Olympic logoIt’s Olympic time!

Here’s the crazy thing—yes, I love the Olympics. I love watching them. I love that occasionally, people I know are involved, and I can route extra hard for them. I love the power and grace of the human form focused with intention…it is so beautiful, and for me, so very artistic, and I don’t just mean figure skating.

 What an excellent opportunity for the youth of the world to see the connections between sport and art, between strength and grace! And since the Olympics are supposed to foster peace and understanding, it’s a great chance to bolster cultural coffers, and bring attention and much-needed funds to wonderful, successful cultural programs in the non-profit sector. And it could be funded by corporate sponsors!

Yeah, and I’d like a pony and nutritious gelato, thanks.

Although we have heard some news about Sochi and can anticipate shocking post-game revelations, I’d like to focus on the prior Winter Olympics, the ones in Vancouver. In a nutshell, funding streams for the arts (and other charities) were diverted to feed the Olympic machine. Yes, these funds were used in part to fund BC performers at the Games… but at the cost of funding nearly everything else. Hopefully, this re-examination will bring re-flection and re-investment!

In 2010, the Alliance for Arts and Culture revealed that 44 per cent of the arts and culture organizations that received the grants last year didn’t get them, predicted that provincial cuts to arts funding would total 92 per cent by 2011-12, which was not far from the mark. In an online interview in 2010-11, Keith Higgins, the President of PAARC (Pacific Association of Artist Run Centres) and the Director of the Helen Pitt Gallery, weighed in on these cuts:

Q – The Helen Pitt Gallery, like many small arts organizations, has been severely impacted by the cuts to arts funding. Can you describe the impacts of these cuts and what it means to the day-to-day work for these organizations?

A – In the Pitt’s case, some massive budget changes had to be made quickly if the organization was to be able to survive at all. In August 2009, the B.C. government cut off Gaming Direct Access grants, not just to the arts, but to a whole range of charities. This was a familiar Campbell action: the arbitrary tearing-up of an agreement when it somehow doesn’t suit them any more. The grants of casino revenue to charities has been used to justify the ongoing expansion of casinos, and these charities found that they had been played: their support for expansion had been bought on the basis of future benefits that now are not going to materialize.

As I said, the Pitt’s response was rapid. There are a limited number of expense items that you can cut in an artist-run organization, because we are extremely efficient: exhibitions in typical municipal galleries usually cost more than ten times what we spend. So, the lease on the gallery’s premises — this is Vancouver, so suitable space is not cheap — and salary for the Director/Curator were the only things that could be cut to compensate for the shortfall.
50% cuts were made to the B.C. Arts Council in the March 2010 budget. The consequences of those cuts are still working their way through the system, but the performing arts and literary non-profits that have already been juried are seeing 60% and 75% cuts to what was a low level of support already. Some organizations are being cut completely, and I’m now working on the assumption that as of January next year, when the juries for visual art and media art organizations have been convened, the Helen Pitt Gallery will have zero support from the B.C. Government.”

In 2011, $7 million was restored to federal funds….which brought the provincial arts spending UP to $6.50 per capita in BC, as compared to the $26 per capita national average, and the cuts/diversions to arts-funding streams were still being felt across the country. Here’s this from cbc.ca news in 2011:

On Monday, SummerWorks, an acclaimed Toronto indie theatre festival, announced it had lost its federal funding. The festival made headlines last year after staging “Homegrown,” a play about a convicted terrorist, a member of the group known as the Toronto 18.

In a note posted on its blog, the festival said it had received federal funding for five straight years — totalling $140,000 — and was surprised to learn it would not get more money this year.

But Flaherty says arts organizations should not set their budgets assuming they’ll get government funds.

“One thing I’d say, and maybe it’s different than it used to be, is we actually don’t believe in festivals and cultural institutions assuming that year after year after year they’ll receive government funding,” Flaherty said.


I spend a few weeks each year in British Columbia, partly to visit friends and take in the lush scenery, View in summerlandand partly as an invited Teaching Artist. Arts funding has still not been restored, and incredible projects that run the gamut from teen Shakepeare to community and after-school arts programs for at-risk teens continue to wither and die. The Legacy of the Olympics—especially considering their high-profile arts performances –should be to INCREASE art and cultural funding, not decrease it.

Will we see a positive arts legacy from the Sochi Games? If only.

And I still want a pony.

