Arts Organizations

From the archive: Feed your board Indian Food

We  just finished panel season here at the arts council. It’s a grueling month-long process wherein applications to our grants and programs are reviewed by panels composed of arts experts from around the country. The well-designed process is worth the effort to ensure that all applicants receive fair and extensive consideration. Today we were able to relax and eat Indian food for lunch over at the Mero Street Cafe, and it reminded me of this post from Aug. 10, 2011. For those of you that came to the Tiers 1 through 4 Kentucky Arts Partnership grant panel review, you’ll know that board diversity is definitely still on the menu in FY2013! 

What do you think of when you envision cafeteria food in a state government facility? Meat loaf? Carrot coins? Jell-O? I bet it isn’t chicken tikka masala or vegetable korma, but that’s what Kentucky workers get treated to every Wednesday* at the Mero Street Café (located in the Kentucky Department of Transportation building). The story of how this came to be is interesting and holds an important lesson for arts organizations.

Food Operations Manager Mike Vaughn considers Indian food a personal favorite—the ultimate comfort food. It’s something he has wanted to offer for a while and even slipped it in as a Friday chef’s special a few times. Mike also noticed that many Indian state government workers would come to the Mero Street dining room to eat but would bring their own lunch. Rather than letting possible, regular customers slip through his fingers he made up a menu and approached some Indian workers to approve the selections. On Wednesday, July 20, 2011, the Mero Street Café offered an Indian food bar for the first time. It was a success. One diner even sent her recipe for biryani to add to the menu. Word spread. By the following Wednesday, there was a line out the door composed of people who have eaten Indian food from the time they were born to people trying it for the first time and everything in between. State workers were actually flocking from agencies and buildings located in other parts of town.

When has variety ever been a problem?

Our’s comes in segmented Styrofoam boxes, but you get the idea.

Mike is proud of the selection offered by the Mero Street Café, and he would like to offer some new cuisines in the future, including Thai and Chinese. An urge to try something different paired with a desire to serve a neglected, potential-consumer base led to a packed house. So what does this have to do with the arts? The answer is, everything.

Audience development is a daunting buzz term for arts administrators. It’s something you hear, it’s something you want to do, but how to do it is a little scary. In order to grow your patronage, you may risk alienating your die-hard supporters. But here are the lessons we can take from Mike’s risk: 1) People have an image of the type of programs you offer on your “buffet,” whether their image is based in truth or not. 2) In order to grow your patronage and dispel some falsehoods, you must diversify your target audiences. 3) To get those target audiences into your space, you need to be relevant to them. 4) To be relevant to them you have to give them a voice in your decision-making.

You should look around your community and identify the people who are not taking advantage of your arts programming. Then you need to ask them why and what to do about it while they are in an empowered position to propose some answers. The best place to start is by offering representation on your advisory board and/or board of directors. People want to see themselves in the arts programming they view, hear or participate in, and luckily there are just as many people who want to try something new. If you don’t believe me, come to Frankfort on a Wednesday to have lunch with us.

* Nowadays the Indian food bar isn’t every Wednesday, but on the Wednesdays when it is available the house is packed. 

Sarah Schmitt, arts access director

Categories: Arts Organizations | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Adults behaving like children

This past Thursday, nearly fifty grown men and women from across the Commonwealth met in a gymnasium at the Cabbage Patch Settlement House in Old Louisville. After improvising a fake talk show where the topic was “the shrinking ecosystem of the big foot,” they passed an imaginary ball around a circle while screaming, “whoosh,” “erk” and “bridge.”

I was one of them.

Some might call this kid’s stuff, tom foolery or even nonesense, but these were part of the hands-on, sample activities during the annual ArtsReach seminar. For two days every March, community groups, social service organizations, juvenile facilities, artists, arts organizations and anyone else who wants to bring arts into the lives of underserved people, meet to make connections and learn new ways to meet their goals.

