Arts Predispositions II: Maybes


In my last post, Arts Predispositions I: Yeses, I introduced the notion of categories in the universe of those who do not take advantage of the arts we present. This thinking is based on work of Bradley Morrison and Julie Dalgleish in the early 1990’s presented in Waiting in the Wings. A central feature of that book was an understanding of the population as a whole being divided into Yeses, Maybes, and Noes with respect to arts participation. … [Read more...]

Arts Predispositions I: Yeses


In nearing the final stages of my “how to” book on community engagement, a project about which I have hinted a couple of times here, I have been playing with a new concept that may be helpful in plans to reach those who are not currently involved with the arts. This post and my next two will lay out the basic ideas. There is a tendency to look at the universe of non-participants in the arts as an undifferentiated whole except for economic class … [Read more...]

Engagement Principles: Current Thoughts


As part of my new work of providing direct support to organizations in efforts to more effectively engage with their communities I've been rethinking, expanding, and refining my thoughts on the most important characteristics and attitudes in doing so. I'm grateful to the Regional Arts Commission in St. Louis for the opportunity to dig down into this with their grantees. Here is where I am now. Humility Perhaps the most important requirement for … [Read more...]

Notes from St. Louis


In early December the Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis brought me in to support its work in community engagement. Several elements were new. One was a discussion of misconceptions about the nature of community engagement. The other was specific one-on-one work with arts organizations in engagement planning. Here is the gist of the first part: The Myths Community engagement is A Fad It’s true that there is an over-focus and, more … [Read more...]

Three (+) Cultures


I recently returned from the Building Creative Communities Conference in Santa Fe, a gathering sponsored by New Mexico MainStreet, the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division, and New Mexico Arts. It was an extremely useful conference and I will be sharing thoughts about it come the New Year. For now, however, I wanted to mention an insight that came as a result of the pre-conference tourism in which my wife and I indulged. Several places we … [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...]