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...]

Develop Allies

ClownHuddle

In Engagement Working Group, I discussed an early step in the process of bolstering an organization's commitment to engagement. Once members of this core group–those who already have an understanding of and firm commitment to this work–have discovered each other and begun talking and planning, it is time to expand the base. Developing allies means turning the non-enthusiastic into supporters or at least convincing them not to be … [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...]

Engagement Working Group

PenguinConspiracy

This is part of my continuing series on "How" to build a community-focused arts organization. An early step is organizing a group of "believers" who can work to generate enthusiasm and support for a transition. For lack of a better term, I call this an engagement working group. The means by which potential members of such a group “find” each other can be as varied as are organizations. Some individuals probably already are aware of like-minded … [Read more...]

Getting to “Us”

TomatoesJalapeno

I have commented before on the habit of mind in the arts world that separates "us" and "them," especially with respect to our communities. Most directly, in Want-Need: "Them"? I suggested that: [W]e need to see our constituencies (and potential constituencies) not as "them." We need to understand that, together, we are all "us" in the application of the arts to make all our lives better. This requires humility (Humilité, Discovering … [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...]

Plan B

PlanB

In the context of posts that write themselves, this one falls in the category of "written (primarily) by someone else." The Guardian (London) published, earlier this year, an opinion piece titled "Public arts funding: towards plan B." (It was written by Three Johns and Shelagh: John Holden, John Kieffer, John Newbigin and Shelagh Wright.) The article is a critique of Arts Council England's arts funding report titled Towards Plan A, a report they … [Read more...]

First, Believe

Halo-Reflection

There is one, and only one, first principle in effective engagement with communities. That is believing engagement is a good thing–for the organization, for the community, and for art. Pragmatic rationales (e.g., "The funder made me do it." or "We need to sell more tickets.") are not unimportant, but in the end they do not move the mission focus of the organization away from internally focused artcentricity. Effective engagement demands that … [Read more...]

Yep, We Do That

ThumbUp

In But . . . How? I mentioned that I often am confronted with two vastly different "realities" with respect to arts organizations' commitment to community engagement. High ranking officials will say that commitments to community are deep and wide while others (often education staff) describe their organization's work as arts business as usual–focused almost exclusively on the art. Actually, on more than one occasion I've been faced with tears … [Read more...]

Call for Stories

Gard Foundation logo

In advocating for community engagement work, one of the most important elements is identifying and sharing stories of examples of what works (and of projects that could have been improved). For years, the Community Arts Network (CAN) was a great source of such stories. Unfortunately they had to close up shop. Fortunately, the good work they did is still accessible in an online archive sponsored by Indiana University. (This is not just stories but … [Read more...]