CEO of Arts Engaged and author of Engaged Now, Doug Borwick gives his expert perspective on community engagement and how it is more effective than outreach. In this episode, Doug distinguishes engagement from outreach and shares ingredients for effective community.
(5:45) Moving beyond “artist centricity”
(7:50) Doug defines community outreach
(8:45) Rethinking outreach
(9:56) Inspiring examples of community engagement: Houston Grand Opera, Queens Bridge, and Early Music Ensemble in Seattle
(13:36) Activities to avoid when doing community engagement
(15:10) Four ingredients to community engagement
(18:39) Community Engagement 101
(24:00) Do you need new money for community engagement?
(26:58) Doug shares the most transformative piece of music he has experienced
Doug’s Site/Consulting firm: www.artsengaged.com
Doug’s 8-fold path to community engagement: http://www.artsengaged.com/eightfoldpath
Doug’s Twitter: www.twitter.com/@dougborwick
Doug’s Book, Engage Now: A Guide to Making the Arts Indispensable
Dolph Goldenburg: Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits™ Podcast. I’m your host Dolph Goldenburg. Today’s conversation with Doug Borwick will explore community engagement as a tool that is more effective than just plain old outreach for building your prospective audience and supporter base. Dr. Doug Borwick is an artist educator, author, public speaker and nonprofit administrator, our conversation today is going to draw from his experience as the CEO of Arts Engaged and the author of the book Engage Now: A Guide to Making the Arts Indispensable. While Doug has spent most of his career in the yards, today’s conversation will offer insight to every nonprofit that wants to gain passionate supporters from a broader audience. Whether you are with a museum, a homeless shelter, a workforce development organization, a legal services corporation, this conversation is still for you.
Hey, thanks for joining us today, Doug.
Doug Borwick: It’s a pleasure.
Dolph Goldenburg: This has been definitely been a 24-hour period of some snafus. I know you and I had some technical issues actually getting on Skype this morning.
Doug Borwick: We eventually made it follow up with a tactic of, okay, you unplug things and plug them back in and see if that works.
Dolph Goldenburg: I think like there are these genies on my shoulder that just makes everything work is just as I was about to give up and say, okay, let’s reschedule. It worked out, and you know, those genies were on my shoulder last night. I was in New York yesterday to do some client work, and the nor’easter hit. I always say I have these travel genies. I was looking, and I had an 8:00 flight out of LaGuardia. I was looking all day and literally the flights before 1:00 PM all took off to Atlanta, and Delta has a flight almost every hour.
Then the next one was canceled that one after that was canceled and then there was a five-hour delay and then canceled, canceled, canceled. I’m like, I’ve already checked out of my hotel. I’m looking at hotels. Even the Yotel, not the world’s best hotel, is going to be like $1,200. I’m like, Oh, I come on travel genies. I was so thrilled that the one flight that actually made it out that day after 1:00 PM was my 8:00 PM flight. We got out at 11:00 PM. Doug, I don’t have a lot of sleep, and I have a cold.
Doug Borwick: Yeah, I understand that. I might like to borrow your genie because I once had a flight at LaGuardia cancelled because of rain.
Dolph Goldenburg: Well, you know the thing about LaGuardia and only has two runways. So, three drops of rain, like any backup at all, before you know it, you’re waiting for hours to get out. The Mayor of New York is probably gonna, you know, build a blousy I has probably going to send me a nasty note or something and be like, don’t talk bad about LaGuardia. Well Doug, thank you so much for joining us today. I am just so thrilled you are here. Can you share a little bit about how you came to realize the importance of community engagement?
Doug Borwick: I was trained as a composer. My work through the Ph.D. was all in composition. I was a composer of the Eastman school. That’s where I did finish my training. All the way through that, no one really talked to me about anything other than the craft of music. When I would study an instrument, they would tell you, “You put your fingers here, and you can make a G sharp,” but none of that had anything to do with what was happening in the relationship between music and the world out there. It was very inwardly focused. I know that a lot of schools and a split is one of them have changed that since then, but that was back in the dark ages. I’ve been out of school for a long, long, long time at this point, but that led me to becoming a producer because no one will play your music unless you produce it as a composer.
