Influencers –Where to Find Them and What to Do When You Have?


Influencers –Where to Find Them and What to Do When You Have Influencer marketing has grown in popularity over the last several years. In fact, the Content Marketing Institute recently named it one of the top content marketing trends for 2017. What is it, and where did it come from?

You can think of it as the offspring of social media – and what in simpler days we called word-of-mouth. But today it’s more strategic and more viable in terms of reaching influential people you might not have had access to before. In our field, there are of course the people who are industry influencers – book buyers, key librarians and educators, and others who are opinion-makers about authors and books. They can be found speaking at conferences, attending publisher events, and on the award committees at the national and regional level. They’re also often reviewers, bloggers, and active on social media about education, publishing, and children’s and young adult literature.

But what if you want to reach key influencers outside the field? You should think about doing this because books for young people are also topical – and each topic has influencers of its own. Whatever the topic of your book, look at ways you can reach the people whose voices carry weight in those fields. Betters still, find influencers tied to both that topic and education or children. It’s even more important if many of your books focus on a particular genre or topic area. The value of cultivating these people is that they can introduce you to a broader audience – and commend you to others who respect their opinion.

The simplest place to start is Google Search. Type in related keywords and phrases and see who has written on the topic, what organizations relate to that, and which names you see again and again. You can also check Twitter to see who’s tweeting about your topic and how many followers they have. To come at it from the top down, you can use AllTop to find the most influential bloggers and reporters on a given topic. They aggregate thousands of sources and update hourly to provide links to the most trafficked sites covering hundreds of topics from adoption to zoology. Other sites, like Social Mention, BuzzSumo and the newer EpicBeat will curate social media to tell you which content has gotten the most shares, likes and feedback – and can tell you who are the key influencers in that topic area.

Once you identify people, you have to have a meaningful way to engage. Simple ways to start can be to comment on their posts and share their content. But lots of people are doing that, so it’s hard to stand out. But if you create online content of your own via a blog or other platform, you can try to interest them more directly. One way would be to quote them and link to their material and then let them know via Twitter that you’ve done so. Taking that a step further you can crowd source an article and ask for quotes from a number of people whose opinions you value and who you’d like to connect with, and then share the story back with them when you’re done. As you begin to develop a relationship, you can invite people to provide a guest blog for your site, do an interview with you for a feature, and perhaps later, gain an endorsement quote for your new book.

The results will be that you’ll broaden your base of connections and benefit from associating with people you admire. Your research and time spent following social conversations will also make you better versed in what’s trending on topics you care about. That’s something you can bring back to conversations you have at conferences, publisher events and with literary luminaries who will value your expertise and may also be interested to connect to other influencers you know.


The Art of the Interview

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Being asked to give interviews is flattering and exciting: it’s a testament to your acceptance and importance in the field. For new authors and illustrators, it represents a milestone of achieving hard earned recognition now that you are published.

To interview well is an art. Depending on who you are and what your books are about, interviews can feel like easy, comfortable chats or can be complex or challenging. The good news is that being in the entertainment and education business, you’re much less likely to face hardcore investigative or hostile questions. But that doesn’t mean the opportunity to be interviewed should be taken lightly. If you want to get the most out of the experience, you should put a process in place to go into each interview well prepared.

Start by recognizing that each interview will be different in format, length, tone, and the dynamic that exists between you and the interviewer.

Print and online interviews are often the easiest because you have a set of written questions provided and can take the time you need to give thorough and thoughtful answers. The key here is to be prompt in responding, ideally no more than a few days. If you can’t, let the reporter know how soon you will be able to reply and make sure to do so. Also, if you have one or two additional questions you’d like to answer, or anything you don’t want to discuss, let the reporter know. Remember to provide supplementary material – photos, links, contact information – when you send in your answers so everything’s at hand when the story gets compiled.

Radio interviews, which can be done by phone or in-studio, provide an opportunity for comfortable conversation. Still, the casualness of the format can lead to sloppiness if you’re not mindful of time length and what information you want to make sure to cover. Start by making sure to provide the producer or host with your book and biographical information, as well as website links, book trailer and cover art jpegs that can be used to feature you on their show’s website. Then make sure you ask for information about format: the length of the segment, who will interview you and, if it’s live, whether there will be call-ins or anyone else on with you during the segment. If you’re calling in, find out whether you should call at the stated time or if they want you on the line a few minutes ahead. Prepare a bulleted cheat sheet that you can glance at to make sure you have any key reference information and reminders on what you want to discuss. At the same time, make sure you’re giving your full attention to the interviewer and responding comfortably to questions you’re asked.

