A Dozen Daily Habits of Mind for Building Arts Education Programs

The Daily Dozen Habits of Mind was written in response to questions about how
COCA, the Center of Creative Arts in St. Louis, Missouri was developed from its
inception in 1987 with a budget of $80,000 to a nationally recognized community
arts center serving 50,000 people with assets of $16 million and an annual budget of
$5 million.

  1. Believe. Will you be an organization that offers music and dance classes or will you position your organization to serve a bigger vision? By elevating your thinking and placing your organization as one that serves critical issues, your goals are more likely to be fulfilled. As it says in Forces for Good by Jim Collins, “great non-profits are catalysts: they transform the system around them to achieve a greater good.” What is the “greater good” that you are trying to create? And do you have a “growth mindset” to handle the setbacks that are inevitable. See: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck.
  2. Lead. There are volumes to read and much to learn about leadership but you cannot lead until you understand yourself. See: Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath and Managing Yourself by Peter Drucker. Insist on obtaining feedback quarterly on the goals that you set with your supervisor/board or organization. If possible, participate in a 360-degree process so you are fully aware of how others see you as a leader. Hire a coach and/or create peer networks, preferably outside of your city. See: The Work of Leadership by Ron Heifetz.
  3. Share. Share your story, share your data and share the power. You as the leader should be someone who can communicate and enlist others in your grand vision and thereby create a wide network of followers: artists, volunteers, staff and donors who join you in implementing your ideas. Learn to write and present compelling stories that reveal your vulnerability and elicit emotion in others. Obtain professional assistance in giving presentations, and develop tools including videos, e-blasts, websites and publications. Enlist your colleagues and volunteers and train them to tell the story. See Leadership Presence by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar and The Right to Speak by Patsy Rodenburg.
  4. Create quality. You may have a grand vision and you may be able to share it but if you cannot deliver high quality programs, you will not be successful. There are thousands of decisions each week that impact quality. See Quality of Qualities: Understanding Excellence in Arts Education by Steve Seidel, Shari Tishman, Ellen Winner, Lois Hetland and Patricia Palmer. http://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/arts-education/artsclassroom-instruction/Documents/Understanding-Excellence-in-ArtsEducation.pdf and http://www.creatingquality.org/
  5. Cultivate/Invest. You cannot lead any effort alone. Recruit, train, retrain, retain and redeploy a talented, flexible, committed and diverse work force of volunteers and paid staff whose skills complement one another. Most arts organizations offer the lowest possible compensation and minimal benefits. They then experience high turnover, lack of continuity and poor morale. This cycle “stalls” progress. Your team is your most important asset in building your organization so invest generously in their salary, benefits and professional development. Further invest in your volunteers by spending time and enlisting their help in crafting plans for the future. See Nell Ellington’s website for one approach on how to build infrastructure. http://www.socialvelocity.net/2011/07/raising-money-to-grow-oncreating-the-plan/
  6. Balance. You will constantly need to balance what you have against what you need. Being resourceful is more important than having resources. Develop a business model that will make it possible to achieve sustainability. In terms of generating resources you must have a product that has a niche and is distinctive. Preferably you will have a mix of 50% earned and 50% contributed income. In terms of managing the resources, design a financial strategy that is suited to realizing your organizational needs. Recruit high level and experienced financial partners for a finance committee/board to assist. Build programs that deliver earned income in a predictable way and balance these with initiatives that are riskier but have more artistic interest. Understand capacity building in order to achieve the balance and growth that you need. See: http://www.vppartners.org/learning/reports/capacity/assessment.pdf
  7. Deepen/Broaden. Deepen the understanding and relationships with those on your team while broadening and reaching out to new people. Be disciplined and rigorous about finding these people. Understand that people are looking for meaning in their lives just as you are. Finding the match and giving them a role is the key. Be prepared as you approach people: understand their background/interests/perspectives. By listening to what interests and motivates them, and by asking them to participate, you are giving them an opportunity to partner with you in creating something exciting. To address these issues see: http://jennifermccrea.com/
  8. Manage Artfully. As the leader of an arts organization, you have great resources at your fingertips to create imaginative, engaging and emotionally powerful experiences. People want access to these creative experiences and to the artists; involving your prospective donors in an ongoing process called “creative engagement” will serve their need for defining their own creative identities. See http://db-a.typepad.com/db-a/blog_index.html and Good Development Practice: A Strategy for Fundraising Success by David Bury for integrating the arts and development practice.
  9. Evaluate. You will need to answer the question, “what impact does my organization have?” In answering this question you undertake a process that seeks to ask why a program works for the individuals whom you serve as well as on a broader scale. Seek informal feedback daily from students, parents, faculty, staff and board; put in place a formal evaluation process that will give you the data that you need to prove impact. See: More than Measuring: Program Evaluation as an Opportunity to Build the Capacity of Communities by Dennis Palmer Wolf, Jennifer Bransom and Katy Denson.
  10. Research. The difference between high performing nonprofit groups and their beleaguered peers is that they are constantly scanning a wide range of scenarios for the future to discover new opportunities to achieve their missions – they are alert to change. Always be in research mode… for new ideas and new people. Find models and other programs around the country and learn from them. Prospecting for individuals, foundations and corporations who are interested in your work should be a daily practice. See: http://www.artsjournal.com/
  11. Be strategic: Sustainability is not a destination. It is an orientation that does not separate programmatic elements or the impact that your organization is having from financial elements (sufficient working capital for its needs and activities. You will need to have the big picture in mind but you will need to provide attention to detail, especially financial detail. Most non-profits do not make strong enough investments in the infrastructure of their organizations, especially financial management. Be exact about how many people you serve and the impact you have on their lives and relate that impact to your financial model. See: Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability by Jeanne Bell, Jan Masaoka and Steve Zimmerman.
  12. Be disciplined. Discipline is consistency of action-consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency of method, consistency over time. Have the inner will to do whatever it takes to create a great outcome, no matter how difficult. In times of uncertainty look to empirical evidence rather than opinion or untested ideas. Stay highly attuned to the threats and changes in the environment, especially when all is going well. See: Great by Choice by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen.

    And one more for a “Baker’s Dozen”…..

  13.  Be audacious. To grow you will need to take risks. Support your risk taking with strategic approaches. This means budgetary risks; this means artistic risks. Become a learning organization so that you understand which strategies move your organization ahead and which do not. Taking risks will help create a sense of urgency – a key element in building an organization