In compliance with San Francisco’s order to shelter in place, the Center for New Music is closed beginning March 16. All events through the end of May are canceled. From our blog: Resources for Artists During the COVID-19 Outbreak
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Listening is the Mother of Innovation: People Before Technology

This is a guest post by Clark Buckner, who interviewed C4NM’s co-founder and Executive Director Adam Fong for the TechnologyAdvice podcast.

Technology itself is not the goal but a means to an end. That is the perspective driving technology decisions at the Center for New Music, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco. According to Executive Director and Co-founder Adam Fong, “Technology solutions have to be in service to the community” In his case, the community is the innovative artists creating non-commercial music in the Bay Area.

Imagine a musician composing music and considering whether to incorporate a new idea. She will often ask herself, “Does this serve the song?” to ensure each additional motif, figure, or phrase brings something to the table and contributes to the piece as a whole. Likewise, an organization may work to ensure technology does not detract from focusing on the mission, but instead serves as an asset to help the company achieve its goals.

Using Business Goals to Determine Technology Needs

Fong and his colleagues at the Center for New Music are championing nonprofit arts in the Bay Area. The Center for New Music was founded in 2012 with the mission of “giving practicing artists access to professional resources and expertise, and providing them with opportunities for sharing knowledge and exploring new ideas.” The company moved into a 4,400 square foot downtown retail space, located near the newly redeveloped Central Market area. The Center is now listed among the top coworking spaces in the United States, providing opportunities to work, meet, learn, and rehearse during the day, and serving as a performance and educational space in the evenings.

But the Center for New Music didn’t set out to create a coworking space, and their goals had little to do with technology implementation. Before diving into technology head first, Fong notes that it was important to take the time to build person-to-person connections and get buy-in from the community. Once the organization gained momentum, the Center could solicit feedback to help assess technology needs. They used this information to determine how technology can help the company overcome challenges and become more efficient and effective at attaining its goals.

For Adam Fong, the goal was to develop a space for contemporary musicians to work, rehearse, and perform that could accommodate audiences of roughly 100 people. The area needed a venue larger than the galleries that have a capacity of 25-30 people, yet small enough to allow for “an intimate concert experience.” Fong also had to contend with the high demand for real estate in downtown San Francisco. This dilemma ultimately became a catalyst for creating the flexible, multipurpose environment the Center would call home.

Technology Must Scale with the Organization

As the organization has grown from fledgling startup to burgeoning creativity hub, their volunteer management systems have had to evolve as well. Fong remarks that nonprofits commonly face the problem of coordinating a large number of people who each donate a small number of hours. For the Center, what could once be handled by simple cloud-based spreadsheets now requires a more robust human resources solution. The company now uses software they have customized to meet their specific needs for sending reminders and assigning tasks, among others.

The Center has created a place “to serve practicing artists by giving them access to a variety of resources.” Fong emphasizes the importance of face-to-face interactions, which are the heartbeat of their decision-making process. The Center focuses on a community-centric, in-person, and intimate experience– which is in stark contrast with the music industry’s digital culture.

Fong’s observation that “innovative people like to be around other innovative people” led to the creation of a nationally-recognized coworking space. By building community first and implementing technology that fosters their goals second, The Center for New Music has achieved its goal of bringing people together to foster both art and community.

To hear more about utilizing coworking space and cultivating community, listen to the entire TechnologyAdvice podcast.

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