That led me into arts administration, and I found myself for 30 years then running the arts management program at Salem College in Winston Salem, North Carolina. As an academic, you have the advantage of not having to keep the doors of an arts institution open every day. You can look over the horizon and say, “What is happening in the world?” One of the things that happened in the late eighties, early nineties, you know about the culture wars, and a piece of that broke out about a mile from where I lived at the time – at the southeastern center for Contemporary Art. I observed over the next few years that no politician paid a price for beating up on the arts, and almost no politician got any credit for supporting them. That led me to think, “Why is that?” and try to analyze that.
What I came away with was that over the century, the support for the arts has been in the institutions that have money and power, and artists aren’t stupid. They gravitate towards that, and that has led to a real disconnect between the general population and the arts institutions. That began a path for me to think through one, let’s see some more of the origins of that, but then also what do we do about it and the place that I came to is that if arts organizations want to be relevant, viable in the next two generations, they’ve got to begin to pay a lot more attention to their relationships with their communities, become less inwardly focused and more publicly oriented in their thinking of moving from what I call art centricity to a broader relationship with their communities. That’s the origin of the work. When I began it, this was like 20 to maybe even 25 years ago now, that did not get a lot of traction.
We have had over the last 10 to 15 years, more people in the nonprofit arts industry realize that, “Okay, there may be something that we need to change,” and as a result, both through my blog and books and the advocacy work that I do, there is more conversation about community engagement – although, that term has been badly abused and more responsiveness to this notion of being aware and attempting to work with communities.
Dolph Goldenburg: What exactly is community engagement? I know you draw a strong distinction between community engagement and outreach, so how should organizations be thinking about those two things differently?
Doug Borwick: Community engagement became a fad in the art world about 10 years ago, and people were doing any kind of thing that they thought was in one way or another associated with the community and calling it community engagement. The one that most made me put my head down on my desk and cry was the ballet company that was giving a dollar of their ticket sales to the homeless shelter and calling that community engagement.
Now it’s a great thing to do. It’s a good thing to do, but in any substantive sense, that’s really not engaging with the community. For me, community engagement is about substantive, mutually beneficial relationships that have to be developed over time, and that’s one of the problems with community engagement is it’s not instantaneous. Outreach is one of my pet peeves as a word. I know that a lot of people who use it are using it for very good reasons, but there are two levels that I have a concern with it. One is that if you just look at the word itself, it implies that I’m in the center and the source of goodness. You don’t have it. You need to come to me, and we see it used that way in churches. We see it used that way in education. We see it used that way in the arts.
Doug Borwick: The other thing about the word outreach is it places a barrier between whoever is doing the outreaching and the people that they want to reach. It’s like a wall goes up. The people out there outside of the wall look at you and go, “Why should I be interested in what you have to offer?”
Dolph Goldenburg: Can you give an example of an arts organization that used community engagement?
Doug Borwick: The Queens Museum of Art in the borough about 10 years ago, hired a community organizer as a part of their staff and they went out and develop relationships with the various communities around the, around the museum, and then that is a result of that. All kinds of things were happening that many people would say are not museum work, you know, the developing English as a second language options in the museum, but it was about developing relationships so that when an artist came in for a residency who wanted to work with the communities, they didn’t have to establish the relationship of trust themselves.
It already was there, and they could go in and tap into that. You know, another one that I cite many times, and I sometimes hesitate to do this because people hear about a very cool but expensive and time-consuming. I’m going to use the example because it is so cool. The Houston Grand Opera has as one of its principal programs, something that they call [HGO Co], and it is about establishing relationships with communities in Houston. One of the things that they’ve done is commissioned a series of operas about the stories of the immigrant populations in Houston, and there are many, many, many of them. That’s one example.
