Name: Misty Tompoles
Learn more at artslandia.com
Interview originally published on June 10, 2020.
How are the arts playing a role during this critical time?
We’ve been thinking a lot about this question at Artslandia over the past couple of months. There was one morning in particular that we all huddled, quite literally, in the lounge of our office to process the latest information and what it meant for our work for the arts. We were unanimous that the role of the arts was unchanged. Arts are an expression of our shared humanity. Through the ages, both in times of joy and challenge, the arts unite, inspire, and comfort. Beholding the beauty of human creativity is soul-nourishing. What’s changed, of course, is the way that people experience the arts during this time. Though we can’t assemble in concert halls or galleries presently, people are still connecting and uplifting one another through the arts. Perhaps the experience is digital or al fresco, but it can still be shared and can still inspire awe and hope.
What has been the most notable / most unpredictable / most challenging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on your organization? Biggest financial challenge?
The pandemic has rocked the arts industry and Artslandia along with it. The most challenging impact has been the cancellation of live performances and not knowing when they will be able to safely resume. We publish the playbills for the city’s largest arts organizations and worked until the last moment when our partners did what they had to do. At the time of the shutdown, we had playbills at the printer and in the pipeline that could not move forward so we felt the financial impact immediately. No performances means no playbills. We initially turned our focus to our planned 10th Anniversary Annual Issue, hoping that we’d be on the other side of the crisis by the time September came. Our planned “Best of” issue would not only celebrate the last 10 years of arts in our city but have the added dimension of triumphant returns to the stage. With so much unknown, we chose to shelve that publication. The impact will be devastating without a successful pivot.
To date, what steps have you taken to mitigate that impact?
Fortunately, passion for the arts runs deep on our small team so, for us, there’s been no choice but to innovate. I weighed all of the options, crunched all of the numbers, and decided to keep us together doing the work we love. We champion the arts, and the pandemic did not end art in this city.
Our first step was to switch from supporting live performance to “Standing By” mode. We dedicated our social media to arts-centered good news, using the power of art to uplift. I challenged the team to create work to replace what we’d lost. Within a week, we mobilized our network of artists, arts organizations, and arts-supporting businesses to launch Artslandia Happy Hour. Each weekday, we livestream performances, interviews, and conversations on arts-related topics from our Facebook page and artslandia.com. So far we’ve hosted a range of dance styles, vocalists, instrumentalists, musicians, literary artists, poets, culinary artists, visual artists, and improvisational comedians. Maestro Carlos Kalmar of the Oregon Symphony now hosts a standing segment on Mondays to explore the connections between emotionality and music through storytelling and performance highlights. The response has been great. We’re also launching Artslandia University, a course hub for cultural enrichment. We’ll facilitate high quality and engaging arts education in the age of social distancing to giving artists a central teaching and income platform and patrons access to and social engagement around the exceptional and eccentric talent of our region. As to whether these efforts will mitigate the loss of our magazines, it remains to be seen!
What kind of innovation in management has developed for your your organization, and what challenges have you encountered when implementing new innovative ideas?
We have a very tight team at Artslandia, and we’re all committed to continual improvement. It’s part of our culture. Our brainstorming sessions when we’re together in the office are legendary. We thrive off one another’s energy and can cover the walls in post-it notes full of ideas. To be sure that we didn’t lose that when we all started working from home, I instituted our “daily scrum” on Zoom and had each of us share what we did yesterday, what we’re going to focus on today, and what’s standing in our way. It’s helped keep us focused and moving ahead, which can be challenging with so many unknowns. I’ve also been very clear with the team about the financial realities of the company. They know the number we need to hit to meet our obligations, including payroll, which is a level of transparency in management that hasn’t been fruitful before the pandemic. The challenge in implementing our innovative ideas lies in the urgency. Each time we’ve launched a new venture, we have had the solid base of our publishing business. This time around, we’re working without a net. It’s a balancing act between anxiety and the invigoration of new possibilities. I try to be aware that each person handles that balance differently and try to support each person with what they need to succeed.
What are the short-term and potential long-term effects of this shut down for your organization and the arts in general?
It’s almost become a cliche, but we are truly in uncharted territory. The short-term effect of the shutdown for Artslandia and the arts, in general, is calamitous but preferable over the alternative, which is widespread illness and death. In a strange way, I think in the longterm, we might all be a little better after this. My team at Artslandia has a solid track record of dreaming up innovative ways to support the arts, and I believe in us. The arts in general have stood the test of time. Entire civilizations have risen and fall, and still, art endures. This crisis has brought into focus the things that really matter. People are standing up for a new future. The arts landscape will evolve accordingly, as it has for all of recorded human history.