ArtsReach is an innovative two-prong program of the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts in conjunction with the Kentucky Arts Council. The Kentucky Center partners with community groups in Louisville to provide arts experiences for people who might not otherwise have these opportunities. The long-standing Louisville program serves as a model to ArtsReach Kentucky, which fosters several partnerships between community groups and arts organizations statewide. Ashland, Paducah, Hopkinsville, Frankfort, Elizabethtown and Mt. Sterling all have programs, and the list is growing.

These mutually beneficial programs are invaluable to Kentucky communities, as is the network among the entire program’s particpants. This is why get together every March to  share our success stories…and possibly make art from duct tape.

Sarah Schmitt, arts access director

Categories: Arts Advocacy, Arts Organizations, Performing Arts, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , ,

The five stages of death…I mean grant writing

It feels like the grant and program season is about to officially kickoff here at the arts council, but that’s just our minds playing tricks on us. The reality is that grants and programs are like the scenery in a Tom and Jerry cartoon: there is no beginning or end. We just circle around and around, breezing past the same end table and easy chair over and over as we chase our mouse. The cat cannot catch the mouse; otherwise the hilarity will end. We can’t stop running either (for obvious reasons), nor do we want to (even when the chase speeds up to a blur).

Meh. Cartoon houses ain't so bad...once you get used to seeing the same floor lamp every four feet.


I’m going to take this new beginning, no matter how illusory, to cheer on those of you who are about to write an FY2013 grant or apply to join a Kentucky Arts Council program. This is not an easy process, and it’s that way for a reason. We want to make sure that those who are adjudicated into our programs and receive grant funding are the absolute best that the Commonwealth has to offer. By accepting nothing but excellence, it is guaranteed that if you are successful in your application your cohort will be a “who’s who” and not a “who cares?”

Be assured that we are empathetic. Many arts council staff have experience applying for grants and programs in previous careers, and we apply for federal and regional opportunities as an agency. It gets pretty “Kübler-Ross” around here in August, although I think people who write grants have their own five phases:

Excitement — “I can totally do this! My work was made for this program. I have great ideas, and they would be crazy not to accept me. If I am accepted I would be among the best, and it would do great things for my business. I am going to assemble my work samples and complete this application the day it opens!”

Apprehension/Anxiety — “Oh no. The application opens tomorrow. Maybe I shouldn’t leap into this with both feet. We could use a few years to grow. Dang—I wish I hadn’t already told the board I would do this, because now I have to.”

Procrastination — “Well, I have until Jan. 15 to get this done. I’ll take a step back and collect some more supporting materials. Besides, it’s almost Thanksgiving, everyone will be off next week and we can’t work on it then. Then we’ll be in the middle of presenting the “Nutcracker,” and people will be in and out the entire month for the holidays—no use trying to coordinate anything in December. We’ll just start fresh on this in the New Year.

Rage — “Why did they change the blankity-blank requirements again? What the bleep is a DUNS number, and why do they need one? I don’t know why anyone puts up with this bleepity-blank just to get a few measly dollars!”

Letting Go— “It’s 11 p.m. on Jan. 14. Everyone else left hours ago! I’m going home. This is done whether it’s finished or not. I feel like I have spent half my life doing this. If they don’t know me by now, they will never ever know me. Oooooh.”

Sound familiar? Please add your own.

Sarah Schmitt, arts access director

Categories: Arts Organizations, Other | Tags: ,

5 accessibility solutions for little or no cost

The most common question I am asked is, “How can I provide access when I don’t have the money to change my building or buy expensive equipment?” Luckily, most access solutions are just good customer service. Providing access is often just an extra step, not an extra dollar. Here are a few tips for providing a universally enjoyable arts experience without breaking the bank.

1.       Provide large-print programs and publications.

In order to provide large-print versions of your published materials, you do not necessarily have to do a special printing order. You can simply provide the text version directly from your word processor (without the distracting images and swirly type) enlarged to at least a 16 point font.

