Excellence Is Heterogeneous


In completing my assignment for Barry's Blog (brief observations on "what I have learned") I included "Excellence is heterogeneous." (See Lessons.) My explanatory note said, "Technique is important in the arts. So are relevance, inclusiveness, and impact–to name only a few additional criteria. Excellence is best sought in everything that matters but can seldom be achieved in all categories in equal measure." I've been down this road before and … [Read more...]



I was honored recently to have Barry Hessenius ask me to contribute to his annual post "What I Have Learned." He asked a number of people to share life lessons from both personal and professional life. The demands of blogging being what they are and the busy season being what it is, it seemed not unreasonable to double dip with my response, so, while you may have seen this in his blog, here it is again. Just because you can do something doesn’t … [Read more...]

Community Engagement: A Habit of Mind


Perhaps the most important requirement for newcomers to community engagement is development of a new perspective, a new way of thinking that incorporates awareness of community into all their work. This is a frame of reference that places interests of the public high enough in unconscious thought processes that they influence creative choices. It is a perspective that grows out of belief, commitment, and practice. Belief and commitment are … [Read more...]

Will and Way


"Where there's a will, there's a way." Often, when discussing the possibility of expanding an arts organization's commitment to community engagement the first reaction I hear is the difficulties anticipated in doing so–scarce funds, too little time, alienating current stakeholders, abandoning "excellence" (I have to work hard to avoid jumping down the throat of the person that presents that one!), etc. There are at least some issues to address … [Read more...]



In my last three posts (Outreach, Self-Made Barriers, Engagement Research: Talk to Them) I have been addressing vocabulary and habits of mind that separate us from the public we need to reach. In each case, the issue is seeing ourselves (unconsciously or not) as isolated from–not a part of–the communities we serve. Some of this has to do with a sense of "specialness" that accompanies being an artist or arts worker, and certainly the arts are … [Read more...]

Engagement Research: Talk to Them


This is the third in a series of posts dealing with the ways we in the arts unconsciously distance ourselves from the public. This time I want to expand a bit on the potential of market research to separate us from communities as well as its significant potential for supporting engagement. To that  end, let me being with a story I've used several times in my speaking engagements: Twenty years ago, my sister-in-law was the harried mother of two … [Read more...]

Self-Made Barriers


In my last post I reflected on the potential damage to relationships (or damage to the capacity to form relationships) with those outside the inner world of the arts that the word "outreach" can inflict. (Outreach) I mentioned that there were other such words or concepts that have the effect of creating or supporting distance between our organizations and those with whom we would like to build meaningful relationships. There are, in our field, … [Read more...]



I've just returned from speaking at the first ever Central Oregon Arts Summit in Bend, OR. It was a great (and quick) trip to a place that appears to be reaping the benefits of over twenty years of active work cultivating a public policy climate favorable to the arts. As one demonstration, the voters of Bend recently approved a hotel tax dedicated to supporting the arts and culture. Travel and speaking with peers from around the country always … [Read more...]

Let (Make) the Artists Do It (?)


There is an unfortunate tendency in discussions of community engagement for an organization’s first response to be that all (or most) of the work should be in the hands of its artists. I hear this presented as an assumption at many conferences, especially discipline-specific ones. This can stymie engagement efforts for two significant reasons. First, to be credible, engagement must reflect the will of the organization and be visible in all its … [Read more...]

Make Room for Fun


Recently I heard a contemporary blues singer (Lightnin' Charlie) interviewed about his life and work. In the course of the interviewed he said, "My business is to create fun. If people who come to hear me don't have fun, I've not done my job." I'm not going where some of you might think. I don't believe that it is the sole or perhaps even a primary function of Art to create fun for people. But here is a thought to consider in the privacy of your … [Read more...]