Measuring Success: It’s Okay to Be Art

An Interview with Isis Ferguson, Associate Director of City + Community Strategy Part II of the series on the challenges and methods on making arts organizations and museums more accessible, diverse and inclusive I had the privilege of talking with Isis Ferguson, Associate Director of City + Community Strategy at Chicago's  Place Lab .  She shared with me her unique take on the role of traditional measurement in successful outreach. From the moment our conversation began, her commitment to social change was clear. Ferguson has her feet on the ground on Chicago’s South Side, where she both lives and works. In her role at the Place Lab (a partnership between University of Chicago's Arts + Public Life initiative and the Harris School of Public Policy), Ferguson is part of a collaborative team of seven professionals devoted to Place Lab being "a catalyst for mindful urban transformation and creative redevelopment for equitable and livable cities." Together the


Today:  How to measure success?   Funding has creating an almost unbridgeable gap between numbers and the lives they represent. A nonprofit is driven by its vision, for example “changing the world, one child at a time”. But how exactly? The nonprofit will build accessible playgrounds for young children between the ages of one and five. The playgrounds will be built in low-income neighborhoods with very limited green space. Not only is it a beautiful vision, it’s a practical vision.  Children who had nowhere to play outdoors now have a place.  Children who play outside are healthy children.  Children who play outside are happy children. With the goal set, the nonprofit does just as promised, designs and builds the accessible playground. The community response is positive; the families bring their children.  The kids playing are happier and healthier.  Were there challenges? Yes.  Were they insurmountable?  No.  In other words, the project worked. Can we prove it? Did w


It has been a long time since I pondered my mission in life, I'll still never get past addressing homelessness, mental illness and the effects of poverty on children. That said, I find that community is at the center of it all.  And, taking a step to the side here,  art is at the center of community.  Art programs for inner city children, art for the sake of art, art to remind us who we are. I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and my parents still reside there.  The area is called "Terror Town" by the sensationalist local news.  People I grew up with are still there (Zealous, across the street, and Theresa Moore around the way), but most are long moved away.  My parents love Mrs. Glinzy on the corner. Neighbor's Chuck and Jen dug us out of a storm with his snow blower this winter. The next neighborhood over, is the University of Chicago in Hyde Park, academics and affluence and also the stomping grounds of Saul Alinsky and the Obama's.  Hyde Park put soci


Who loves museums?  Who currently comes to museums? Should we broaden this audience?  And if so, how?  What pitfalls are there along the way? I love museums.   Who doesn’t?  Turns out that is a complex question. Michelle Obama shed light on the question in her opening remarks at the Whitney Museum.  She pointed out that not all people feel museums are a welcoming place: "…there are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers and … think to themselves…that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood.  In fact, I guarantee you that right now, there are kids living less than a mile from here who would never in a million years dream that they would be welcome in this museum. And growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I was one of those kids myself.  So I know that feeling of not belonging in a place like this.  And today, as First Lady, I know how that feeling limits


"Actions believed to alleviate the difficulties of a city can actually make matters worse."  Jay W. Forrester Jay Forrester penned his revolutionary article " The Counterintuitive Nature of Social Systems " (link to pdf full article) back in 1971. His article is as relevant today as the day it was published.   Since 40 year old academic articles aren't likely to reach the public, I think it's a good time to revisit this masterpiece. His article examines "four common programs for improving the depressed nature of central cities: ...creation of jobs by busing the unemployed to suburban jobs or through governmental jobs as employer of last resort; a training program to increase skills of the lowest-income group; financial aid to depressed cities from federal subsidies; and construction of low-cost housing.  All of these were shown to lie between neutral and highly detrimental . Forrester's investigation shows "how depressed area


I attended a conference on non-profit policy. It was a conference, like a dozen others I’ve attended over the years. At the breakfast talk I was half asleep, but the keynote was so electrifying that I woke right up. After the talk, as I stood in line to talk to the keynote speaker, I said hello to Flo Green the Executive Director of the organization sponsoring the conference. We started talking about how ironic it is that nonprofits have come under attack for being too much “like a business”. We've all been working so hard for the past twenty years to have the work done by non-profits taken seriously. The approach being to emphasize that we were no different than any other business: professional, hard working, corporate, etc. And now we find the entire non-profit sector under attack, because if you can’t tell the difference between us and a business then maybe we don’t qualify for the much sought after IRS tax-exemption. How ironic to achieve SO much success that we could lose it


Disclaimer: this is a "from the trenches" opinion piece written by a nonprofit finance director who lived through the transition from pre to post FASB Statements 116 & 117. Please click the "summary" and "status" links to read the full text of the statements and consult your independent auditor for final interpretation. Both Statements were effective December 15, 1994 for nonprofits with over $1 million in annual expenses and over $5 million in total assets. Statement No. 116 Accounting for Contributions Received and Contributions Made (Issue Date 6/93) [Summary] [Status] This Statement radically changed (and standardized) the way nonprofits reflect income. Generally, Statement 116 requires that contributions are recognized in the period received. Why was the change radical? Pre-116, nonprofits received multi-year funding and reflected only the portion for the current fiscal year. The remainder was held in a balance sheet account known as &qu