Introducing a new feature here, Pull Quotes, which will feature a few thoughts from several people in the #2amt tag on Twitter. This time around, we’re following up on our earlier post about programs like Chase Community Giving and Pepsi’s Refresh Everything project.
Feel free to chime in with comments and join the conversation.
Chase considers Arts and Culture to be viable charities. So do I.
However, if it makes you feel icky to ask for votes for a theatre company, you can vote for primary and secondary education, youth development, healthcare, housing, community development, the environment, combating hunger, human services, and animal welfare. (And, if it makes you feel icky, in general, to participate in this competition then just put a bubble over your head for the next 18 days. It’ll be over soon. No need to worry.)
Which brings me to my favorite part of this particular competition.
You can vote for what you believe in and you can know your vote counts. Or, on the other hand, you don’t have to vote. It’s your choice. But, above all else, a choice is given to the people, the fans, the supporters, the believers. The people have the say. The little guys can win if they try. It’s an equal playing field. And, once you vote, you can vote for 19 other charities so you can help out your fellow community. It’s very much about the give and take.
You don’t have to donate a penny to a charity, though, of course, the charities will use your pennies wisely.
It takes a few seconds to vote for your chosen charities. It’s as hands off as it gets. You don’t have to open a Chase Banking Account. They’re not passing out t-shirts to wear. Once the contest ends, you can remove the application. Done and done.
Rebecca Zellar is the artistic director of the GreyZelda Theatre Company in Chicago. Follow her company on Twitter: @GreyZelda
I take the pretty darn unpopular view that the Chase grant is encouraging some of our worst theater-to-audience relationship behaviors. I get why this is unpopular. Is this is some of the easiest money to be had right now? Absolutely. Theatres, even small theatres, DO get these grants with as few as 2,000 – 5,000 votes. And yet, I’ve chosen to not participate at this stage even when both of my theaters might really be able to benefit. Why? What’s the catch?
Look no further than my facebook wall. Like many Chicago theatregoers, I’m a facebook fan of dozens of theatre companies, about 20 of which are going for this grant. Each of those, to reach that 2,000 vote threshold, need to ask their fan base about 10 times to get out enough vote (which means each of their core fans ALSO asking 10 ten times to their network). If I’m connected to even three or four fans from each of these companies – In my case I’m usually connected to 20 – that means that ON FACEBOOK ALONE I’m getting asked to vote for someone or other 5 or 6 times a day.
Not gonna lie, that’s a waste of my time and makes me want to unplug my computer and unfan a bunch of people. It’s like a pledge drive without the promise of five minutes of Car Talk.
Here’s the damage: By playing this grant to win, we’re necessarily devaluing ourselves and our relationships to our fans. Our work has value, and we already have a tough time justifying that to our patrons. We will need our patrons’ support over the long haul to help make the case that their deep commitment to art in their life yielded massive rewards. Filling their facebook wall with spam disconnects current and future patrons to that value, and demands that they make a half-hearted commitment on faith paid for by Chase’s ad revenue. In addition, we lose our own messages and missions in the noise of Chase advertisements that eat our brands and identities for lunch. When you look at the theater communities’ message during Chase Community Giving season, it’s not “If you don’t have art, You don’t have a society,” (Chicago Mayor Daley during last week’s TCG Conference), it’s “Chase Community Giving — Help Blah Blah whatever win $20,000!.” Your theatre’s name isn’t even first. That’s not partnership, that’s hijacking of your mission in the name of advertising a bank.
Have you heard of a friend leaving facebook? This is why. I don’t care if facebook goes away, but I valuate the worth of my deep connections with my patrons and my audience far more than a single $20,000 grant. And I believe that IS the choice you make.
Nick Keenan is a Chicago-based theater artist, and his trades include sound design, web and graphics design, production management, and playwriting. Follow him on Twitter: @nickkeenan
A theater company sets an example when it proves that a particular convention is a choice rather than a necessity. Tickets are a necessary convention of putting on a show until someone demonstrates that they aren’t. Charging admission at the beginning of a performance is a given, until it’s not. Wednesdays are the best weekday for a matinee, until someone demonstrates otherwise. Similarly, the Chase Community Grant program breaks conventions of arts funding in some notable ways.