A very, very, very different example is the Early Music Ensemble in Seattle. I met with their director first about two years ago, and he told me that at the time they had developed a relationship with a church in the Seattle area that was doing Ebola relief work in Africa. Out of that, the early music ensemble put together a program of music that had been written about or inspired by the black death by the 14th-century plague. It was the first time I’d ever heard of any early music ensemble doing community engagement work. So, those are some. I mean, I could go on and on and on, but we probably want to talk about other things too.
Dolph Goldenburg: Almost a decade ago when I was running a large LGBT community center in Philadelphia, we provided social services, but we’re also a community institution. We had a 2,000 square foot art gallery. The original structure was built in 1860 [inaudible]. We had this beautiful old building, and we took really the amazing, you know, gorgeous would lobby and turn it into an art gallery. Our most popular art show of the year or I guess exhibited the year would always be when we did our [jewelry] art competition, we would get someone from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts or Tyler School of Art, you know, so we get jurors that maybe not professional, but you know, but artists, community artists would really want their work to be seen by. And then they would submit a work. We would typically end up having 30 to 40 pieces of art in the show. And it was really incredible in terms of. And it’s fun. I never really thought about that as community engagement. But it, but it certainly was because you know, all of these artists brought their networks into the gallery, and now all of their networks knew about the gallery.
Doug Borwick: Community engagement is ultimately about creating relationships between the institution and very and various communities.
Dolph Goldenburg: What are some of the big potholes that our organizations need to look out for when they’re driving down the road toward community engagement?
Doug Borwick One is thinking that they are doing community engagement when they’re not. When I’m making presentations about community engagement, I will have someone come up to me afterward and say, “Thank you so much for articulating this. I’ve felt these things, but I’ve never been able to put them into words before at my organization.” Just absolutely does not get it. Five minutes later the executive director of the president of the board of that organization will come up to me and say, “Thank you so much. This is really important. And it’s exactly what we do.” I talk a lot about confirmation bias if you know something is a good thing to do, you identify what you’re doing as that thing. With the arts, it’s important to distinguish among the audience development, audience engagement and community engagement.
They’re all important, but they’re not the same thing. Fundamentally, community engagement is about establishing relationships with communities and then out of the process of that relationship, develop programming that serves the interests of those communities and also serves the purposes of the arts organization. Thinking about this has led me to four points of what you need to be thinking about when you’re trying to do effective community engagement. The first one is to develop relationships. Spend the time to develop those relationships, and those relationships have to be built on mutual respect. That sounds obvious, but lots of times it’s important to evaluate yourself of why you’re doing it. The next one is that there absolutely has to be mutual benefit. It has to be good for the community. It has to be good for the arts organization, otherwise it’s not sustainable. If it’s not good for the arts organization, then it really is just charity. Successful community engagement has to have something about it that is going to serve the interests of the arts organization.
The third is that whatever projects are entered into need to be designed and implemented collaboratively. The arts organization or the social service organization or fill in the blank, whatever nonprofit is the expert in their discipline, but the community is the expert in what works and what doesn’t work in their community and also what the real needs and interests are in that community. Then finally, and this is the hardest one for arts organizations, there needs to be some kind of relationship maintenance plan. What happens after the event? We in the arts are event-driven. We’re all about doing, and we get to the end of an event and then kind of go on. The danger there is that series of communities could look on this arts organization as nothing but a one-night stand. Figuring out how to maintain the relationship is the fourth piece of that puzzle.
Dolph Goldenburg: Well, Doug, we’re going to take a brief break, and when we come back, we’re going to discuss how an organization that’s not actively involved in community engagement, what first initial steps they should start looking at.
The Successful Nonprofits™ Podcast is produced by the Goldenburg Group as part of our mission to provide board development and strategic planning and interim leadership to help nonprofits thrive in a competitive environment.
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Hey, welcome back, Doug. Let’s say that I’m an executive or a staff member or a board member and an organization that has not really done a lot of community engagement, and I now feel somewhat inspired to move in that direction. What are my first initial steps?