Shearwater Productions at a glanceAs 2013 comes to a close, many folks will reflect on work-related successes and challenges of this past year and set business goals for 2014. For many of us, looking at product quality and net earnings (or losses) is primary, whether we are theatre teachers having to make do with a smaller budget but wanting to increase performance and production values or we are independent contractors looking to streamline process without compromising quality.

For a change of pace, why not do a ‘year in review’ as a performance assessment on yourself as your own boss and employee? Most of my readers are in charge of their own work, whether as educators, project leaders, or writers/artists, and don’t have the opportunity to have structured feedback. Here’s a few quick questions to take a different look at how your work year went. May 2014 bring you and your business some peace and prosperity!

Are You a Good Boss to Yourself?

1) Set Reasonable Goals

We know when someone else is being unrealistic about what can be accomplished in a work day. We are also able to skulls of overwhelmingnesstell when we will have to give up personal/family time to accomplish the extra tasks and (hopefully) are politely vocal about negotiating through that experience. BUT how many of us use the same standards of ‘reasonableness’ for ourselves? Too often, you awesome people who fit this blog’s demographic keep adding to the list of “What MUST Be Done Today” at the expense of what would typically be personal and family time (or even sleep and eat time). Sure, everyone puts in overtime sometimes, and many people work 60 hours in a week because they need to have two jobs. Having too many days that are 18-20 hours of work or too many 80+ hour work-weeks means not enough time-investment into all of the other things that make a life. I am NOTORIOUS for doing this, and have had to actually clock myself in and out, schedule friend and family time (as in “put it on the work calendar”) and have my computer be the one projecting a movie (so I can’t go on it and work) to help myself be a better boss. PLUS, a new study shows increased downtime actually INCREASES productivity!

2) Outline Clear Expectations

Vagueness about what the task/goal is and the steps involved prompts us to grumble about laziness and lack of preparation/foresight when someone else is the boss. But when we are our own boss, we too often skimp on that step, hoping to save time by smushing it into the manifestation stage. After all, it’s all in our own brain, right? We know what we mean. Why waste the time? Yee-ah, except it doesn’t work that way. We actually save overall time when we “front load” the project by taking the time to think it out clearly, even when we are the only person involved. The Mayo Clinic suggests planning also helps reduce stress (click here to see their suggestions).

3) Be Nice

Treat yourself the way the Best Boss Ever would treat you!

Are You a Good Employee for Yourself?

1) Put in a Real Work Week

Zoe on Computer   Many of you work way too hard. BUT some of you perhaps only feel like you are putting in a real 40 hours of work time. I know freelancers who spend hours on a computer…but much of it is playing games or going on facebook. I am by no means saying thinking/brainstorming activities are not work—I am saying games, facebook, and the like are not thinking/brainstorming activities. Create job categories that are right for you (marketing, drafting, practicing, prep, etc), do an actual clock-in/clock-out for two weeks, and see how you spend your time. No matter what turns up, it will give you a clearer idea of how your time is spent and if you’re a freelancer, perhaps that will help you better price your product (I know artists that forget to count time spent buying supplies and re-imaging failed versions of product). You might also find that checking in this way increases productivity. It’s not something to do all the time, because yes, it is annoying. But when used every once in a while, it’s a useful tool!

2) Create a Road Map for Achieving Specific Goals

So ‘your boss’ has laid out some long term, short term, and immediate goals for you, written down some suggestions, and left it to you. How do you take the right steps to achieving those goals? Personally, I find it helpful to work backwards from the desired outcome (and be as specific as possible about exactly what success looks like) as though someone else were doing it. There are certain things I hate doing or avoid and other things I enjoy, and if I subconsciously imagine myself as the person doing all the steps, I tend to leave the horrible ones out, OR put them in and feel increasingly depressed to the point where it seems impossible. By imagining someone else doing the steps, I don’t miss any. I tend to write these down on a big sheet of paper, leaving spaces between. If you are a computer-note-taker, here’s an article on the top 5 idea-mapping software apps.

Then, I try to figure out details of accomplishing each bit (in a different color), including how to ACTUALLY have someone else do the heinous bits or ways to make them less heinous for myself. Sometimes a task-swap is the way to go, or sharing the cost of, say, an outreach campaign with another project leader by finding a way to link the businesses.

3) Be Nice!

As odd as it sounds, saying things like, “That is actually really well thought out” when you pick up the plan you made for yourself last week or yesterday really makes a difference. When ‘your boss’ has done a good job, say so, out loud, even if it’s under your breath. Believe it or not, the ‘out loud’ part makes a huge impact.

