Blog: Maud Lyon

Our guest blogger for this week is Maud Lyon. Maud is the founding director of the Cultural Alliance, and a consultant for numerous nonprofit organizations.

Check back here each week day to read Maud's thoughts on the state of arts and culture in Michigan.

Photograph © Dave Krieger

Maud Lyon - Most Recent Posts:

One D – the Art of Regional Transformation

A primary goal of the Cultural Alliance is to make arts and culture organizations sustainable – so that the arts will help our region to grow and thrive. That is why we are a proud partner of One D:  Transforming Regional Detroit.

One D is about the spirit of regional collaboration. The Cultural Alliance is a partner with the Detroit Regional Chamber, Detroit Renaissance, The United Way for Southeastern Michigan, the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, and New Detroit to lead a very creative act:  changing our identity. We are a region: not cities, townships, or counties. Our greatest challenge is imagining that future and staying focused on our priorities, so that we can compete with world markets instead of each other.  

Arts and culture is an important part of all five of One D's priorities. Last fall, when the Royal Shakespeare Company held its residency at the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, the MEDC sponsored performances of Julius Ceasar and built a business attraction campaign to woo entrepreneurs to the region – and it worked, bringing commitments for two new businesses. Economic Prosperity is one of One D’s goals. We are also proud that Rick Rogers, President of CCS, co-chaired the Creative Economy team for the Road to Renaissance, with the active participation of many other Cultural Alliance members.

The role of arts and culture in Educational Preparedness is obvious.  The arts is a proven way to cultivate the attention span of young learners, to help them to read, to give them an incentive to stay in school, and to become a part of life-long learning. The arts also teach teamwork, social skills, and communications skills that are essential for the workplace. Just ask any of the graduates of Mosaic Youth Theatre, 95% of whom go on to college. 

In Race Relations, we discovered a wealth of programs. If you haven’t already seen it, schedule your visit to see the exhibition Race: Are We So Different at the Charles Wright Museum of African American History – and after you go, talk to people about what you learned. Or go to the Concert of Colors in July, sponsored by ACCESS, New Detroit, and held at the Max M. Fischer Music Center of the DSO. Equally important are the quiet programs, like the years of mentoring of at-risk youth done by staff at The Henry Ford.

The arts are also involved in Mass Transit – after all, we give everyone a reason to go places!  The final One D priority is Quality of Life – a broad category that has to do with making us all healthy, socially engaged, and actively involved in making life better for everyone. Arts and culture is a mainstay for regional culture and community:  attending, creating, and participating in the arts. We help people reach.

Creating the collective future of our region is part art, part science, and a shared experience in which we are all actors, audience, and reviewers. To succeed, the arts need to act more like businesses, and businesspeople need to be artists, a unique blend of inspiration, drive and discipline. One D is not an organization: it is a state of mind.

So now you know what the Cultural Alliance is all about. Who are we? Membership is open to all non-profit organizations that are engaged in creating, producing, promoting, teaching, or advocating for arts and culture. The Alliance includes large organizations like Cranbrook, the DIA, the Zoo, MOT and The Henry Ford, mid-sized institutions like the Detroit Science Center and Arab American National Museum, and many small organizations, like Plowshares Theatre, Pewabic Pottery, and Arts and Scraps. Belonging to the Alliance helps our members to network with each other, learn new approaches, and to build relationships of mutual support. We have over 30 members now. It is our goal to have hundreds of member organizations.  

The Cultural Alliance exists to make arts institutions more effective, efficient, innovative, and collaborative. Come join us!

Cultural Education

Arts education is essential to create well-rounded, capable, creative individuals.  Programs in music, drama, visual arts, dance, and other creative expressions help students to be motivated to learn – not just in school, but in life.  

But arts education is being driven out by school budget cuts – and by the demands of standardized tests.  Teachers must justify every field trip and activity in terms of measurable results for specific learning objectives, leaving little room for experiences than enrich life and nurture possibility.  As a result, most cultural institutions have experienced a significant drop in school attendance.

To put art back in student lives, the Cultural Alliance has two approaches.  The first is collaborative marketing to make it easier for teachers to connect with and take advantage of arts programming in cultural institutions.  We will create synergistic packages of educational programs from multiple arts organizations – for example, a seventh grade science program, or fourth grade community history.  Instead of competing for teacher attention, we will pool arts education staff time to reach out to more teachers more effectively.

In 2008 we hope to launch a Cultural Education website.  Teachers will be able to use a searchable database of field trips, curriculum, outreach programs, and other arts activities, with “one stop shopping” to connect them to a broad array of the wonderful arts programs that are available.

The second approach is to expand into new markets – moving arts education from schools to the community at large.  How are the needs of home schoolers or after-school programs different, and what can arts organizations do to meet their needs?  Summer camps, Boy and Girl Scouts, Junior Achievement, and many other youth programs are also good ways to give young people arts experiences.  Our Cultural Education committee is also exploring the needs of seniors and other special audiences.  it is our goal to work with all parts of the community to bring the arts into everyone’s life.

The key is providing easy access to information, and listening to our customers to create arts programming that meets the needs of today’s young people – and all people. 

Almost two-thirds of Americans think arts education should have a high priority.  The Cultural Alliance is working to make that priority actionable, and accessible to all. 

Sharing Resources

The creativity of arts and cultural organizations is not limited to the stage, the exhibition gallery, or the art form itself.  These non-profit organizations can also be very creative in the ways they find to get the work done.  Managing scarce resources is an art in itself.  

All too often, the people who manage the business side of arts and culture are doing so in isolation.  There hasn’t been a forum to share ideas about better ways to maintain facilities, manage human resources, contract for services, or the myriad other necessary work of running arts non-profits. The Sharing Resources initiative of the Cultural Alliance is designed to solve this problem, in two ways.