TV and other face-to-face interviews take more preparation because you need to think about how you look as well as what you’re saying. If you’re doing the interview remotely, you also need to consider what’s behind you that viewers can see and make sure that the lighting’s flattering and nothing’s distracting or odd seeming in the background. With audio and video broadcast, it’s very important to keep a close eye on the time and with that in mind, say your piece succinctly and then stop, so the interviewer knows you’re ready to move on. Know too that it’s often good to pause before answering, particularly if you’re nervous, to give yourself a chance to compose your answer and to avoid run-on answers that can result from being uncomfortable in the spotlight. With television, it’s also important to maintain good eye contact with the interviewer and avoid looking at the camera or monitors.

That said, be aware that there will be times that you’ll be caught off-guard in an interview. It’s useful, particularly when preparing for a live interview, to having someone do a mock one in advance with you asking a mix of easy and hard questions, so you know what may come up and can think ahead how you want to answer. If you’re dealing with a difficult or controversial subject, you should acknowledge the question asked and reply to the degree you’re comfortable, but also have a way to segue to something valuable that you want to impart.

Overall, the key to interviewing well is preparing ahead and gaining experience – the more you do, the more comfortable you’ll feel.


What Type of Marketer Are You?

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As with most things there’s no need to speculate – just ask Google that question and you’ll find numerous quizzes happy to walk you through to let you know where you stand. I was pleased to be named Chief Marketing Officer by t-shirt company Printsome after taking their quiz, which among other questions asked me to choose between a picture of a pencil, a pair of work boots and a pile of money.

Being loyal to the publishing industry, I chose the pencil, of course. How this helped them decide to elevate me to the top of their company, I have no idea, but in some ways it reinforced how I often feel when trying to put a fine point on the vagaries of marketing, which is both a science and an art.

There are a lot of cold hard facts in marketing – and our increasing ability to analyze customer data as it relates to buying timing, frequency, influences and incentives – is causing a sea change in how we think about our relationship with customers and prospects.

At the same time, consumers are becoming both more demanding about the kind of engagement they want and increasingly fatigued at being pitched products and services morning to night.

In a particularly surprising statement in January, Steve Howard, IKEA’s head of sustainability announced at a live business forum hosted by The Guardian that “if we look on a global basis, in the west we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff….”

If so, convincing consumers they need what we’re selling will be very difficult. The key questions to consider are: What will capture a prospective customer’s attention? What will make my book or brand stand out from its competition? And, what will foster and sustain brand loyalty (which can be to a book, character, series, author/illustrator, or publisher) over time? Behavioral targeting, using analytics, computer tracking, browsing and search history, to create profiles of consumers is the preferred route for those who have access to enough data.

But there are other important ways you can focus as a marketer. List service company, IDG, makes four other common distinctions:

Multichannel Master -someone who looks to many channels to engage with customers – you may well be doing this by engaging in social media, going to schools and events to speak, networking at conferences, and publishing news about your books and outreach

Madison Avenue Creative -a marketer who focuses on brand building – this is particularly important when promoting a series, when engaging with a YA audience and when you intend to focus on a particular genre or niche market

SoMoLo Marketers -the focus here is on social, mobile and local market outreach – this will have a lot to do with the age and inclination of your target audience, both in terms of how best to engage and what platforms are most effective

Old School Direct Marketers -this is where engagement is more traditional – and, typically, more labor intensive because it involves direct meet and greet and one-to-one selling. It is most beneficial when significant sales volume may result – so would make sense when trying to find licensing or special sales opportunities.

Effective marketing depends on your particular circumstances and will likely evolve over time. It’s also important to evaluate your strengths, weaknesses and the resources you have to draw from to help you determine where to put your emphasis – and when to get help.

