The Relevance Test


I am currently working on "how to" processes for a book about establishing community engagement as a core function in arts organizations. Certainly, one of the first and most important steps is developing a cadre of engagement advocates. The arguments for engagement are many. However, I'm starting to believe that  the best place to begin may be with what I'm calling "the relevance test." Here is how I'm articulating it right now: The following … [Read more...]

The “Pandering” Straw Man


This post is not part of a series, so it may seem a bit out of context. I've addressed the issues of quality and community on numerous occasions previously. (The Pursuit of Excellence, Quality and Community, Quality and Community-2) However, the issue comes up so often in Q&A sessions, it's probably good to share this as I write it in the context of a larger project. Critics (and uncomfortable observers) of community engagement in the arts … [Read more...]


I'm not one to spend much money when I go to the movies. I wait until they are on Netflix or go to discount matinees. I prefer the word thrifty to cheap, but if the shoe fits . . . . That's why it was so remarkable that I chose to see Gravity (yep, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock) in IMAX 3-D. I spent three or four times what I would normally pay for a movie ticket to do so. . . . And I would do it again. This is not a movie review (although … [Read more...]

Engaging the Third Rail


The art. Programming. The reason artists create and arts organizations exist.  The untouchable heart of the enterprise. (NB: In these posts on mainstreaming engagement, I am addressing only those individuals or organizations that want broader and deeper relationships with their communities but are uncertain how to begin or even whether it is possible to do so without completely reinventing the organization.) When I began an outline of how … [Read more...]

What Is the Arts Business?


The problem with unconscious assumptions is that they are  . . . unconscious. Even for me, spending time as I do questioning the status quo in the arts, the basic nature of the arts enterprise–deeper even than  the "business model"–often remains unexplored. But the arguments for and against community engagement inevitably have at their root this fundamental question. What is the arts business? Individual or Community Resource? A good (and … [Read more...]

Engaging with Palestrina


So, I was sitting there, behaving (as well as I generally can), when a sentence leapt out of my mouth unbidden. The occasion was a grant review panel, the subject was a chamber choir requesting funds to present a concert of music by Palestrina, and the precipitating topic was a discussion of the group’s response to the question about the public benefit of the activity. As is typical (and totally understandable given the state of the arts industry … [Read more...]

The Porgy Problem


Many of you, on the basis of the title alone, could write this post yourself. Porgy and Bess is an iconic masterwork of the arts in the U.S. It is justifiably performed countless times by opera companies everywhere. And it sometimes provides a textbook example of the myopia with which arts organizations often conduct themselves in communities. On numerous occasions, when I am discussing engagement and the necessity of developing and being in … [Read more...]

Shifting the Center


You are now privy to the reason I became a musician rather than a visual artist. (Or at least one reason.) I deeply appreciate good graphic design but my capacity for creation is, shall we say, limited. What you see here is the best I can do. Honestly! Yet as crude as this is, I think it gets the point across. I have attempted to articulate the thought that the picture expresses on a number of occasions and I discover that the adage about … [Read more...]

Insight from the Concert Hall

Once again, Greg Sandow has given us a valuable framework for thinking about engagement. His recent post, Four keys to the future, has been cited by many already and deserves to be read and studied. I cannot see any need to add to what he said. I'll only observe that the principles he gives for a viable future for classical music are perfectly applicable across the arts. His four points are: Understand and respect the culture outside classical … [Read more...]

Things Change


I have always been a sucker for revelations about how social, cultural, and technological change has impacted arts experiences. I was blown away when (many, many years ago) I heard a presentation at the College Music Society's annual conference highlighting the fact that before the 20th Century, the loudest thing typical people ever heard (by far) was a symphony orchestra. No machines, no cars, certainly no jet airplanes. So the effect of hearing … [Read more...]