For a long while, my teaching in arts management has emphasized “balance”…the nuanced navigation of opposing forces, the careful and reflective response to instability.
As an example, I’ve begun my Survey in Arts Management class for many years now with a video of artist Janine Antoni (which I discussed way back when), because her revelation about learning to tightrope walk had such resonance for me: “…I started to notice that it wasn’t that I was getting more balanced, but that I was getting more comfortable being out of balance.”
But now I’m noticing that talking about “balance” means accepting and building on a rather essential underlying premise: That there are opposites. That the tension we’re balancing is between two sides or two choices. That we’re finding a workable place between them.
This assumption comes up a LOT in arts management and in the support of creative enterprise. We’re balancing commerce and creative expression; popular and purposeful; practical and passionate; mission and markets. Of course we’re living in the tension involving those things. But is it useful to consider them choices or opposites?
I’m wondering now whether there’s a more thoughtful and productive way to consider these tensions. Not as opposites. Not as choices. But as parts of a complex whole. More yin and yang, less Sturm und Drang.
I’m not invoking incense and mindfulness and meditation (although, sure, those things are cool). Rather I’m suggesting a simple nudge on our reflexes and challenge to our assumptions.
The next time you feel like you’re balancing opposites in your work – between what your audience wants and what you or your artists want, between arguing “instrumental” or “intrinsic” value to your legislators, between making money and making meaning – pause for a moment, and suspend the premise. See what comes from a both/and perspective, rather than the instinctual either/or.