Wishing you all the best for 2014!!

P.S. All the photos but the mindmap are my own (thanks to Thomas Hoebbel Video-Photo), and the mind map image is a free download.

holly is stressedI have been struggling with this blog post for two weeks, writing bits and pieces of three different articles, leaving all of them half-finished in the unbelievable blizzard of crazy activity that is my life at the moment. However, when I finally got the opportunity to sit down and concentrate……. nothing. Minutes flow by. Still nothing. I squeeze my brain like a tube of toothpaste, and when nothing comes out, I decide to flip through some unread business-related email.

In my Voiceover email pile are some Tips from the great Bob Bergen, one of which is,Never audition to please. The only one to please at an audition is you. You have to take the pressure out of being liked and just love the journey.Although I myself have given similar advice both to myself and others about stage acting auditions, it is still something I need to remember in other circumstances, like VO auditions AND…like writing.

Suddenly it occurs to me that I cannot seem to finish these articles because I am trying to please a formula or a hot tagged item, rather than writing what resonates for my readers–artists, educators, and community organizers like myself.

Yes, we all have guidelines we need to follow and yes, we all must create work with and towards a specific purpose in a process that includes multiple stakeholders and visions. BUT we will be most efficient, compelling, and happy when we do so by going with our own flow or ‘starting from where we are, rather than where we wish we were’ as a wise friend used to say. Personally, I often get caught up in trying to fit into ‘what I am supposed to do’ without remembering that I myself am one of the stakeholders, and I sometimes forget that happiness in fulfilling a requirement is a good thing to strive for.

My tip for this week is this: Take a look at what you have to do (your ‘should’ list), and see if you can put yourself/your current actual state of mind or emotion, your immediate delights, passions, or
perspectives back into the equation. The most important stakeholder whose needs must be met is the person actually carrying out the task…and that person is you. It’s not selfish to make sure your needs are part of the equation—it’s what makes the work

Keep on Rockin’, you awesome movers and shakers….

This week’s blog was going to highlight some techniques for developing curriculum in a new way, for breathing new life and perspective into a regular project. Turns out that will be next week’s blog.

This week, I want to remind you of what I have just been reminded of—that a shift in our physical working space or place manifests in a shift or working thinking and an increased capacity for creative problem solving.

As an arts-in-ed fanatic, I know (thanks to neuro-research) that using arts modalities to teach academic content uses multiple neuro-pathways, creates emotional engagement (which in turn stimulates memory) and is based in interrogative process, rather than passive info-consumption (and so on—you have heard me go on about this before). The amazing Gary Anaka, a leader in the area of brain research and thinking processes (http://www.braincoach.ca), says that when the body is moving, the brain is engaged, and that changing the environment and methodology frequently stimulates active rather than passive thought. Gary Anaka and I were both keynote speakers at a professional development conference for teachers in British Columbia last week, and he is absolutely fabulous, by the way.

But I still managed to forget how profoundly simply being in a completely different location, having the movement be to a drastically different environment, can alter not only what I am thinking, but how I am thinking. Okay, sure, as an actor, I know I can change my thought process and my point of view about something by going into a different room in my house or by changing my clothes (my ‘costume’, so to speak). This technique works for everyone, by the way, not just actors (although folks with any acting training may respond more deeply).

This week, however, I travelled from my home in the lushly green Finger Lakes region of upstate NY to the Summerland area of the Okanagan Valley in BC—with its sandy cliffs covered in sagebrush, sparsely firred steep hillsides, and low-lying vineyards with their tuscan-esque homes rolling down from a bright sky to the enormous lake below. My brain did a double take.

The sounds are different. The wind is different. The smells, sights, accents, foods, colors, trees, birds, common animals trying to run under your car….all different. SO DELICIOUS. My brain has been devouring it all, like a starving dog at an all-you-can-eat buffet, and my processes (even for stupid things like invoicing) have all joyfully dissembled and turned, like colored glass in a kaleidescope.

Okay, so maybe you can’t create such a dramatic shift for yourself. What you CAN do is undo your pattern. Take a notebook while you walk in a park, let your mind notice the world around you….and jot down the ideas for that thing you’ve been chewing on that come flitting like brand new butterflies into your consciousness. Or work on a rooftop, or at the aquarium—someplace radically different. Eat a completely bizarre food or things that “don’t go together” while you work at a new cafe. Make your students turn the room (or you do it as a surprise) into the inside of a Tuareg tent, or around a campfire, or in a treehouse—’cause if you can’t take the students to a new place literally, even the metaphor or simulation will still create a new, engaging environment.

