It is time to pause and celebrate the hard and important work of working with cultural organizations.
Talk of defunding the National Endowment for the Arts seems to be making this winter season feel a bit gloomier. Moreover, the last several weeks of KYOB posts have revolved around important, data-heavy topics that can be challenging to wrap our minds around: Negative substitution of historic visitors to cultural organizations; low visitor confidence levels; the importance of checks and balances for cultural organizations; and data about the most dissatisfying aspect of a visit (pant, pant). It’s all critical information and even though data can be tough to swallow sometimes, it is only by being curious and acknowledging the realities of our sector that we are able to put on our thinking caps and charge forward with our important work of educating and inspiring audiences.
Speaking of feeling inspired… I think that this week calls for a break to reflect on the social good and hard work that folks working for and within cultural organizations do every single day. Our work – your work – is damn important.
(That’s the first time I have ever sworn on this website! I feel good about it.)
Like a true nerd, there are many things (aside from a long list of beloved cultural organizations) that make me giddily geeky and, if I’m honest, a bit emotional. This famous speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V, everything Paul Revere, this Carl Sandburg poem about Chicago, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin East are a few, very quick examples that I think my friends might call me out on immediately if they were in the room where I am writing. I know you’ve got yours, too! I’m talking about topics, spaces, and works of art that move you and make you glad to be alive.
I’ll get back to sharing new data next week. This week I want to share some of what makes me tick in hopes that it may help keep you ticking along, too, should you need a boost. With the recent Oscars on the brain and YouTube being about to overtake TV as America’s most-watched platform, here are five videos that I find myself coming back to over and over again as a person who works with cultural organizations. These little videos make me geeky, proud, and pleased to be doing the work that I do. I hope that you, cultural organization-loving folks, may feel the same way.
There are many excellent videos by, for, and about cultural organizations. There are many great cultural organization scenes in films – like this famous scene from Ferris Buellers Day Off. There are also many great cultural organization, association, society, and alliance videos – like Indiana Historical Society’s hilarious Hot Pepper History. (Am I a horrible person that I think that video is laugh-out-loud funny?) There are also many great videos outside of the sector providing thought fuel about cultural organizations – like this video on what art museums are for by School of Life. And, hey, I cannot leave out my own Know Your Own Bone Fast Fact videos! I could be linking to videos from different sources for a long, long, long time. But I won’t. Instead, I narrowed this list down to only five – and it was hard! I aimed for variety and I also aimed for videos that are truly worth a watch. (I also decided to stay away from any client created videos to keep things fair.) These are videos to sit down in front of with a cup of tea (or a glass of wine) and enjoy while, hopefully, patting yourself of the back for your hard work in making the world a better place. Let’s interrupt the regularly-scheduled data dump to share resources to inspire one another this week, shall we?
1) People Will Come. Field of Dreams (1989)
This one’s for those of you who genuinely love the content that your cultural organization shares with the world. You don’t need to like baseball or to have seen this (excellent) film to get goosebumps watching this scene. There’s a feeling in this clip – a yearning to share something so meaningful and yet struggling with the practical means to share it and just knowing that it will change people – that’s easy to relate to if you work for a cultural organization.
2) Spark. Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance (2009)
Many organizations, associations, and alliances create videos today and many of them are inspiring. Some videos simply stand out – and this one does to me. This video by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance shares clips of people talking about their spark moments at cultural organizations in Philadelphia. It moves me, because I’ve been sparked and I get it. I totally get it. I’ll bet that if you are a cultural organization lover, you get it, too. Perhaps this video is so powerful because it highlights what other people say about cultural organizations instead of what cultural organizations say about themselves. (Here’s the data on why that’s important.) Either way, this hits a nerve that makes me watch it while nodding as the video goes on and thinking, Yes, yes! Cultural organizations are awesome!
3) To Quote Whitman. Dead Poets Society (1989)
Stick with me for a moment here, because I’m going deep. I have recently been working on a project with IMPACTS colleagues called The Remarkable Project. It is being led by Jim Hekkers, the former managing director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and our team has spanned the globe visiting numerous organizations in the quest to uncover what makes a visitor-serving organization remarkable. The project has involved a great deal of data, but also has explored the trickier, softer things that make an experience remarkable (including that elusive feeling of inspiration). For me, the thing that ties together every remarkable experience that I’ve had at a visitor-serving organization (or anywhere else) summons the same feeling: The excitement and awe and wonder of being alive. For you, it may be something completely different that comes close to communicating a remarkable experience at a cultural organization. For me, its something like Walt Whitman’s Oh Me! Oh Life!
4) Art History. John Costello (2013)
It’s time for the more underground – but every bit as relevant – video contribution to the list. Interestingly enough, my uncle made this video to promote enrollment in an AP Art History Course that he teaches in Colorado. The video is simple, and I think that’s why it moves me. It’s simply a series of famous artworks with written questions. Of course, this is a video highlighting works of art, but I think the “so what? ” that it touches upon works for all types of mission-driven, visitor-serving organizations. Each type tells important stories and gets to the bottom of key questions that connect us to one another, to our communities, and to the world at large. I often re-watch this video. Like art itself, it resonates with me as forever timely.
5) #DayOfFacts. The Field Museum (2017)
I spy a museum proudly executing its mission with integrity. Over 280 scientific and cultural organizations celebrated #DayofFacts on February 17. A lot of great things came of that day: organizations standing up for their missions, protecting facts, inspiring audiences…and this video by The Field Museum. It just makes me so dang proud to work with mission-driven, visitor-serving organizations. Data suggest that organizations walking their talk matters. I’m goosebump-filled by 0:06 of this video, choked up at 0:42, and… sheesh… I’m not teary at 0:52, you’re teary at 0:52. “Facts are welcome here. And so are you.”
Thanks for watching and allowing me to share this little list with you. If you still have some bandwidth and more tea (or wine) in that cup of yours, head on over to my YouTube channel and check out some fast fasts for cultural executives. Now that I hopefully have you feeling a little bit mushy, I figure some data-talk might balance things back out a bit!
I will end this article with another classic to help us all rise to the occasion during dreary days: “I’m made of wax, Larry. What are you made out of?“