Being Local

YouAreHerePlate

One (of many) ways artcentricity hinders community engagement is in its impact upon the relationship between the arts organization and its community as a whole. The “pursuit of excellence” as commonly understood often leads organizations to strive for a generic, rather than a location-specific, form of excellence. As one way of considering this, imagine a collection of season brochures or exhibition catalogs. In how many is it possible to tell … [Read more...]

The Visible Hand

Hand

Much of my pragmatic (as opposed to moral) argument for deep focus on community engagement is of the “invisible hand” variety. (Thank you Adam Smith.) Economic, cultural, and social forces will inevitably, but without direct action, change the landscape to such an extent that business as usual in the arts will eventually become unsustainable. The area where such pressures move from the invisible/indirect to the visible/direct is in public … [Read more...]

Birds Gotta Fly

AirbusCockpit

One of the inevitable results of traveling around the country is getting used to airline employees, especially flight attendants, talking to me–often reciting governmentally- or corporately-mandated scripts about safety or the rich benefits of airline credit cards. The presentations range from  stultifying to (occasionally) hilarious. It's fun to hear creative staff riff on the means of fastening seat belts or the use of oxygen masks. What I've … [Read more...]

Rationales

Why?

As I've mentioned before, I'm in the process of developing training options for arts organizations seeking a unified approach to community engagement–systemic, mainstreamed, and involving every facet of the work. Part of that, a relatively simple one to be sure, has been drafting descriptions of it. Several early comments suggested the need for including the rationale for community engagement. A first pass yielded the … [Read more...]

Making Meaningful Connections

Helicon-IrvineConnectionsReport

The Helicon Collaborative and the Irvine Foundation have partnered on a "hit it out of the park" report addressing substantive engagement. Making Meaningful Connections presents research into the most effective practices in efforts to engage with diverse communities. (I felt this way before I saw that Building Communities, Not Audiences was listed in the bibliography.) In the introduction they make the case that engaging with new communities is … [Read more...]

Civil Rights Museum

CivilRightsMuseumImages

After attending the Americans for the Arts Convention in Nashville last month my wife and I went on to Memphis to explore another city that we had not visited. As part of that trip we went to the National Civil Rights Museum. (On a personal note, I had not registered the museum's subtitle "At the Lorraine Motel" so when I arrived I had the breath knocked out of me seeing "the balcony.") Coming so soon after the conference session I discussed in … [Read more...]

The Self-Centered Pursuit of Diversity

Nashville

In my last post I reflected on the 2014 Americans for the Arts Conference in Nashville. I concluded by mentioning an important session on diversity and promised a follow-up. There is much discussion (lip service and otherwise) of and occasional work toward diversity and inclusion in the arts industry. One difficulty is that much of the support infrastructure in the arts is connected via metaphorical superglue to the white monied establishment. … [Read more...]

Frames of Reference

UpsideDownMap

"They're an hour behind." Recently, landing in Des Moines on a flight from Charlotte, I overheard a fellow passenger say this to their seatmate. I often hear people describe time zone differences this way, so I might have ignored it; but on this occasion, the tone of voice implied something about the speaker's attitude toward our destination. It sounded a tad condescending, as if the clocks might not be the only thing that was "behind" in this … [Read more...]

Mental Logjam

Logjam

During my participation in Utah Arts and Museum's Mountain West Arts Conference, I had the opportunity to hear Laura Smith from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies present an overview of recent funding trends in the U.S. Listening to the statistics, a not directly related thought occurred to me. (My mind does tend to wander. But this time it was relevant wandering.) Standard categories for tracking charitable giving include "arts and … [Read more...]

Magnets and Oysters

MagnetOyster-Pearl

One issue that every arts organization seeking to engage with its communities must address is the "where" of arts activity. Our unconscious assumption is that art needs to take place in spaces specially designed for the form in question: concert halls, theaters, museums. But just as people unfamiliar with the work we present are intimidated by it, many are reticent to enter the venues to which we have grown accustomed. Of course there are … [Read more...]