organization through fund development for its core programs.

Since our report was accepted, members of the all-volunteer national steering committee have been leading the charge and are working through the challenge of moving Sistema Canada onto sustainable, scalable footing. Meanwhile, an informal network of program leaders continues to share their expertise and enthusiasm for Sistema in Canada.

For regular updates on the US and Canadian movement visit http://ericbooth.net/the-ensemble/

Artistic Risk and Branding

Creating a strategic framework to achieve value innovation  means we need to ask basic questions as if they were brand new. For example, what does “taking artistic risks” mean from an audience perspective?

The answer is that “it depends”: Each audience member determines “risk” using a slew of criteria to figure out under what circumstances it might be worthwhile to not actually enjoy a performance that one paid for and made time to attend.

Personally, I attend several performing arts on subscription – the ultimate commitment much of the performing arts still relies on. I have different expectations from different art forms. In terms of classical music voluntary risk taking is limited to listenable music (I have little tolerance in the orchestral setting for dissonance). In contemporary dance, I look for the new and unexpected, as long as the dancers are top notch and indeed are dancing. In theatre, I like intellectual, thought-provoking work and I like a great deal of variety, too, including some great brassy entertainment that tells a great story. I also really like mash-ups that blur the boundaries of art forms by taking the best from each and creating something even greater. (Fela!, which I saw at Toronto’s Canon Theatre, is an extraordinary example of that.)

I have just established, in my singular experience at least, that it is possible within the same person to evaluate risks quite differently depending on the context.

The very idea of “artistic risk” is highly subjective. For instance, not all risky programming is innovative, and what’s perceived as a risk in one city may not be so risky in another. Risk is contextual not absolute.

Performing arts audiences are diverse in tastes, expectations, culture and background. Those who can afford tickets easily will evaluate risks differently from those who have to give up something else in their life in order to save up for tickets.

Effective branding is critical to success 

I propose that developing and living a strong, singular brand is the best way for creators and presenters of artistic experiences to help their audiences decide to give all manner of experiences a try and to invest their time and money.

The brand becomes the touch point, the guarantee of a thoughtful and respectful arts experience, whether or not it’s “entertaining”, “provoking”, “escape” or “stimulating”.

Robert LePage when receiving the Governor General’s Performing Arts Award recognizing his body of work was quoted about not wanting to be merely “international” but “universal.” (Watch the short NFB film here.)That is a quintessential brand statement, captured in a single word. It is awesome! It is a strong brand statement within which he can explore all manner of ideas in myriad ways; it’s not limiting but rather gives a meaningful contour to his work and aspiration.

He talked about his visual language of theatre evolving beyond the spoken word and to borrow from other forms of storytelling that are familiar for contemporary audiences – most important being film. From a brand point of view, that means he’s breaking free of the “traditional” bounds of one art form in order to bring his vision to life and to stay relevant. It’s an act of reinvention, which is requisite to maintaining brand relevance in the long-term.

Societies, communities, people, technology have been changing rapidly – socially, politically, environmentally, economically, (multi-)culturally. Every industry, every sector in society must change in relation to these external challenges. Those that will succeed are those that will bring audiences, customers, consumers along on the journey.

I propose that to define and embrace a comprehensive brand (not a logo, but a way of being), one relevant to audiences and stakeholders in your community, is the most efficient and effective way to connect the arts, artists and audiences to create success.