The first way is to establish networking meetings that bring together the staff who work on these issues, so that they can learn from each other and gain useful information from outside experts.  The Cultural Alliance is surveying members to identify the issues that are of the greatest interest, and will organize a series of management seminars that lift up best practices and promote innovations for more efficient cultural business management.   This will also help professional staff to meet their peers – and to share their business creativity with each other.

The second way is a barter program – a clearinghouse to trade resources and assets between arts organizations for mutual benefit.  The first trade has already occurred – while we were planning this initiative last summer.  The school busses of Cranbrook Educational Communities are usually parked in the summer.  The Arts League of Michigan had a summer camp program that needed transportation.  So Cranbrook provided the busses last summer, and last fall, the Arts League provided free jazz clinics for Cranbrook students in return.  

We are now in the process of establishing a system to help Cultural Alliance member organizations to identify the assets and resources that they have to share.  It could be unsold seats in performances, exhibition pedestals or other props, or even a special expertise.  Every organization has some special, unique asset – which could be exactly what another organizations needs.  The goal is to place un-used resources into a pool, and to enable arts organizations to help each other. 

These two programs will help arts and cultural organizations operate more efficiently – and also focus energy on what we can do to help ourselves. 

Collective Voice

Competition for leisure time is intense.  The arts compete with for-profit entertainment, and even more with recreation.  When the kids have an intense schedule of organized sports, how can parents fit in culture? People are working longer hours, and with new technology, there are many opportunities to hear music, read, pursue hobbies and interests with like-minded souls on the internet, and otherwise “timeshift” leisure to the hours available – rather than adjust your schedule to the concert hall or museum.

Audience tastes have shifted, too.  People want more active participation, and a more social context.  If the arts are cool, people come.  If they are perceived as stuffy, intimidating, or too formal, they opt out. 

The result of these factors, in many cultural institutions, is a loss of attendance and audience.  The Collective Voice initiative of the Cultural Alliance is a program to counter this trend.  We are studying recent audience participation and community research, both in our region and nationally, to help our member organizations understand what drives audience decisions.  In fall 2007 we will hold a series of seminars to explore these issues and propose creative new approaches.  In preparation for those seminars, we are gathering data about how we market the arts:  how we promote, how much we spend, and where we put those dollars.  We are also gathering information about the exhibitions, premieres, and other cultural programs that are planned for the next several years.  

In the seminars, we will compare our current practices to the research.  Are we producing the kinds of experiences audiences want?  Are we promoting those programs in the right way, for the audiences we are trying to reach?  The answers to those questions will challenge individual arts organizations to change the way they plan and promote their programs, and give them tools to make their own improvements.  Our goal is to focus on the needs of the community – to listen to our customers.

The Cultural Alliance will also use this information to identify opportunities for collaboration – creating programming focus plans called Cultural Destinations.  A Cultural Destination might be a group of arts organizations in a particular geographic area, or arts programs that interpret a single theme, or which occur in a particular season.  We will organize a collaboration to plan and promote each Cultural Destination, applying the research, and working together to maximize reach and impact.

The Collective Voice initiative will help arts organizations, large and small, to tune their programming to serve our region better – to work together to reach people and do what we do best, uplift every day life to something extraordinary.  The high-tech world is often low-touch:  the arts offer experiences that are authentic, engaging, social, thought-provoking, and real.  Something you just can’t get any other way.

Tyree, Marshall, Aretha and Albert

As a Detroit Metro person who has been both "on the scene" and most often "behind the scenes" on the Cultural Arts scene in Detroit Metro, I wanted to share my comments on Maud Lyon's super perspective on the the Detroit Metro "arts and culture" scene.

-I think we have to be much more entrepreneuiral and better  "packagers" of arts products- being a lot more aggressive, creative in building in transportation to get a broader range of audiences to show up to enjoy all that we have to offfer. The idea of "shared audiences" has to get more attention. It seems that we have too many instances of students and other groups coming into Detroit for just a rather brief visit to just one cultural venue.

-Cultural arts can also be the scene for creating more jobs, esp. in Detroit. For example, there's got to be a "goodwill tour ambassador" program that trains and pays a cadre of Detroit youth to serve as tour guides/jr docents, so that every tour bus that enters Detroit can have a young Ambassador to help showcase what Detroit has to offer. And for the students who come in, many many more of these groups should have the chance to (usually for the first time ever) go to the top of the Ren Cen to experience that gutsy view of Canada and Detroit and its suburbs. The students that I've done this with can't believe that that's Canada spread out before them!

-The music scene especially should be a place where many more kids can earn some dollars/put together some gigs; not as a future career, but so that Detroit can have many more local groups who can sing those super MOTOWN SONGS to a broader range of audiences and earn some money while doing it. At present, on a weekly, daily basis, there are virtually no places in Detroit where a tour group or individuals can go to hear the MOTOWN SOUND. GOSPEL MUSIC should also get much more attention as a great attraction that could help bring in many more visitors to the City from places like Atlanta and New York.

-Any plans to pool talent, leadership and guts to better fund arts and culture has to have a real grasp of the fairness about it all. In a past attempt at getting a tax/millage to pass, some of us felt that the smaller, struggling arts institutions were not going to be given a fair shake. I recall for example that the campaign was sold  with a "youth and the arts" theme, but when you looked at who would get a big bulk of the funds, a lot of it would have gone to Cranbrook House and Gardens. I think this is a super place but it really doesn't have a lot to offer youth, not like other groups like the Pontiac North Oakland Creative Arts Center or the arts programs connected to
the Mosaic Youth Theatre.

-As I'm sure other persons also have, I have a few what I think are gutsy, creative ways to generate some dollars for the arts and would be happy to share in the future.
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