Doug Borwick: Walk slowly. The most important thing is to really be prepared for any kind of community engagement. It’s a great danger to try to do too much too soon. I’ll say more about that in a second, but what I would say to begin with, it is twofold. One is: have the organization make a commitment to the concept of community engagement, that it’s important. It’s going to be a mission level activity and that these are things that we are going to support. Then, begin to do some planning about how this is going to work. Who is going to be responsible? Where will this work lie? Also, think through the fact that at the beginning you can do things that are simple, and you should do things slowly. On the simple side, you can look at stuff that you’re already presenting that you’re already doing and imagine that in a community engagement context. One example, The Chamber Orchestra that’s doing one of the Vivaldi’s, four seasons can charity can think, “You know, we’re performing Spring, and I wonder if anyone from the Sierra Club would be interested in talking with us about the meaning of spraying in the context of a global climate change.” It’s a way to think that is different, and you don’t need to all of a sudden be commissioning new operas. That’s way on down the road. Everyone in the organization can take, “What do I do that I might think about it, a community engagement context to move us forward towards community engagement?” Another example is if it’s a big organization that has a marketing department that does focus groups, rather than looking at those as one-way information gathering, create story circles so that the people in the focus group can talk to the organization about what this piece meant to them or what this work.
Another is the development department can move from what is basically a zero-sum game. There are not all that many donors, foundations, government agencies that give money to the arts. You’re always in competition with other arts organizations to a view of if we are doing things that are of interest to our communities, there are lots of funders who all of a sudden might be interested in those things. I think the best example was the National Endowment for the Arts. Under the previous director, it went to all of the federal agencies and said, “How can we advance your interests?” and as result of that, there became money available for arts activities from the Department of Education, from Health and Human Services, from Housing and Urban Development, and of course my favorite, the Department of Defense You don’t think of this as, “Okay, I’m all of a sudden going to do all of these new things that I can’t afford to do any new things.”
It’s really twofold. You’re going to look at thinking differently, changing habits of mind, and then build on that. You want to do it slowly because especially if you are developing relationships with communities that you don’t have a relationship with, they’re going to wonder why you’re there and suspect your motives. “You just want me to donate money or you just want to sell me a ticket?” So, you need to spend time building trust. That is going to be a time-consuming process. You don’t want to try to do too much, too soon. Sometimes in a workshop, although I’ve stopped doing this certainly over the last six months or so, I would go out into the audience, get down on my knee, had asked someone to marry me, and then I would stand up and look around and say, “Okay, how creepy is that?” and that is what too many arts organizations attempt to do when they get bitten by the Community Engagement Bug. You got to realize that, and this at the workshops, is if you ever have a question about what next to do in community engagement, think what you would do in the context of trying to develop a relationship with a new person. You’re attracted to them, but you don’t know them. Get someone to introduce you as has just one example,
Dolph Goldenburg: That’s the way a lot of organizations approach fundraising, too. You kind of look at it like you’re courting somebody. Whenever we talk about time and the nonprofit sector, we’re also really talking about money because for the most part we’re paying staff. I know you mentioned a little bit about funding, but if an organization is interested in getting started and community engagement, what are some ways they can raise the money necessary to do this community engagement work?
Doug Borwick: The very first thing is you don’t need the money at the beginning. You need to think differently and do things differently. At least I’ve spent most of my time talking about community engagement as it applies to the arts, you know, so that I haven’t really thought through, for instance, the social service agency. One of the things that you can do is identify advocates in the community that you want to develop the relationships with and have them become liaisons to that community. Another possibility would be board members. You know, we always look at board members as resources, but the only resource we think of is money, but if you’re interested in community engagement, there is nothing so valuable as street cred in the community you’re with which you are trying to engage. Having someone on the board with that credibility in the community in some cases can be even more valuable than money because you can’t buy credibility. I would say don’t immediately go to where’s the money going to come from to do all of these new things.
I think you begin with first, how does thinking about this differently affect the work? Then what are some things we can do using… volunteers, but the word volunteer has such a connotation. What I’m really talking about is relationship assistance, people who can, who can help in the relationship building process, who are sufficiently interested in their communities or in their organization that they are willing to do this without being paid and then begin to think about, “Okay, we want to do new things. Where can the money come from for that?”