Ask yourself: Which of the IDG types do I find most appealing? What are my competitors doing? Is my publisher particularly strong in one area, and how can I best supplement what they’re doing? What is my audience likely to be most receptive to? What are the costs both in time and money of pursuing a particular direction? And what tools and resources are available to help me engage with my audience? Know that it’s okay to start with a narrow focus at first, and then expand gradually as you have working mechanisms in place.

The point is to recognize that customer engagement is a long-term proposition and the objective is to gain more traction and better knowledge of your customers with each book or product. Not that each has to reach the same audience or achieve the same sales results, but your sophistication as a marketer and your ability to recognize and adapt to market changes should grow over time.


National Parks Artifacts among Newest Additions to Google Cultural Institute

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Not sure when you’ll make time to visit the national parks? Google is prepared to take you there—virtually—both for scenic views and for close-ups of the art and artifacts you’d see. According to The Verge, Google, which has been “building out an online museum for the past five years,” is now adding nearly four thousand works of art, artifacts, and records as a result of a partnership with the National Park Service. These, along with almost sixty new Street View exhibits (50 outdoor park views and eight interior views of museums and historical locations), are part of the National Parks Collection on Google’s vast Cultural Institute site

Google Cultural Institute, which in just a few years has amassed images and information gathered from more than 1,000 groups from around the world, contains more than 730 art and cultural collections from sites and museums large and small. On one end of the spectrum are the world’s most visited institutions, including the Smithsonian, the British Museum and The Hermitage; on the other end, some that are very specialized, such as the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum and Japan’s Seto Inland Sea Folk History Museum.

New features and collections are being added at a dizzying pace. Google’s partnership with The British Museum was announced in November; one with the Guggenheim focusing on its architecture was announced in late January; in the first week of February, the site We Love Budapest announced partnerships with museums there. On a Lilliputian scale, there’s news from Hamburg, Germany, about Google capturing scenes fromMiniatur Wunderland, the world’s largest model railway museum. This last was ingeniously done by putting a Google Street View camera on tiny toy cars and other vehicles and driving them around the model village exhibit, capturing hidden angles of streets and buildings too small or not visible to the naked eye.

Not everyone is a fan, of course. Last fall, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote in a piece entitled “The Google Art Heist” that “the more playful Google gets, the more paranoid I get.” Conceding on the one hand that the collection, containing “the most famous paintings of the Uffizi to an archive of South Korean film to virtual galleries of the pyramids,” is impressive, Ms. Dowd also pointed out questions that have been posed elsewhere about whether the “project will lead to people prowling museums from the comfort of their couch, filtering and missing out on actual visits.” Copyright concerns have also been raised, as the Washington Post reported last year, saying, as with Google’s Books project, “Google’s grand cultural efforts have been dogged by suspicion and property-rights claims.”

And, lest any area of the arts think that this couldn’t apply to them, take heed. Just two months ago, a Wall Street Journal article said the Google Cultural Institute proved that “practicing—or buying a ticket” are no longer the only ways to get to Carnegie Hall, or to more than 60 other performing arts venues around the world. Now, you can go virtually to meet famous performers, get a backstage tour, and even “be thrust in the middle of the action.”

Really, with all this, how will we find time to actually go anywhere that isn’t virtual? Except maybe the gym, until Google finds an armchair solution to burning calories…and that can’t be far off.”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]


Facebook Pulls Philadelphia Museum Post: 1960s Art Too “Suggestive”


The Philadelphia Museum of Art got a surprise earlier this week when its Facebook post promoting their upcoming exhibition of Pop Art from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s was deemed inappropriate. The offending image was of Ice Cream, painted by pop artist, Evelyne Axell in 1964. The museum said the reason given for removal was because it contained “excessive amounts of skin or suggestive content.”

Philadelphia Magazine reported that the painting was on loan to the PMA from the Collection of Serge Goisse in Belgium. The museum’s associate curator, Erica Battle, told the magazine, “We chose this work by Evelyne Axell as one of our keystone marketing images because it speaks to so many themes found throughout Pop: consumption, pleasure, and seduction.”

According to Norman Keyes, communications director for the art museum, who is quoted in the online newspaper, Metro, “‘International Pop’ features paintings, sculptures, assemblages, installations, prints and films by 80 artists, drawn from both public and private collections from around the world.”

