Awakening to truths about ourselves and the world (in the Beauty Class)

Intervention Wall Street, Laura Anderson Barbata, Photo by Frank Veronsky

This is the sixth post in a series of posts focused on the course on beauty that I am coordinating/teaching for business students at UW-Madison. In the fourth week of the Beauty Class I wanted to explore the notion, articulated by Jeanette Winterson, that “art can waken us to truths about ourselves and the world.” The class examined works by two artists: monologist/raconteur Mike Daisey, whose piece The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs was aimed at getting people to think about about the injurious labor conditions by which their beautiful Apple … [Read more...]

Approaching Beauty in Art (Beauty Class Continues)

Orchidaceae #4

This post discusses how the business students prepared for a visit to the contemporary art museum; their three-hour visit to the museum and the exercises they completed there; and the portfolio assignments created by students both leading up to the museum experience, and in response to it. Before the Museum In anticipation of a visit to the museum I assigned a few videos for the students to watch. The first was Michael Kimmelman on Art Parts 1 & 2 (two brief segments excerpted from the documentary My Kid Could Paint … [Read more...]

On Selfies vs. Self-Portraits and Universal Beauty vs. What I Find Beautiful (Beauty Class Portfolio Assignments)

Diane's tree

  For those following the Beauty Class, this post is about the first two portfolio assignments. One of the primary methods of learning in this course is the creation of portfolios in which students are asked to catalogue their experiences of beauty in art, nature, work, and everyday life. The weekly assignments allow me to trace student progress over the course of the term and are intended to provoke and inspire thinking about beauty. My assignments are a subset of the larger portfolios the students have been asked to … [Read more...]

A Different Orientation (Beauty Class Wk 1)


Art is a different value system. Like God, it fails us continually. Like God we have legitimate doubts about its existence but, like God, art leaves us with footprints of beauty. We sense there is more to life than the material world can provide, and art is a clue, an intimation, at its best, a transformation. We don’t need to believe in it, but we can experience it. The experience suggests that the monolith of corporate culture is only a partial reality. This is important information, and art provides it. - Jeanette Winterson, The Secret Life … [Read more...]

Why Beauty in a Business School?


  A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about the course in beauty that I am teaching this term at UW-Madison, under the auspices of the Business School and the Bolz Center for Arts Administration. In that post I promised to provide an essay in which I address the literature that has, thus far, informed my thinking. That essay (published as a separate PDF) is called Why Beauty in a Business School? and it is an attempt to provide some justification for offering a course in beauty at a business school. It is not lost on me that there … [Read more...]

Approaching Beauty in a Business School


In a week I will be heading to Madison, Wisconsin to teach a 12-week course in beauty for undergraduate business majors.  The course is aimed at helping students cultivate an aesthetic sensibility. It will combine a bit of philosophizing on the nature and function of beauty in today’s society; arts and other aesthetic experiences; and the documentation of these experiences in a portfolio. Over the next four months I will use Jumper as a platform from which to open up the class. I want to share what we’re doing and learn from others who may be … [Read more...]

The Arts in a Civic World Upside Down


A couple months back I was asked to give a talk on civic leadership to a group of arts leaders participating in the fantastic UK-based Clore Leadership Programme. We tend to take for granted that subsidized arts organizations are, by default, key players in civil society--that is, civic leaders. But are they? I believe arts organizations can, and should be, civic leaders but that such a role will require that many organizations pursue a different relationship to their communities. What follows is an excerpt/adaptation from the full … [Read more...]

Change in the arts sector. Can we speed it up or must we wait it out?


  Devon Smith has written a smart, provocative post on a debate she engaged in at the recent Americans for the Arts Conference in Nashville. It’s called We Should Allow Failing Arts Organizations to Die and it has lit up the arts blogosphere, Twitter, and Facebook the past few days. So much so that she has added a second post responding to the internet comments. This topic is close to my heart. In 2009 I was on a panel at the Grantmakers in the Arts Conference alled Graceful Exits,What Can Funders Do When It's Time to Pull the Plug. In … [Read more...]

Beyond repair? On the loss of structural integrity …

geodesic dome and fuller

There is an arts story that has been nagging at me the past couple months. It's the recent announcement of the revised plans for the NYC Performing Arts Center planned for the former World Trade Center site. The plan for an arts center at Ground Zero began more than ten years ago. At first the center was to house four arts organizations but three of the four were tapped out several years ago. Only one (the Joyce Theater) still remained as of last year. The project has never really gotten off the ground and plans have changed so many times I … [Read more...]

Can arts organizations be both art-focused and community-focused?

False Dilemma-thumb-300x254-153811[1]

  Doug Borwick has a new post (inspired by comments made by Lyz Crane at the Creative Placemaking Summit) on the “central disconnect” between arts organizations and community engagement. The cornerstones of his argument appear to be that the “art world” exists to do what it wants to do (in contrast to most of the social sectors that exist to solve a problem or need); that arts organizations, therefore, depend upon true believers that are willing to support them in their self-interested pursuits; that community engagement requires seeing … [Read more...]

Artistic homes? Excerpts from a recent talk …

scylla and charybdis

Last week I gave a brief talk in Edinburgh (at an event sponsored by Mission, Models, Money) for a small gathering of leaders in the arts and culture sector. The aim was of the meeting was to examine and reframe thinking about building-based arts and cultural organizations. I happened to read a book on reframing over the holidays—Reframing: The Art of Thinking Differently, by Karim Benammar. Reframing is a technique that Benammar uses to help individuals and organizations ask themselves two questions: Why do we do the things we do? How can we … [Read more...]

Innovation to what end?

map guy 2

Happy New Year! This is a condensed and slightly adapted version of a short talk I gave in October at an event called Blowup: Innovation in Extreme Scenarios, hosted by a hub organization called V2, located in Rotterdam. INNOVATION TO WHAT END? I predicted in an article I wrote in 2005 that “innovation” would become the next buzz word to emerge in US funding applications and I was right. Predicting the rise of innovation hardly required super human insight.  The whole world was striving to innovate—even before the great recession. And … [Read more...]

On the distinction between giving people what they want versus what they need.

want need

Recently, Nina Simon has written a smart post taking aim at the “Need versus Want” distinction often used to describe the role of (nonprofit) arts organizations—as in, “Our job is not to give people what they want but what they need.” As someone that has, at times, used this distinction to make points in various talks I was eager to read Simon’s post, Let's Stop Talking About What People Want and Need As If They are Different (and We Can Tell How). Simon makes three arguments: (1) it’s presumptuous for arts organizations to think they know … [Read more...]

My Grantmakers In the Arts 2013 Conference. I’m Sensing an Evolution.


A few weeks back I was invited to attend the 2013 Grantmakers in the Arts Conference in Philadelphia as a Conference Blogger. I joined Barry Hessenius (Barry's Blog) and a whole team of bloggers, led by Ian David Moss (Createquity), from Fractured Atlas. I wrote three posts summarizing the activities I attended and reflecting on key themes, which you can find here. I vowed (to myself) that I would let the conference sink in a bit and then write a post for Jumper--a brief summary of the sticky points, if you will. This is that post. ARTISTS … [Read more...]

On tipping the dominoes then walking away …


A couple months back I was one of a number of people interviewed for a research project of Grantmakers in the Arts. The interview was aimed at understanding my influences as a funder (when I worked at the Mellon Foundation) and drawng out some lessons learned. At one point in the discussion I found myself saying that I had probably left grantmaking just in time because I was not sure I understood how to be an effective arts grantmaker over the long haul. While at Mellon I found myself continually questioning whether it was better to provide … [Read more...]