Pleasant Interviews in Pleasantville

It’s the final stretch of the yearlong Undergraduate Research Program, and I am very proud of the progress and process of the research that I have conducted! Dr. Theresa Lant and I studied Materials for the Arts (MFTA) to conduct our study, “Community Arts Organizations and Sustainable Practices: A Collaborative Model.” We took the Long Island City-based organization, observed its business model on “Shopping Day,” researched it by applying a conceptual, strategic model (using a value chain analysis), and now, most recently, applied our conceptual intelligence to the practical sphere. We interviewed multiple constituents in the Pleasantville community in Westchester County to attempt to create a feasibility study for a pilot program. We hope that our study will spark an interest in arts and sustainability for the area, and create a similar structured organization like “Materials for the Arts” for the Westchester community.

First, we met with Adam Cohen from Arc Stages, a newly formed not-for-profit theatre company in Pleasantville. Arc Stages, an organization formed from the Little Village Playhouse and the Chappaqua Drama Group, is made up of three parts – an educational theatre, a community theatre, and a professional theatre. ArcStages is familiar with the reuse of resources, and to save on the cost of shows, often reuses resources and materials. As an arts entrepreneur, Adam told us of his opportunity and process for creating the theatre company. With his background as a composer, he collaborated with like-minded artists, and created “Little Village Playhouse” in New York City when he was studying for his Masters at New York University. After relocating to Pleasantville, he formed a relationship with Anne Shankman, the Artistic Director of a local community theatre. When we explained about MFTA, Adam was familiar with the organization, and expressed that he, as an arts entrepreneur, would have benefitted from such an organization, if it were in Westchester County.

Dr. Theresa Lant and I then met with Peter Scherer, who wears multiple hats in the community: a signage business owner, arts patron (and frequent theatre participant), and the mayor of Pleasantville. Peter described the political spectrum and “red tape” that would inhibit the organization from forming; particularly, the aspect that makes MFTA very unique is the private-public-partnership with New York City. Because of the enormous cost of a public employee, it would nearly be impossible for the organization to thrive from the unbearable upfront cost. He did suggest, however, to form a not-for-profit structure with a revenue stream attached (e.g., a membership fee). He also suggested partnering with an educational institution nearby, such as SUNY Purchase. He also explained about zoning as an issue in the town, and very little opportunity for inventory space.

Dr. Lant and I then met with Marlene Canapi, President of Pleasantville Community Television and a “connector” in terms of fundraising and development. Marlene gave us details for developing this as an organization in Westchester. Marlene introduced us to multiple community and county constituents for continuing our research in public policy and sustainability. We plan to meet with them within the coming month and field questions about feasibility. With this, we will continue to explore these options and possibly survey if a MFTA-like organization could be an “arm” of a sustainability organization, countywide.

As we prepare our final presentation for the research, I discovered that the work that Dr. Lant and I are conducting could change lives. By studying conceptual ideas and putting them to practice, we are creating a viable option for sustainability in a cost-cutting process for educational and arts organizations. Usually, people conceive scholars as “trapped in an ivory tower,” but the work that Dr. Lant and I have conducted is completely opposite – we were out on the streets, inquiring, questioning, observing, and investigating this organization, and exploring a possibility to recreate it. As we move into the next phase of the research and prepare for our presentations, I am recalling my past blog posts, summer research, and notes from when I began until now – and I am fortunate to be a part of such a program.

 

Value Chain Analysis

With a new beginning of 2014, I am eager to complete the final stages of the research for “Community Arts Organizations and Sustainable Practices: A Collaborative Model.” Dr. Theresa Lant and I met with Harriet Taub, Executive Director of Materials for the Arts (MFTA), and Antonio Pontón-Núñez, the Director of Development for Friends of Materials for the Arts (FOMA), the supplemental not-for-profit donor group. From our meeting, we gathered beneficial information on the economics, logistics, and governance of the organization.

Dr. Lant and I planned for the next few steps, including a strategic analysis of the organization using a value chain analysis. She explained to me the inner workings of an industry value chain analysis, an external environment analysis concept that I have covered in my Business Strategy course in the Lubin School of Business; she then explained that the internal activities of an organization could also be analyzed using the value chain concept.

The value chain analysis depicts a series of sequential activities of an organization that refer to both the physical creation of its product or service, as well as supporting activities in developing the product or service. The primary activities – inbound logistics, operations, outbound logistics, marketing and sales, and service – could be seen in Materials for the Arts; the secondary activities – general administration, human resource management, technology development, and procurement – shows the unique relationship with the City of New York.