The painting, depicting a woman licking an ice cream cone, is by one of the first female Pop artists, whose work, according to a Philadelphia Museum Tumblr post, “can be understood as a critique of mainstream Pop Art, in which women were often depicted as passive, decorative objects. In contrast, Axell sought to depict active, confident women who pursue satisfaction on their own terms—such as the protagonist of Ice Cream, who unabashedly enjoys her dessert.” The image can also be seen on a billboard ad on the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia promoting the exhibit.

The painting (and many others) will be on view at the art museum from February 24ththrough May 15th.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]



New York’s Art Students League in Battle over Air Rights Decision

English: Looking north across 57th St at Art S...

English: Looking north across 57th St at Art Students League of New York on a sunny afternoon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Creative space is sacred to an artist. So, it’s not surprising that passions have flared on West 57th Street in New York at the prospect of change adjacent to—and cantilevered over—the site of the famed Art Students League. The 140-year-old nonprofit art school “that counts Winslow Homer, Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keeffe and Mark Rothko among its alumni” is, according to The New York Times, the scene of a “battle being fought between the school’s leadership and a faction of its 3,945 voting members” over the granting of air rights to build, in part, above the school.

On paper, the deal looks good for the Art Students League, which has negotiated to be paid close to $32 million in return for granting air rights—the right to build in the empty space above a piece of property—to Extell Development Company, which intends to build “one of the tallest residential towers in the world” next door.

The League administration’s plan, according to the petition that was circulated earlier this year to gain support for the decision, is to allow Extell to “build a cantilever some 30 stories above the League and 6,000 square feet of air rights.” Then, they’ll use that money in the arts building to add floors, additional studios, unveil skylights that have been covered up, and to restoring “gallery space and the library.” Their board also sees this as a way to provide the League “a strong foundation for a capital fundraising campaign to pay for the expansion.” Further, they want to have money to use to “keep tuition low, and augment the League’s endowment to serve future generations of students.”

The dissenting group, which is called ASL 2025, has also expressed dissatisfaction with the school’s president, ­­­­­­­­Salvatore Barbieri, claiming that he has “ruled by fiat, making up the rules as he goes along.” Led by Marne Rizika, a painter and printmaker, and Richard Caraballo, a graphic designer, ASL 2025 claims there have also been “efforts to intimidate and stifle any dissent.”

In return, according to the Times, President Barbieri, has called the attacks a “classic pattern of amateurish slanderous writing” filled with “false and distorted allegations without supporting facts.” And the institution’s lawyers have said, “Under Mr. Barbieri’s tenure, the league is in better financial shape than it has ever been…. Its prospects for longevity and the ability to educate artists for generations to come have never been brighter.”

But that’s not the way Rizika and Caraballo see it. “The sense of collegiality that formerly existed between art students, instructors and administrators, in an ‘open-door’ policy, has disappeared,” said Ms. Rizika, who unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Barbieri for the presidency several weeks ago, “and been replaced with autocratic rule, which has included hiring armed guards for members’ meetings.

“The opponents agree that overturning the sale itself is impossible. The purpose of the suit, Mr. Caraballo said, is to challenge the way the 2014 vote approving the deal was conducted.”

Today, the League remains an institution run by artists for artists. They follow in the footsteps of the many famous artists who have “shaped the vocabulary of art worldwide, [and] have been instructors, lecturers and students at the League. They include, among many others, Thomas Hart Benton, Alexander Calder, Helen Frankenthaler, Man Ray, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson, Red Grooms, Donald Judd, Roy Lichtenstein, Ben Shahn and Cy Twombly.” Hopefully, the two sides can reach a comfortable agreement soon. Perhaps it can help to recall what Paul Klee once said about his art space: “All is well with me. The rain doesn’t reach me, my room is well heated, what more can one ask for?”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]


Is the Romance with Tiny Houses More Than a Fling?

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Tiny house (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The tiny house movement, which is often credited as having gained popularity thanks to Sarah Susanka’s 1997 book, The Not So Big House, has captivated architects, designers, city planners, and increasingly eco-conscious homebuyers on either end of the buying market. There are millennials who, faced with uncertain economic growth and unwilling to tie to the long-term mortgages of their parents’ generation, are considering tiny houses. Architects and designers are intrigued with the challenges of making 1,000 square feet and smaller feel like living large. City planners appreciate the economic possibilities, and even Boomers are willing to engage if downsizing to tiny can work with a lifestyle they can enjoy.

