Marian Godfrey offers some bold and beautiful words in the current Grantmaker in the Arts Reader about her life between prose and passion, supporting the mechanics of artistic enterprise as a funder while engaging the joy and discovery of expressive works. Her essay/manifesto covers a lot of ground, and demands a full reading (so go read it). But I was particularly struck by her disdain for the language we’ve come to use in arts and cultural management.
We managers, fund-raisers, and grantmakers, in our work on behalf of artists, institutions, and audiences — sometimes in concert, sometimes with dissonant goals — have colluded over the years on one thing at least: the development and then requirement of one another that we adopt some pretty soul-sucking language with which to conduct and describe our efforts. Our institutional syntax, our claims for accountability and results, and our bland generalizations about “the arts” and their benefits to society leach pleasure from our work. It is coded professional language, and it is incapable of expressing our feelings about the mystery and excitement of actual encounters with art. Also, like any professional jargon, it puts up barriers and makes people who are unfamiliar with our dialect feel like outsiders, including the very people we are trying to support — artists and engaged people in our communities. I believe we need more humane language to describe ourselves and our visions: words and meanings that are shared by artists, administrators, and the public.
Mario Cuomo once told The New Republic, ”You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose,” suggesting that the promise and reality of politics were essentially incompatible. But does the same have to hold true in the administrative leadership of cultural opportunity? Perhaps so. Perhaps not.
Let’s not give up (and never give up) the effort to rediscover and reforge the connection between the machinery through which we work and the visions we dream to be true.
(Honestly, go read it.)