2.       Caption YouTube videos.

YouTube allows users to attach transcripts or caption files to uploaded videos in order to provide captions. YouTube is also in the beta-testing phase of providing auto-captioning using voice recognition software. Warning—it is not perfect! You may get a clear caption or you may get laughable gibberish, but it is worth trying to help them develop a better product. You can find information on captioning YouTube videos here.

3.       Use an accessible font.

Fancy serif fonts are difficult to read for people with low vision, and the general population is also bored with them. Use Arial or something similar when applying fonts to print or Web text. The American Printing House for the Blind has developed an optimal font for people with low vision, which you can download here for free. You must certify that this font will be used for or by a person with a visual impairment before downloading.

4.       Provide a “cool-down” area.

Arts experiences can be powerful in the education and social development for persons on the autism disorder spectrum. Museums and galleries offer immersive experiences in specific interests that schools can’t always provide, and plays can present information about perceptions and emotions of others through the conventions of theater. These events can also be overwhelming even for someone without autism. Providing a designated area where people and families can relax and get away from all the stimuli in a public space may help a wide-range of people in your audience.

5.       Advertise what you do have!

Often your patrons just want information ahead of time in order to get the most out of your programs, performances and exhibits. Make sure to advertise the access services you do provide by using the universal symbols for accessibility. Let patrons know on your website that you have a cool-down area and that large-print versions of your program are available upon request. Don’t keep your efforts a secret.

Bonus Tip: Don’t be afraid to be creative! Check out an example from London nightclubs.

Sarah Schmitt, arts access director

Categories: Arts Organizations | Tags:

Feed your board Indian food

What do you think of when you envision cafeteria food in a state government facility? Meat loaf? Carrot coins? Jell-O? I bet it isn’t chicken tikka masala or vegetable korma, but that’s what Kentucky workers get treated to every Wednesday at the Mero Street Café (located in the Kentucky Department of Transportation building). The story of how this came to be is interesting and holds an important lesson for arts organizations.

Food Operations Manager Mike Vaughn considers Indian food a personal favorite—the ultimate comfort food. It’s something he has wanted to offer for a while and even slipped it in as a Friday chef’s special a few times. Mike also noticed that many Indian state government workers would come to the Mero Street dining room to eat but would bring their own lunch. Rather than letting possible, regular customers slip through his fingers he made up a menu and approached some Indian workers to approve the selections. On Wednesday, July 20, 2011, the Mero Street Café offered an Indian food bar for the first time. It was a success. One diner even sent her recipe for biryani to add to the menu. Word spread. By the following Wednesday, there was a line out the door composed of people who have eaten Indian food from the time they were born to people trying it for the first time and everything in between. State workers were actually flocking from agencies and buildings located in other parts of town.

When has variety ever been a problem?

Mike is proud of the selection offered by the Mero Street Café, and he would like to offer some new cuisines in the future, including Thai and Chinese. An urge to try something different paired with a desire to serve a neglected, potential-consumer base led to a packed house. So what does this have to do with the arts? The answer is, everything.

Audience development is a daunting buzz term for arts administrators. It’s something you hear, it’s something you want to do, but how to do it is a little scary. In order to grow your patronage, you may risk alienating your die-hard supporters. But here are the lessons we can take from Mike’s risk: 1) People have an image of the type of programs you offer on your “buffet,” whether their image is based in truth or not. 2) In order to grow your patronage and dispel some falsehoods, you must diversify your target audiences. 3) To get those target audiences into your space, you need to be relevant to them. 4) To be relevant to them you have to give them a voice in your decision-making.

You should look around your community and identify the people who are not taking advantage of your arts programming. Then you need to ask them why and what to do about it while they are in an empowered position to propose some answers. The best place to start is by offering representation on your advisory board and/or board of directors. People want to see themselves in the arts programming they view, hear or participate in, and luckily there are just as many people who want to try something new. If you don’t believe me, come to Frankfort on a Wednesday to have lunch with us.

Sarah Schmitt, arts access director

Categories: Arts Organizations | Tags: ,

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