For the most part, theater companies are nearly powerless in an awards process, whether it is a foundation grant, a Tony award, or a rave review. A company makes the best work possible, presents it in the best possible way, writes the best possible proposal, and leaves it in someone’s hands to judge: a critic, an awards committee, a program officer. What strikes me about the Chase program is that it completely empowers the arts organization itself, eliminating any decision-making process on the part of the grantor.
In this way, it reminds me of corporations who choose to match employee donations in lieu of, or in addition to, an active giving program, similarly eliminating any process of proposal review, site visits, and evaluation.
At least among Chicago theater companies, the ones who benefit most are those who have cultivated the largest Facebook-using community—simply enough, they have the ability to earn the most votes from their supporters.
The exciting part here is that the program can reward a company that may not articulate itself well in proposal form, or even please critics, but nonetheless is building a following. Simply enough, the criteria for the award is unique: the most votes win.
Last year, two Chicago theater companies won the Chase award: Sideshow and The New Colony. Neither company was well known in funding circles or even among critics. However, they did demonstrate the ability to rally support and to execute a voting campaign. Just as the companies of tomorrow may rely less on earning the accolades of a daily-newspaper critic, these companies were rewarded based on a criteria separate from impressing traditional donors. They simply earned the most votes.
The Chase model will not replace the traditional model of grant proposals and site visits, nor should it. However, it does set a different metric for reward, and finds a different path to measuring a charity’s strength. It also creates a public competition in an era when public competition draws high ratings, versus the discreet process of applying and competing for philanthropic funding. The transparency, the simple score of tallying votes, and the egalitarian nature of the program make it an exciting and competitive addition to the ecosystem of arts funding in America.
Eric Ziegenhagen is a theater guy, music guy and idea guy. He’s based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter: @ericzieg.
Let’s get one thing straight: I want theater to be supported financially. The idea of theater companies in my town receiving $20,000 gets me all happy in the guts, be it from an individual, a foundation, or a dreaded corporation. But when we talk about the whoring that has become pervasive in the Chicago theater community surrounding the Chase Community Giving campaign, it has little to do with the money or where it comes from. The issue is how we are going about trying to get it.
Chase has thrown open the floodgates with their lax requirements. They’ve basically thrown cash on the table and said whoever does the best job getting to it wins. Unsurprisingly, this brings out the simplest, grabbiest behavior in us as humans. The deluge of vote requests on Twitter and Facebook (interesting that no one has asked me in person) has been endless. But it’s all been a mad dash to see who can get the most friends to ask their most friends to spend their votes. “It’s okay, you get 20! You can afford to use one on us!”
What I haven’t seen from anyone is a why. Am I supposed to give you a vote just because you make theatre and so do I? Because I’m a friend of yours? Because…. anything? I have companies whose work I’ve never seen asking me for their vote. Are they good people? Certainly. Does that mean I trust that they would use $20,000 more responsibly than Theater Company X or non-arts NFP Y? God, no. The closest anyone has come to giving me a reason to vote is The Hypocrites with their “We gave you Our Town, will you give us your vote?” campaign. Yeah, it’s a little shallow, but it’s honest and I certainly can’t argue with the premise.
I don’t deal well with popularity contests, which reward the loudest and most well-connected participants with absolutely no regard to value. Such is the situation here, where Chase has washed their hands of the value side of things. This means it’s up to the participants to grab the slack. You want my vote? Prove you’re better than an outstretched hand.
Chase is getting far more marketing out of this than the cash they’re spending, and that creative thinking is why they are in the seat of power in this conversation. We purport to be creative types; find a way to make this worth more than a one-time $20,000 payment. Use Community Giving to increase your presence in your own community. To find new audience (and not just to ask for a vote). To build ongoing publicity. The example that came to my mind was to unify Chicago theatres in asking for votes for a single cause (Season of Concern or another arts-related *actual* charity), rather than fighting to get their own outstretched hand slightly more prominent. But that’s just one possibility (and one vote).
We can fight each other and annoy at least part of our audience/peer group to get one show or one season paid for. Or we can work towards something bigger, bolder, and wider reaching. “I want money” is a subpar message the first time and grating the next fifty. We claim to be storytellers; let’s come up with something worthy of a story. It may not be how we get $20,000, but it’s how we get attention. It’s how we get new eyes and ears.
It’s how we get my vote.
Bries Vannon is a company member with Signal Ensemble Theatre, The Right Brain Project, and WNEP Theater, none of which he has voted for. He is also the creator of The Nine, an ongoing performance series.Follow him on Twitter: @TheNineChicago.