Not everyone is a fan, of course. As NPQ reported in an earlier article on possible use of tiny homes for the homeless, Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino expressed his concern about tiny homes, on average “the size of a garden shed,” and which are “built on wheels so that [they] can be moved frequently enough to skirt laws against loitering or trespassing.” Buscaino felt “each home would require reflective markings” and that this idea overall might not be the best of solutions.

But many others, as the Star Tribune piece showcased this week, would argue tiny houses are a game-changer and feel they offer exciting alternatives to traditional notions of housing in addition to posing the question of “how much space one really needs—and encourages living in a sustainable way.”

Among the architecture community, there has sprouted “a competition of sorts to design appealing, cost-effective, environmentally friendly tiny homes. […] One of the movement’s pioneers, Geoff Warner of St. Paul-based Alchemy Architects, has teamed with the Robert Engstrom Cos., the city of St. Paul, and an East Side nonprofit developer to propose a tiny house cluster as a demonstration of how such homes could spur development of affordable for-sale housing.”

A cluster of Alchemy Architecture’s “Weehouse” prefabricated tiny homes has been proposed for St. Paul’s East Side, an area that connects downtown St. Paul “with an “emerging business and entertainment corridor.” The Weehouses are described as “modular boxes prefabricated in factories and designed by Warner to vary in size from 300 to 850 square feet. They can be set up side-by-side to create stand-alone neighborhood clusters, or stacked on top of each other to build bigger single-family or multifamily dwellings.” The Star Tribune article also said “their real innovation is that they’re hardly Spartan: They include modern aesthetic features such as floor-to-ceiling glass and open kitchens, while also emphasizing energy efficiency with passive solar design, reflective roofs and geothermal heating.”

The hope of planners there is that the “units will market for around $100,000,” putting it at “a price that can appeal to a wide range of people, including first-time home buyers of all racial backgrounds.” According to a report issued by tech company SmartAsset, “in over half of the biggest U.S. cities, the typical millennial can’t afford a 1,000 square-foot home.” Warner’s hope, which is shared by many enthusiasts of the growing trend, is that more and more people will realize “you don’t need to have huge spaces to have really nice spaces.”

In the city of St. Paul’s case, the municipality “will need to craft a new zoning overlay designation governing such clusters of tiny housing.” But this is being “envisioned as a possible template for other cities across the state and country seeking to encourage the tiny living phenomenon.”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]


One Million Children Forced from School by Boko Haram

Nigerian Lives Matter / Garry Knight

Nigerian Lives Matter / Garry Knight

Attacks by Islamist military group Boko Haram have “forced more than 1 million children to abandon their studies and closed at least 2,000 schools in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring countries,” according to Bloomberg News. Neighboring Cameroon, Chad and Niger are also now experiencing violence as well.

In a story this week following a UNICEF report, Bloomberg News said, “Schools have been hit by attacks as Boko Haram, which means, ‘Western education is a sin’ in the Hausa language, pursues a six-year-old campaign to establish its version of Islamic law in the region.”

Boko Haram gained world attention last year following the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls—most of whom still have not been found—from their dormitories in the town of Chibok, which sparked the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign championed by Michelle Obama and thousands of others. Most of the girls haven’t been found. Associated Press reports that overall, “Boko Haram’s insurgency has killed about 20,000 people and displaced 2.3 million, according to Amnesty International and the United Nations.”

Since starting its war on the Nigerian government in 2009, “Boko Haram has repeatedly targeted schools, students and teachers,” reports The Guardian. Further, the New York Times adds that while “hundreds of schools in northeastern Nigeria have reopened in recent months…many classrooms are overcrowded or are used as shelter for those displaced.” Security continues to be a challenge; the instability has kept teachers from returning to class, given that as many as 600 teachers have been killed during the six-year insurgency.

“Schools have been targets of attack, so children are scared to go back to the classroom,” Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s regional director in West and Central Africa, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Yet the longer they stay out of school, the greater the risks of being abused, abducted and recruited by armed groups.” In fact, the Bloomberg story said, “In Nigeria, 10.5 million children are out of school,” making it the highest in the world.

