It’s Time to Dream Again

On the occasion of its arts council’s 50th anniversary, I was recently invited to Fort Worth to design and facilitate a “visioning” session by which 75 community leaders – representing an array of civic, municipal, political and arts & cultural interests – asked, “What investments in arts & culture might we make today that will pay our community dividends over the next 50 years?”

Such a refreshing conversation!

No speeches.  No sales pitches.  Nothing but a wide open agenda!

And what resulted was about as profound and practical a discussion of the responsibilities and opportunities of arts & cultural leadership as I’ve ever witnessed.  They discussed:

  • What about arts & culture makes our community distinct?
  • What role can arts & culture play in advancing the future vibrancy of our community?
  • Who are (and who, frankly, are not) our audiences – and what should we do about that?
  • How might arts & cultural organizations work together in new ways to pursue goals of mutual importance?
  • What past decisions have most helped us become the great arts & cultural community we are today?

As with any community dialogue, the purpose is neither to answer the questions quickly nor definitely.  The virtue of these questions is in their ability to spark an even further-reaching community dialogue that will attract many people, deepen their appreciation and encourage their further participation, uncover new resources, welcome new perspectives and unleash wildly creative thinking.

I call such a visioning process “STARTEGY”  (and that’s not a typo) because the ENTIRE objective is just to get the process started.  Such visioning is a very brave effort – because it raises public expectations and opens a wide variety of possibilities without having pre-determined the end result.  How thrilling that can be!

Keep an eye on Fort Worth, they’re asking all the right questions.

Around the country, many arts & cultural organizations remain understandably “hunkered down” while waiting for the economic storm to pass.  Having recently been in survival mode with my own organization, I appreciate that solving today’s challenges can preclude any capacity to think about tomorrow.

However, here’s my plea:  As soon as you get even one moment of pause – one extra breath – one single un-allocated dollar – it is absolutely vital that you invest it forward by connecting yourself and your organization with others in your community.

The long climb back to economic vibrancy – for ourselves, our communities, our sector and our nation – depends upon restoring our own capacity to start asking profound questions – to engage with other people widely – and to be willing to boldly pursue new opportunities as they are revealed.

These days, “startegy” is far more valuable than “strategy”.

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  1. says


    What a refreshing post! Thank you so much for sharing this “roadmap” for all communities, everywhere! This one is a keeper!

    Brilliant, I say; just brilliant!


    Susan Weiss

  2. says

    Dear Matt,
    Thank you for sharing these questions and your thought provoking ideas! Your experience sounds wonderful. Do you think the format and overall atmosphere of the meeting allowed for greater “STARTEGY”? I appreciate your emphasis on taking positive action, reflecting on the entire situation at hand, and establishing greater community connection. By focusing on just getting started, moving forward, and acknowledging the wonderful resources and people already contributing to our success, arts and cultural organizations may feel less overwhelmed. Over time, taking on “bite-sized” pieces of a goal will likely contribute to a more comprehensive strategy.

    I am reminded of my flute lessons and training throughout high school and college. We strive for perfection as we practice in order to avoid making mistakes during performance. I would get so caught up in the technical details, however, and the ultimate goal of a flawless performance, audition, or whatever the looming circumstance happened to be, that I would sometimes hamper my own success (that is, playing as musically and expressively as possible)! My dad said to me, “Catherine, just play for the music,” before every performance and it made me realize that I was missing the bigger picture by emphasizing the idea of “I must not screw up,” as opposed to allowing myself to just play for the music.

    Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that it is good to let your guard down sometimes, to allow yourself the freedom of exploration, and to just be happy with starting something and seeing where it takes you.

    ~ Catherine