While observing the primary activities, I took into consideration the following questions: 1) How does the location of the warehouse and the layout increase efficiency of operations for incoming materials? 2) How efficient is the warehouse in terms of technology, cost minimization, and workflow design? 3) How effective is their outgoing materials or “check-out” process? 4) How innovative is MFTA with regard to promotions, advertising, or identifying the proper customer segments and needs? 5) What is the quality of service personnel in terms of customers’ needs?

I observed the secondary activities and asked similar questions: 1) How effective is the relationship between the City of New York and FOMA? 2) How effective is the City in finding the correct human capital for an organization like MFTA? 3) How is the collaborative relationship between the personnel and developing new technologies that could inventory materials? 4) What other special inputs (raw materials, supplies) are used by MFTA?

From these questions, I have developed a Value Chain diagram of MFTA (below). Using this model, I could utilize a better understanding of internal operations from a strategic perspective; this could help Dr. Lant and I further when exploring the next phase of our research – mounting a strategic feasibility study for the creation of a similar organization for the Pleasantville area in Westchester County, New York.

In March, Dr. Lant and I will have interviews with various Pleasantville community stakeholders. I also am in touch with Antonio Pontón-Núñez, the Director of Development for FOMA to visit MFTA to observe day-to-day operations and for data mining of the data they collect from their constituents regarding service, usefulness, and performance metrics. As I continue the research with Dr. Lant, I am excited to utilize tools and synthesize models that have been taught to me in my Business Strategy course for an analysis outside of the classroom!

 

MFTA Value Chain

 

 

Mid-Year Update

As 2014 comes to an end, I am in the middle of the research for “Community Arts Organizations and Sustainable Practices: A Collaborative Model.” Dr. Theresa Lant and I wanted to research arts organizations combined with a focus in sustainability – which combined Dr. Lant’s research and interests in creative industries and their inner qualities mixed with my interest in the models of entrepreneurial and innovative entertainment management.

When I started this summer with the Undergraduate Summer 2013 Research Program, our research on Materials for the Arts (MFTA) initially explored its business model, its stakeholders, its unique governance, and how it affects New York City culturally, sustainably, and educationally. In the beginning of the fall, I focused my research on public-private-partnerships (PPP’s) and its differences from not-for-profit organizations and for-profit organizations. Finally, I researched qualitative and quantitative interview questions to create analytical data through Qualtrics.

On December 12, Dr. Lant and I visited MFTA in Long Island City, Queens to meet with Harriet Taub, Executive Director of MFTA, and Antonio Pontón-Núñez, the Director of Development for Friends of Materials for the Arts (FOMA), the supplemental not-for-profit donor group. We discussed how MFTA started, the stakeholder relationships, and some managerial, structural, and political challenges in operating MFTA. We toured the space and saw how “customers” (not-for-profit institutions and arts organizations members) shop for their materials. During our interview, we also asked for permission to interview “customers” and “donors” with survey questions; they also have data from customers, donors, and volunteers.

From the successful meeting, I am now creating a roadmap for the upcoming semester. With the information from the interview, I will create a structured outline of the organization, a visual “value chain” of the exchange of the materials, and the makings of a research paper based on the analysis of interviews and survey data. In the upcoming semester, I also plan to visit MFTA for more observations and questions. Finally, we will use the information from the MFTA for a strategic feasibility study for the creation of a similar organization for the Pleasantville area in Westchester County, New York. To further explore the study, Dr. Lant and I will schedule interviews with various Pleasantville community stakeholders in the upcoming year.

Ultimately, with the 2013-2014 Undergraduate Research, I noticed an improvement in my own skill as an academic, a student, and a writer. From conducting this research, I am honing my skills in terms of understanding the makings of empirical data, determining relevant and accurate journals in terms of a literature review, and as a concise, detailed, and analytical writer. I am not afraid to ask questions on subjects unknown to me; I am constantly learning about new topics that interest me. Finally, as a writer, I am clearer in my structure and flow – thinking conceptually, while describing succinctly. As 2014 approaches, I am eager to continue with our research!

Public-Private-Partnerships

As fall comes to a close, my research on “Community Arts Organizations and Sustainable Practices: A Collaborative Model” is focusing on the organizational structure of Materials for the Arts.  MFTA is a public-private partnership (known as a PPP) with the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and the benefit donor group, Friends of MFTA.