Dolph Goldenburg: Doug, we’re just about to wrap up, but before we do, I need to ask you the Off-the-Map question. For our listeners who maybe are tuning in for the first time ever, the Off-the-Map question is typically a question that is not at all related, are only tangentially related to what we’re talking about today, but it allows listeners to get to know you a little bit more as a person. I know that you are a composer.
You are registered with ASCAP, so I’ve got to ask you this question. Is there a piece of music that has dramatically changed your life and if so, what piece of music and how did it change your life to change?
Doug Borwick: The life part is different from what musicians usually get asked. I’m thrilled then that I asked you a question and you’re not asked all the time. Let me hedge by beginning with an answer that is not about music. One of the most powerful arts experiences I’ve ever had was walking into the museum of modern art into the room where Guernica was hanging. This shows my age because it hasn’t been there for quite a while, but it was a visceral experience. I almost had the breath sucked out of me. It was so powerful, and that is one of the things that I’ve used to think through the difference between and the relationship between what I call visceral art and reflective art. Visceral grabs you, and with reflective, there’s more every time you go back to it. In terms of responding to your question, let me talk about some important pieces to me and see if I can get to a changed-my-life part of them. One is Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods again. The, I remember the first time I saw it thinking this is as close to a perfect musical as I’ve ever seen, and the reflections on the human experience and being in the moment all of those were important. Another one is Mozart’s Requiem, and I think that as much as anything else is, and I’m going to say simply, but that really doesn’t do justice to the word nor the to the work is one of the most powerful pieces of music that I’ve ever experienced. I’ve had the good fortune to conduct it twice and that was way fun. Then a variety of works by Stravinsky I would probably point to Write a Spring, but there are many of them that are in the same category, the Bartok String Quartets, all of which are about four for me, about demonstrating the power of the music to influence my life in a way that suggests the importance of art as an aesthetic in itself, and when I say that, some people say, “What you’re talking about is not necessarily that,” well, what I’m talking about is making situation in which people can come to the power that the art has in ways that we don’t touch on.
Right now, most of the nonprofit arts industry is serving – it’s a different subset in each of the arts – but at most five, seven, eight percent of a population. What a waste that you have, 95, 93, 92 percent that are not taking advantage of that.
Dolph Goldenburg: Well, Doug, thank you so much for being with us on the podcast today. I always want to leave listeners ways that they can know more about you. The first thing they can do is they can go to your website www.artsengaged.com, and at that website, I would strongly recommend the listeners, check out your engagement essential oils, and that includes the Eight-Fold Path to Community Engagement. I actually read that myself and found it incredibly useful. At your website, they can also learn about your advocacy training and consulting services. Now, for listeners that want to reach out to you on social media, I understand that you are burning up Twitter at www.twitter.com/@Dougborwick . Doug, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Doug Borwick: It’s a total pleasure.
Dolph Goldenburg Every nonprofit could use more supporters who are evangelists and ambassadors, and Doug has laid out a great way to build your support or community through engagement. Another totally made up statistic is that 96 percent of all podcast listeners do not have a pen in their hand while listening. I’d actually be willing to bet is probably 98 or 99 percent. I don’t know what for made up the 96 percent statistic, but if you did not have a pen in your hand and you need Doug’s consulting firm’s URL, that’s arts engaged.com. But again, if you don’t have a pen, you probably remember www.successfulnonprofits.com. Go there for our show notes on this episode. We will link to his consulting firm Arts Engaged. We will also link to his book Engage Now: A Guide to Making the Arts Indispensable. Now, if you found this episode helpful, please share it with a colleague, a supervisor, or a board member. Nothing shows your colleagues and the people around you that you really care about the work that you do as much as saying, “Hey, in my free time while I’m on the subway or mowing the lawn or whatever, I am building my skill by listening to this podcast.” Brag on yourself a little bit and help other people out. That’s our show for this week. I hope you have gained some insight that will help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.
(Disclaimer) I’m not an accountant or attorney, and neither I nor the Successful Nonprofits™ provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been providing for informational purposes only and is not intended or should not be relied on for tax, legal or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified licensed professional about such matters.