What is a positive collaboration or initiative born as a result of this situation within your organization or that you’ve seen from your peers and colleagues in the arts industry?
I’ve described our Standing By initiatives, and those efforts bring positive collaborations every day. Our outreach to artists for Happy Hour, sharing ideas with artists about how we help them replace lost income, solidifies the fact that we are all in this together.
What is the biggest lesson learned as a leader during this crisis?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned as a leader during this crisis has been that everyone processes change differently. In the last year, our team completed Mindset to uncover the intricacies of each of our creative processes. I see now how those individual profiles apply in times of crisis. Some of us are motivated by crisis, and some become overwhelmed and stuck
Understanding that the future is hard to predict, how might the lasting impacts of COVID-19 change your upcoming season? Should the tone of pieces or performances change?
It’s impossible to know the lasting impacts of the pandemic on how Artslandia handles the coming performing arts season. So much is still unclear. What is clear is that Artslandia will answer the calls for deep and significant progress toward racial justice. We’ve committed to listening, learning, and holding space for Black artists and underrepresented voices of our community.
Regarding the creative process, what has been a source of inspiration for you/your organization at this time or how has your creative process changed and evolved? What outlets or channels have you sought out to continue to express your creativity, personally and/or professionally?
I draw inspiration from the boundless creative energy of the artists in our community. The shift from print to digital has been an interesting evolution. We’ve learned so much in such a short time! Also, prior to this crisis, Artslandia supported artists and arts groups. We were cheerleaders. Now, we cheerlead art in general and present the work of artists directly.
What message do you have for the artists and fellow art leaders in our community today?
My message for the artists and arts leaders is the same one I give to my team: Let’s be better on the other side of is. What’s happening in our country right now with the pandemic, racial disparity, and lack of leadership is tragic. Let’s all work to the best of our ability to rise above and create and new normal that’s better than what we had before.
What question do you wish someone would ask?!
How can we do better?
When looking to the future, what brings you hope?
There’s so much that brings me hope. The Artslandia Happy Hour brings me great joy and hope every day as I savor the connection it brings despite the physical distance. The demonstrations bring me hope that people won’t settle for anything less than positive change.
About Misty Tompoles:
Nearly 15 years ago, in 2006, Misty Tompoles conceived of a symbiotic business model for arts publishing in Portland. Her first venture, Playbills NW, saved precious dollars in arts presenter budgets by connecting local and national business with the city’s arts industry through advertising.
In 2008, she evolved the business into Artslandia, a vital local arts and culture clearinghouse. The mission, to promote the city’s performing arts, has brought together those who make art, partake of art, and financially support art. The company launched an online calendar of performances and published the first Artslandia Annual in 2011 to aggregate and promote the offerings of local arts groups large and small.
The bimonthly Artslandia At The Performance, wide-ranging arts journalism combined with anchor arts organization’s playbills, launched in 2014. In 2015, the company expanded to Vancouver, B.C., with its signature online calendar, Annual Issue, and bi-monthly magazines and added to its hometown offerings with Artslandia Kids to showcase age-appropriate arts and cultural opportunities for families. That same year, In 2015, Niche Media recognized Artslandia’s contribution with its Best Arts & Culture Magazine Award for the fifth Annual Issue. The current distribution of the free guide includes direct mail to 30,000 arts subscribers of 40+ arts organizations and 10,000 additional copies throughout the city. As of 2020, Artslandia’s print publications boasted a total circulation of more than 800,000 issues annually with a readership of 1.5 million.
Currently, Artslandia engages 40,00-plus monthly visitors to artslandia.com, 10,500 followers on Instagram, 8,500 on Facebook, and 2,800 on Twitter. Its podcast boasts 207 episodes that have been downloaded more than 17,000 times.
The Artslandia Box, Portland’s premier subscription box service for arts & culture and brainchild of Tompoles, was offered from 2017–19.
The company’s partners include Oregon Symphony, Portland Opera, Portland Center Stage at The Armory, Oregon Ballet Theatre, and Oregon Children’s Theatre. Arts advocacy activities include sponsorship of Portland Rose Festival, Drammy Awards, PPS Heart of Portland, Peacock in the Park, Classic Wines Auctions, and the annual galas of Oregon Symphony and Portland Opera.
All images courtesy of Artslandia website and Facebook