Now, if only my highly stimulated brain would cool down enough to let me get some sleep!!!


Speaking of new places and a change, I have the honor of going to Afghanistan with the Afghan Friends Network to provide support for educational projects for women and children, do some arts-in-ed, clown in hospitals, and more. Support for this project would be deeply appreciated



Howdy Campers.

As some of you know, one of the things I do is Voice Talent for webmercials, video, e-learning, and audiobooks. This week, I have been hired as the Voice Talent for a real-estate agency, and find myself in a common situation—the person creating the script is not familiar with writing for this medium. It makes more work (and some frustration) for everyone. So, whether you have a video/photo montage of your arts event, your company’s 25th celebration, the trees in your park, the activism in your school…… PLEASE check out these tips before creating your script for the narration.

* TIME (step one)

Watchable time limit is 3 minutes, and most quick web pieces are better in less. Better to do 3 two-minute pieces than one 6 minute piece, as the amount of time most people will watch to before clicking off is around a minute and a half. How much writing is 2 minutes? 200 words (two short paragraphs) is around 1.5 minutes, so ultimately, aim for 200-350 words.

With that in mind, still go ahead and write EVERYTHING down that you think is important. Read it at a medium pace, and time it. Your written piece is probably 5 minutes. Now PRIORITIZE what you think is important, and write those concepts down in bullet form, using as few words as possible to note each idea. Note if you feel like you want a certain ‘tone’ (Cheery? Mellow? Soft & Warm? Dramatic? Intense? Authoritarian? Snarky?).

* IMAGES (step two)

Look at your images. Ask yourself:

  • Do I have images for each of my bulleted ideas? If so, how many? Make a note next to your idea bullets of how many images you have for each and what they look like. Yes, you can write an image into more than one category—although you will not SHOW the image twice, writing it in two places gives you two placement options. If there are ideas WITH NO IMAGES, then you need to get some OR decide to use written text on an image or have a text/bullet slide (like “Comes in red as well”) OR cut the idea from this project (save it for later!).
  • Do I have enough images for a whole sentence about one idea? This is a biggie. Watchable time for each image is 2-3 seconds. Lovely long compound sentences do not work, nor do sentences where the main object or verb is at the end of the sentence—people need what they are hearing to explain, modify, color what they are seeing.
  • Which images are so strong that they need to come first? Yes, I know that seems bass-ackwards to think about how it looks rather than what you want to say, but this is a visual medium first and foremost—your message is embedded in the images, not the other way around.
  • Wait—what if I am having a professional take my images according to my ideas, or having a professional using my existing images to decide which goes where? GREAT ideas—highly recommended. HOWEVER, you should still have a notion of what KIND of images MIGHT be best to show your idea and what KIND of image might be a most-compelling initial visual! For example, if you are selling a house, either have a video that pans along a path to reveal the house OR start with a picture of the outside of the house. What does that mean for your narrative? It means you have to start with words about the house/ where it is.

* SEQUENCE (step three)

Okay. Start with the images that are strongest. Which ideas do they match on your bullet sheet? You may have to do some realigning of ideas and images, and that is okay. The point is CHOOSE A SET of images and the accompanying idea. That concept-clump is now first. What should come next, idea-wise OR image-wise? It’s your second section—you have more leeway here. The second section is often a ‘valley’, or a lesser point. In general, organize your sequence with three main points separated by two smaller points OR two large points separated by one small point (e.g. ‘main, small, main’).

 * SCRIPT! (step four)

Remember—SHORT AND SWEET. How can you talk about your ideas beautifully, dynamically and succinctly? Remember—each ‘slide’ will only be up for 2 or 3 seconds, and that your total time is 1.5 – 2.5 minutes. Now send it to your video/photo guy and/or your montage-maker. As an expert in the visuals, s/he will tweak your concept to make the piece have the tone you are shooting for and tell an interesting ‘story’.

* REVISIT/REVISE (fifth and final step)

Your video-photo person will send you the piece (usually with narration, but not always) for edits/alterations. Most pros will give you one edit as part of the cost package—this is why you should do so much ahead of time. Send back your thoughts with any script changes, and then wait for the final awesome project!!