And there are increasing fears lack of education will fuel further radicalism. Yan St-Pierre, terrorism analyst at Modern Security Consulting Group in Berlin, said, “There was already a problem with getting kids to school on a regular basis that simply became worse once Boko Haram emerged.”

Between bloody raids and incessant suicide bombings, Boko Haram has severely damaged what little infrastructure existed in Nigeria’s impoverished northeast at a time when the commodity-dependent country is facing a cash crunch thanks to plunging oil prices. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari had given the military there a December deadline to beat back the group. But, according to the site Foreign Policy, “Even with some assistance from the United States, United Kingdom, and France, that goal looks increasingly unrealistic. A multi-regional military task force has dismantled some of the group’s strongholds, forcing the extremists to rely on asymmetric tactics. Those attacks, in turn, are increasingly involving children.”

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]


Critics Blast New Forms of Public Art as It Goes Mainstream

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Street and public art is having a heyday here and abroad, thriving in once-desolate parts of cities. And while it’s exciting to see an art form that harkens back millennia to the cave paintings in Lascaux, France, there’s a question of whether its power and its artists are being coopted by gentrification.

New York Magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz is quoted in Vulture as saying he worries that the cultural forces responsible for “something like a new golden age of public art,” also support soulless and synthetic art and architecture that he loathes. And UK curator and author of The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti, Rafael Schäcter, prompted a flurry of discussion last month on the site The Conversation when he claimed that street art has moved from “dissident to decorative,” and sold out.

Schäcter explained in his piece, “Street art—as well as its artistic forebear graffiti—are often thought of as radical, rebellious aesthetic practices. Both the artists and their works are portrayed as the very definition of “edgy”; dangerous and dissident, but also creative and avant-garde. Yet within the last five years or so, street art…has been commandeered by the corporate interests of the ‘creative city’.”

Schäcter describes the creative city doctrine as “one in which public space is privatized and monetized.” City authorities in these cases look to “draw the emerging creative class to their sites” by marking themselves out “visually and recreationally to entice the key demographic of well-educated professionals and ‘bohemians’ (the coders, the designers, the “knowledge-based” professionals) who form the basis for a post-industrial economy.”

At or near the top of Saltz’s list of offenses in New York City is the High Line project, which he calls “that stretch of elevated rail lines strung through the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea, and the Hudson Yards, refurbished with private money a dozen years ago as the spine of the massive luxury redevelopment of each of those neighborhoods.” The mile-long public park, which snakes over and across a section of New York has, since it opened in June 2009, “had more than 27 million visitors.” And with annual attendance in excess of 6 million, it’s more popular than the city’s Museum of Modern Art or Metropolitan Museum of Art. Now developers have even more ambitious projects for art and entertainment centers to construct at either end of the High Line—Pier 55, at the southern end of the High Line, and the even bigger Culture Shed, at the northern one.

Saltz is not at all a fan, and he can envision problems of epic scale for these centers, the larger of which he calls a behemoth projected to cover 200,000 square feet (roughly the size of 3.5 NFL football fields). “The hubris of all this will be how costly these spaces are to build and maintain—predicated as they are on the belief that there will always be enough money for crews and equipment to come in at night and restore them for the next day’s audiences and merrymakers,” Saltz said. “It’s fitting that when this cycle of abundance recedes, these caprices may become the very “ruins” that inspired them.”

Saltz envisions the following dilemma: having new opportunities for putting art in the public sphere is good, but the creation of environments that mix experiencing art with planned programming and entertainment may change the dynamic in ways that aren’t beneficial.

He sees the High Line as a “harbinger of a bad pathogen now transforming public space into fussy, extra-busy, overdesigned, high-maintenance mannered playgrounds, curated experiences, and crowd-pleasing spectacles.” He admits that the “semi-privatization of public space has produced some of the best public art the city has seen in decades,” but at the same time he worries that “the money people who make major projects happen” are too interconnected.”

For his part, Schäcter believes this “transformation is due, in part, to the steady rise of the street-art festival. From Miami to Manila, these festivals have given institutions a way to establish the ultimate delivery system for creative city policies. They make and market “place”, turning physical space into a branded commodity. The “edgy authenticity” of street art makes it the ideal fit for this task: it is just perfectly, marvelously edgy enough.”

