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...]

Trying to find the money-motivation sweet spot

for love and money

Last week, over on New Beans, Clay Lord wrote a post in which he mentioned the release of a new report on the salaries at arts agencies and used some of the findings, as well as some personal experiences, to discuss (among other things) the relationship between passion and salaries. He opined:  We, as a field, need to get out of the cycle of allowing passion or lack of knowledge to displace financial worth—especially when this (and other) data show that such passion likely in part allows for disparities that should not exist.  We, as a field, … [Read more...]

Taming our inner speculators …


A few days ago, while doing research, an article caught my attention. It was written in 1936 and it was about the birth of Theatre Arts magazine twenty years earlier (in 1916). Here's how the founding of the magazine is described in the article:*** For it began in revolt against musty tradition, its first issue proclaiming a credo that still rings in the ear: ‘To help conserve and develop creative impulse in the American theatre; to provide a permanent record of American dramatic art in its formative period; to hasten the day when the … [Read more...]

A new talk: Our long tug of war in the arts

coconut grove

A couple weeks back I gave a talk in Australia at the annual conference of APACA (the Australian Performing Arts Center Association). It’s called Living in the struggle: Our long tug of war in the arts. I would characterize this as a rather existential talk, concerning our necessary missions and the free market society in which we now exist, and the different directions they so often seem to pull us. The first section of the talk is called Mission, Markets, Morals, and Mice. In it, I recount the highlights of a newly published experimental … [Read more...]

On organizations evolving: when short-term coping mechanisms become the new way of doing business


A couple weeks ago, one of my favorite arts bloggers, Andrew Taylor (a/k/a The Artful Manager) wrote a post whose title conveys a pretty strong thesis: Organizations don’t evolve; they cope.  While I share Andrew’s skepticism of the field’s use of natural world metaphors (ecosystem, ecology, evolve, adapt, sustainability, etc.) it’s not because I think the metaphors don’t apply (within limits); it’s because I think we sometimes misapply them. Andrew begins his analysis with a comparison between individual organizations and individual … [Read more...]

Are we overdue to amend our default cultural policy?


A few weeks back, in a guest-post on Engaging Matters, Roberto Bedoya extended an invitation for others to join him in blogging about “how the White Racial Frame intersects with cultural policies and cultural practices.” The proposition grew out of a series of posts (largely written by a bunch of white people, like me) focused specifically on the Irvine Foundation’s new participatory arts focus and, more generally, on (funding) diversity in the arts. I don’t feel qualified to address this topic and I’m positive I do not do it justice, but this … [Read more...]