Contracts and coalitions

Mr. Squiggles

We talk a lot in the arts about 'organizations' -- their missions, their purpose, their operations, their business models, their relationships with communities and constituents. Organizations have boards that oversee them, and executives who operate them. It's rather easy to think about an organization as a 'thing' or a material being (dare I say 'corporeal being,' since it comes from a related root to 'corporation'?). And, of course, the United States Supreme Court has thought this way more than once. … [Read more...]

What nonprofits are for

What are nonprofits for?

Lucy Bernholz asks a basic but useful question on her Philanthopy 2173 blog: What are nonprofits for? (as opposed to other forms of organization). She suggests that the answer used to be more clear. And she offers some emerging examples of legal or public dispute on the subject (YMCA v. for-profit health clubs, free software initiatives, and such). … [Read more...]

This goes to 11

Goes to Eleven

Eleven years ago today I launched this little blog into the wilderness. I wrote stuff. I discovered smart people through comments and critiques. I shared ideas (in part to share them, and in part to make myself think clearly in a way that only writing in public can). I connected some dots. … [Read more...]

The Conference Panel's Prayer

Conference Panel's Prayer

June is conference month for the arts, and I've seen a LOT of plenary panels on a LOT of pertinent subjects. Common to them all has been a hope at the beginning that the session will go productively, that the temporary aggregation of intelligent people will find something useful to say, and that the moderator will keep time and keep promises. … [Read more...]

Moving through the world with intent

Nervous System

I was honored to be part of a symposium this week co-hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts and the UK's Arts & Humanities Research Council's Cultural Value Project. The event drew an extraordinary group of researchers and practitioners, including many who had written defining works for my own learning journey in this field. Our task was to explore whether and how our research on arts participation should evolve, especially given the dramatic evolution of arts engagement and the shifting landscape of resources that support such … [Read more...]

Exploring Arts Entrepreneurship

Arts Entrepreneurship

I'm part of a weeklong blogathon this week through Barry Hessenius' blog on the definition, development, and state-of-play of "arts entrepreneurship," an evolving frame for an ancient practice. And I'm thrilled to be exploring the subject with such smart colleagues: Linda Essig, Russell Willis Taylor, Adam Huttler, Anthony Radich, Richard Evans, and Ruby Lerner. … [Read more...]

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...]