He continues,

“Much of the street art pumped out through the festival apparatus provides an aesthetic of transgression, while remaining perfectly numb to the social realities of its setting, treating public space like a blank canvas, rather than a site already loaded with cultural, historical and personal significance.

“It appears political while in fact being perfectly non-partisan. It performs a charade of rebellion and insurgence, while being officially sanctioned by commission and invitation.”

It’s not hard to see just how mainstream “street art” has come. One has only to look to Madison Avenue, which has just come up with an Instagram campaign for the color-trend-setting company Pantone. To gain consumer awareness for its #ColorOfTheYear (actually two colors this year), it’s having street artists “with large social followings in Los Angeles, New York City and Miami” create art installations to “showcase the colors’ harmony and their dominance in fashion, art and design.”

And in Toronto, a children’s art studio just announced it will be offering “Express Yo Self,” graffiti classes for kids, to introduce them to street-art techniques. Purists will certainly find this unsettling.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]


Guards at Boston Museum of Fine Arts Protest More “Militarized” Role

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Museum of Fine Arts – Boston / Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

For the past three weeks, guards who usually serve to protect the treasures of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) have instead been walking the pavement outside. Members of the Museum Independent Security Union (MISU) object to changes that museum officials want to make to reduce flexible scheduling and the coverage they’ve provided inside the galleries to assist patrons and protect the art. According to this week, MISU president Evan Henderson explained the guards’ position saying the proposed changes are “pushing guards out of their positions,” and would “reportedly be less focused on providing artwork protection and guest support within the galleries, and require them to cover shifts in areas of the museum like the attic, offices, or outdoors.”

Henderson was quoted in the Boston Globe saying, “They want us to be more like unlicensed cops, in which we’ll be more militarized…. We’ll be doing, like, drills in the morning. They want us to not focus on the artwork and be able to fight things like active shooters.”

Protecting visitors and property in public venues is increasingly complex, and according to R. Michael Kirchner, chairman of the security committee for the American Alliance of Museums, there’s no single template. “It varies worldwide because of the different size of facilities and resources.” Each museum has its own security challenges and priorities.

Boston MFA’s public relations director Karen Frascona explained the museum’s stance: “In today’s environment, it is critical that our security workforce is prepared to protect our staff, students, volunteers, visitors, and the collection in a variety of situations. Industry-standard training in areas such as emergency preparedness, conflict resolution, and security operations is included in the MFA’s current plan.” But Henderson and the nearly 100 guards who are opposing the changes are concerned the new policies would hinder their ability to aid visitors and provide them with a friendly experience.

According to the Globe article, “Frascona declined to describe details of the MFA’s security system, citing its sensitive nature.” But Steve Keller, a museum security consultant, said, “The MFA is in the forefront of a broader trend among museums to adopt technologically advanced security systems.” Keller added, “The museum uses a predictive video monitoring system that incorporates ceiling-mounted cameras and video analytics to sound an alarm before a person actually touches an artwork.”

He said the MFA’s system goes “beyond what most museums do,” by enabling the museum to statistically analyze audience movement patterns to determine which artworks (and even which parts of an artwork) are vulnerable to damage.

But Henderson and others are not convinced that even such good technology can do the job well. As one guard put it, people don’t always respond correctly to alarms, even when they hear them. Then there’s the personal touch they feel will be lost. Henderson said, “Customer service was a huge aspect of the job. We all take great appreciation in the artwork that we’re around. We’re very knowledgeable.”

He’s quoted in DigBoston, saying, “With the ‘new security model’ and ‘take it or leave it’ schedules, people are being laid off through attrition,” since many work their schedules around childcare or other jobs.

Currently, according to the Globe, “Guards can work shifts of varying lengths. Frascona said the museum was working to standardize the guards’ schedules, creating regular day, evening, and overnight shifts, starting Jan. 3rd.” According to the guards’ current contract, the museum “retains the right to alter the guards’ schedules independent of negotiations.”

In response, Henderson is considering filing a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. And this Saturday, December 19, the Massachusetts Jobs with Justice coalition is sponsoring a rally from 12 to 2 p.m. to support the guards.

[This article first appeared in Non-Profit Quarterly]