A Successful Summer

I can’t believe that the summer is coming to a close – and with that, “Community Arts Organizations and Sustainable Practices: A Collaborative Model” ends its first phase. Dr. Theresa Lant and I worked on the project by studying the unique organization called Materials for the Arts (MFTA) (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcla/mfta/html/home/home.shtml). A small recap on the organization: MFTA 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. MFTA has a two-fold mission: to reduce the amount of material going to landfills, and to provide needed supplies to teachers, galleries, theater groups, and educational institutions.

My source materials for the research included the organization’s website for their mission and growth statistics, with several other links that provided other types of information about how this organization works. The organization has a rich history of continued growth, spanning from the founding in 1978 by Angela Fremont. After continuing the research, I discovered that several times the organization has gained significant media coverage – and the sustainability twist gained awareness (MSNBC reported its popularity in 2006; New York Times in 2001 and 2011). I also read about the types of projects with which the organization associates, who the key donors are, and how MFTA benefits the larger economics of the not-for-profit and artist world. The growth of the organization led them to move from the Chelsea Piers to a pre-gentrified Long Island City, Queens in 2000 for warehouse space.

During our exploration, we discovered concepts that are important to our understanding of MFTA. The organization’s hybrid operation lies under the auspices of the Department of Sanitation (appropriately linking to the sustainability factor), and a non-profit foundation, named Friends of MFTA. The foundation serves several functions, but importantly it keeps the operations separate from the government to speed decision-making and enable planning for the future as an economic business model.

With this exciting business structure in mind, we are interested in exploring how the MFTA affects its donor and recipient organizations. , We developed interview questions to investigate how MFTA benefits donors and recipients. From my readings, I found a fantastic New York Times article from 2011 that covered several customers’ perspectives on the organization, “For Schools, Free Art Supplies, and Much More.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/01/nyregion/01warehouse.html?_r=1&). Customers discover MFTA through other customers, because they want to reuse other organization’s materials (an incentive whose byproduct is sustainability).

Dr. Lant and I are excited to visit the warehouse storage location in Long Island City, Queens within the last stretch of the summer. We intend to interview Harriet Taub, the director of the organization and conclude our summer research. We also expect to use some quantitative data as well. We will conduct several interviews with “customers” of MFTA, and then develop a survey to distribute more broadly to the organization’s constituents. The questions we have developed thus far include:
• “How many times per year do you visit MFTA?”
• “How much do you recommend MFTA to other organizations?”
• “How has MFTA decreased your waste?”
• “How has MFTA increased your sustainability?”
• “How has MFTA helped you realize your organization’s mission, vision, and growth?”

As we conclude this summer’s research, my personal goals for the project are being met, thanks to Dr. Lant. We will continue to focus on applying my academic writing skills through analysis of the interviews, and I will learn survey development and analysis. I look forward to continuing to work on our research goals for the upcoming year!

The Research Begins

I proudly present our project: “Community Arts Organizations and Sustainable Practices: A Collaborative Model,” which I will be working on with my mentor, Dr. Theresa Lant.  Dr. Lant is the Director of the Arts and Entertainment Management Program in the Lubin School of Business.  I am a rising senior in this program.  The purpose of our project is to study a unique organization called Materials for the Arts (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, Dr. Lant and I will conduct a case study of MFTA to learn about their mission, strategy, and organization. We are in an “exploratory” stage with our work – defining the boundaries of our research, reading about the organization and its key players. The ultimate goal of the research is to develop a publishable case study of the organization that can be used as teaching material.   The big picture questions we hope to answer are: What makes the Materials for The Arts work? What is their business model? Can this model of benefiting both the environment and arts organizations be copied and diffused in other communities?

Personally, I have a deep passion for the business side of arts and entertainment, especially the role of a producer in “making the magic happen.” My interest in business came from my early involvement in the theatre. There is an academic aspect of creating and producing that ties into my goals. 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 led to the beginning of our research topic. Our case will be an academic examination of an organization that ties environmental sustainability with the arts; in a world that is more conscious of the resources and materials we need to pursue our endeavors, the issue of sustainability is important to, and can be facilitated by, arts organizations.  Surely, it is the way of the future – innovative, artistic, and sustainable! From this research, I hope to improve my personal attributes as well. I want to better my writing construction and confidence in analyzing quantitative and qualitative data. I look forward to seeing how my work with Dr. Lant evolves over the summer!

We will use qualitative case study methods to explore our research questions.  This will include analyzing the documentation that is available on the organizations, visiting the organization to see its operations first hand, and meeting with and interviewing key individuals at the organization.