I continued to research this unique business model, and formulated questions. What is a public-private partnership? Why would an organization want use this model? How does  this model differ from a public corporation involved with corporate social responsibility, a not-for-profit organization, or a government organization?

Through my research, I discovered that a public-private partnership is a government service or private business organization that is funded and operated through a partnership between government and one or more private companies. With that in mind, Materials for the Arts completely fit this definition: it is a government service (NYC Department of Cultural Affairs) funded and operated through the partnership of the donor group (Friends of MFTA).

Furthermore, I discovered the two fundamental “drivers” for public-private partnerships. These two “drivers” focus on a) giving a mindset of gaining a “profit” in the long-term for the organization, and b) finding the appropriate capitalization and funding to implement the mission of the organization. With these two “private sector” characteristics, the public organization becomes more effective and efficient in executing its mission without having to appease “shareholders” with profit, but rather “stakeholders” with its mission.

First, the public-private partnership model enables public sector organizations, such as a government organization like Materials for the Arts, to harness the expertise and efficiency that could be found in the private sector. With the “bottom line” in mind, Materials for the Arts could sustain its model over a long period of time. The other “driver” for a public-private partnership is the very structure of the business model in terms of long-term revenues. Since Materials for the Arts does not want to make an investment by borrowing money and utilizing tax dollars, it relies on the private organization to borrow money, in return for an “off-balance sheet” method of financing its assets, or a tax deduction under the laws governing corporate social responsibility.

Dr. Lant and I are meeting with Harriet Taub, the Executive Director of Materials for the Arts on Thursday, December 12th, to examine how MFTA distributes to artists, not-for-profits, and education organizations in a process called “Shopping Day.” We also are interviewing Harriet Taub on MFTA from a managerial perspective, which will give us insight on the internal workings of MFTA, as well as its strategy going forward.  . We also will distribute surveys to customers on that day, finally resulting in our quantitative results. I look forward to the interview!

 

Blog One: The Research Roadmap

As fall begins, I am at work on my research project entitled “Community Arts Organizations and Sustainable Practices: A Collaborative Model.” Dr. Theresa Lant and I started this project with the Undergraduate Summer 2013 Research Program. We wanted to research arts organizations combined with a focus in sustainability – which combined Dr. Lant’s research and interests in creative industries and sustainability mixed with my interest in the models of entrepreneurial and innovative entertainment management.

With that, we decided to research the business model of Materials for the Arts (MFTA) (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcla/mfta/html/home/home.shtml), which simultaneously collects and inventories unwanted materials and supplies from companies and individuals and makes them available for free to any not-for-profit arts or educational organization throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Thus, their mission is two-fold: reduce the amount of material going to landfills, and provide needed supplies to teachers, galleries, theater groups, and educational institutions.
This summer, we underwent an “exploratory” phase of research, using a non-empirical case study format for our research. We studied MFTA, its unique organizational structure and mission. At the summer’s end, we formulated interview questions for Harriet Taub, Executive Director of MTFA, for an insider’s view on the organizational model.

Having learned about how to create and run an organization like MFTA, during the 2013-2014 academic year we will conduct a research study to explore the feasibility of creating a similar organization in Westchester County. We envision a small pilot program that would leverage and build upon the relationship between Pace PLV, the village of Pleasantville, and the arts and educational organizations in the Pleasantville area.

The feasibility study involves qualitative and quantitative aspects (“mixed methods”), including interviewing key individuals such as Harriet Taub, Executive Director of MTFA; Peter Scherer, Mayor of Pleasantville; Marlene Canapi, President of Pleasantville Community Television; school administrators; Pace administrators; and leaders of local arts organizations such as the Jacob Burns Center and ArcStages. We also will study the economics, logistics, and governance considerations of creating such an organization – specifically, surveying local arts and educational organizations to assess potential need and attitudes toward such an organization. We also want to discover and describe other such organizations in communities throughout the U.S.
Based on this feasibility study, we would create a strategic plan for implementing a local pilot program that could serve as a model for developing such an organization in the future.

Based on the research conducted, we will write a research paper based on our analysis of interviews and surveys conducted during the feasibility study. Over the summer I learned how to design survey questions with Qualtrics and analyzing the results, I am eager to continue to work on this project. Within the next month, we will conduct an interview with Harriet Taub (MFTA Executive Director), and then start developing the quantitative side of research project.