Deconstructing a Revelation

LightBulbIn my last post (Eureka), I shared an insight about the nature of not-for-profit arts organizations that was valuable to me. However, I have discovered that in my enthusiasm for the insight, I gave articulation of it short shrift.

My friend and fellow blogger Diane Ragsdale, for whom I have the utmost respect, took that post to task for what she interpreted it to mean. If I had meant what she thought I meant, I would have done the same. One lesson here is that like when you have to explain a joke, when one must provide a translation for something they have written, the original was not well conceived.

Simply put, Ms. Ragsdale understood me to mean that focus on engagement and on art were mutually exclusive. In retrospect, I accept responsibility for imprecision of language. As I told her in comments on her post:

The not-for-profit arts industry has, in the U.S., a problem of perceived public value. Too many “people on the street” have a sense that the arts as presented by that industry are not for them. One source of that is our funding history, with support coming from wealthy arts patrons. My main point was intended to be that the insight from Lyz Crane’s remarks provided an additional explanation: social service agencies exist to address a community issue; not-for-profit arts organizations exist to do art. Seen that way by the public can simply reinforce notions of limited public value.


The issue is that “central to the mission” is not the same thing as the exclusive mission. I’ve long talked about balancing focus on art and service. (Engaged Mission:II is one good example.) The weighting of that balance is up to the organization. Community engagement does require taking some level of community awareness seriously, but never to the exclusion of quality art making. 

Blogging is a bit too much of a sound bite business. It is difficult to be thorough, interesting, insightful (on rare occasions), and succinct. It’s a little like the old college essay joke, “Be brief and specific.”

For the record, let me simply say that if anyone ever thinks I have said that quality of artistic expression or production are unimportant or even secondary to serving our communities, I have misspoken and/or been misread.



Photo: Old school light bulb by Joi Ito

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