Ownership, without the air quotes


Many may be aware, and some may be annoyed, that I've been wrestling a lot with the concepts of "capital" -- what it is, how it works, and what it does in the context of the nonprofit arts. The issue draws my focus for three broad reasons. First, it's a big, recurring, juicy issue for arts boards, leaders, funders, and policy makers. Second, those same people lack a useful frame and language for engaging the issue productively. And third, the frame and language we've borrowed from the commercial world often seem more elusive than illuminating. … [Read more...]

The fast and the spurious

Spurious Correlations

Correlations between data sets are magical things -- they tell us that two variables move together, and encourage us to claim that the two are linked. Politicians and advocates do this all the time. We hear it in advertisements and read it in promotional copy. Causality claims are so much part of the chatter around us that we rarely give them a second thought. But a fun little website goads us to give them a third, fourth, and fifth thought. … [Read more...]

The puppet and the purpose

Mini Puppet

Director, writer, performer and puppet maker Eric Bass offers a beautiful essay on what it means (and doesn't mean) to be a puppet performer. And his points resonate rather deeply with what it means to work expressively in the world. He disputes two myths about puppet performance: That the puppeteer controls the puppet, and that the puppeteer manipulates the puppet with his or her hands. He offers, instead, an artful way for any of us to approach our creative work. Says he: … [Read more...]

Worth asking: What is Wealth?

Trojan Piggy Bank

There's been lots of chatter in the economicsphere about Thomas Piketty's new megabook on Capital in the 21st Century (read a quick summary of the looooonnnnngggg book here). It offers a ponderous and rigorous overview of where economic inequality comes from, and why the marketplace alone won't fix it. In the process, more to our purposes, it offers an extraordinarily useful perspective on wealth. … [Read more...]

Which circle do you serve?

Which circle do you serve?

ArtsEmerson's David Dower had a bit of a Jerry Maguire moment recently when learning new stuff about negotiation and influence. And no, I don't mean a "You complete me" moment, nor a "Show me the money" moment (although, kind of). I mean a crisis of conscience moment as appears in the opening scenes (remember?).  … [Read more...]

Harry Potter and the Disregarded Entity

Disregarded Entity

What if you could form an organization that maintained a persistent and separate legal presence, protected its founders from liability, could receive tax-exempt contributions, but didn't require the usual baggage of a nonstock corporate structure, an IRS tax ruling, an annual tax return, or a separate governing board? In short, what if you could garner the benefits of being a 501(c)3 exempt corporation without actually being one? Welcome, my friends, to the 'disregarded entity'. … [Read more...]

Mayor, Governor, President

Mayor, Governor, President

Freakonomics Radio offers a great conversation on the differences between serving the public as a mayor, a governor, or a president. All serve in the executive branch. All are accountable come election time. But the tools, tactics, and tone of their public service are dramatically (and necessarily) different. … [Read more...]

Disassembling something that nobody owns


In voting for the dissolution of the San Diego Opera last month, the organization's board was attempting something that's all but impossible in a cultural nonprofit: acknowledging insolvency before actual insolvency. General Manager Ian Campbell called the vote an attempt to close ''with dignity and grace, making every effort to fulfill our financial obligations, rather than inevitably entering bankruptcy....'' Other constituents disagreed. … [Read more...]

Al Prieve and the Sum of the Parts

E. Arthur Prieve

All that I think or write or teach or wonder or learn about the management of cultural organizations connects back to Dr. E. Arthur "Al" Prieve. Not only was he my first professor of Arts Administration, he was my on-going reference for how things connect. He passed away last Wednesday. But his lessons continue. … [Read more...]

Respecting the craft

Clay Wheel

Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air shares a beautiful interview with author Colm Toibin which weaves through religion and ritual and beauty and faith. While the whole thing is worth a listen, I was struck by the last little bits of their conversation. Gross notes that Toibin dislikes the label 'storyteller' and the assumption that his gifts for writing come from the oral tradition of his Irish heritage. … [Read more...]