Valuable data, questionable field recommendations. (A response to Irvine’s latest report on arts participation.)

risk question mark

A few years ago I had a meeting with a PhD advisor in the US to talk through the proposed chapter breakdown for my dissertation. When discussing the key components of my final chapter I conveyed that it would include a major section covering policy implications and recommendations for arts organizations, artists, and funders. My advisor smiled a bit and said, “Well, let’s see if you earn that section, first.” It was a good lesson. Whenever I come across a passage in a research study that begins, “The evidence suggests that arts organizations … [Read more...]

Renegotiating the value of a museum

dia levy passes

Over the past couple of weeks quite a few people have weighed in on the Detroit Institute of Art’s successful appeal to three counties in Michigan to pass a “millage” (a property tax) which would provide $23 million per year for the museum (91% of its budget) over ten years, while it raises $400 million for its endowment to replace the tax revenues when they run out. One of the most interesting aspects of this strategy is that the DIA offered free admission to the museum only to people living in the counties that passed the levy (which equates … [Read more...]

As nonprofits do we (or should we) put all art in service of instrumental ends?


This past Thursday and Friday I had the honor of attending a convening on global performance, civic imagination, and cultural diplomacy at Georgetown University, hosted by Derek Goldman and Cynthia Schneider. By bringing "leaders in international theater and performance together with foreign policy leaders from academia, think tanks, and government," the stated hope of the organizers was to bridge the gap between the fields of politics and culture, to the mutual benefit of both. Over the course of the first two days of the convening some … [Read more...]

Guest blogging this week on two sites

Tulip fields in Holland

No Jumper post this week as I have the great honor to be blogging on two other sites. Laura Zimmerman at the Minnesota-based McKnight Foundation invited me to submit a post on the subject “What is the role of an artist in the world today?” for its new State of the Artist blog. My post, The Professional Lens: Are we a sector of underemployed ‘professional’ artists or successful ‘pro-ams’? is now live. I hope you will find time to read it and comment. Additionally, Arlene Goldbarb (writer, speaker, social activist, and consultant) and Barry … [Read more...]

Theatre Bay Area’s “Counting New Beans”

counting new beans

Clay Lord and the fine folks at Theatre Bay Area have a new publication out: Counting New Beans: Intrinsic Impact and the Value of Art, which includes interviews with 20 prominent artistic directors and essays by Alan Brown, Rebecca Ratzkin, Arlene Goldbard, Rebecca Novick, and Clayton Lord. It also includes an interview with yours truly. Here's an excerpt from my long and winding conversation with Clay Lord. I've edited together excerpts (elipses mark missing sections) from two different parts of the interview. Clay Lord: You’ve written … [Read more...]

On my Soapbox: Digitization of Live Performance

The Wooster Group

The Wooster GroupClay Lord has written a provocative and rather erudite post, The Work of Presentational Art in the Age of On-Demand Technological Empowerment, in which he cautions that as arts organizations embrace or respond to pressure to record and disseminate their live work that they not lose their identity and the core of what live performance (and theater in particular, perhaps) is all about. Clay mentions my post from last week in which I wrote: "If our goal for the next century is to hold onto our marginalized position and … [Read more...]

If our goal is simply to preserve our current reality, why pursue it?


About a month ago I read an article in the Atlantic (recommended to me by LINKED IN) on the phenomenal success of Finland’s primary and secondary education public school system—a success which, the article suggests, the US has failed to understand. There are some notable differences between the US system and Finland’s: Teachers in Finland are given prestige, decent pay and a lot of responsibility. Finland has no standardized tests; teachers are trained to create tests and assess students independently. (Periodically the government … [Read more...]

Time to start pulling off the duct tape …

duct tape

In his article, Occupy the Arts, a seat at a time, NY Times critic Anthony Tomasini (like others) pounced on recent allegations of ‘elitism’ in the arts (growing out of the Occupy movement), decrying that there are loads of free and affordable arts events and that even those organizations that charge $400 per ticket also have cheap seats (and the experience is just as great from the nosebleeds, thank you very much!). Not only do Tomasini and others seem a tad defensive when they fly their Free Tickets Flag in the face of those seeking to raise … [Read more...]

Instead of more data perhaps we should discuss why we keep ignoring the data we have?


I finally had found some time this week to read Scott Walter’s excellent second post in his trilogy (all three now published) looking at the 1% vs 99% issues in the US arts and culture sector. A compelling string of comments follows this post, led by one of my other favorite bloggers, Clayton Lord, who argues two points: (1) Is it effective to turn against the ‘top’ arts organizations at a time when the arts generally are under attack? and (2) We need to collect more data to understand how to improve the system. Walters responds that the time … [Read more...]

The times may be a-changin’ but (no surprise) arts philanthropy ain’t


The Philanthropy News Digest recently sent me a bulletin with the headline, “Arts Funding Does Not Reflect Nation's Diversity, Report Finds” which linked me to an AP Newsbreak article with the headline “Report finds arts funding serves wealthy audience, is out of touch with diversity”. My initial thought was, “Seriously? We need a report to tell us this?” The report, Fusing Arts, Culture, and Social Change: High Impact Strategies for Philanthropy, was produced by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and written by Holly … [Read more...]

Works-in-process in an everyone-is-a-critic-now world.


If inviting general audiences into the artistic process now means potentially inviting them to share their feedback with the world does this change how we think about presenting works-in-development for public audiences? Perhaps I have a skewed perception, but it strikes me that over the past couple decades (at least in the US) arts organizations have increasingly presented half- or nearly-baked works to the public and (in many cases) charged them money for the privilege of seeing this work. For a variety of reasons, we have invited patrons … [Read more...]

Arts Ed: An opportunity for arts nonprofits to create shared value?


A new acquaintance recently recommended the Jan-Feb 2011 HBR article, "Creating Shared Value" by Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer. The authors define the concept of shared value as "policies and operating practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company while simultaneously advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates." The article, which is compelling, gives several examples of policies and practices that create shared value, including: food companies traditionally focused on taste and … [Read more...]

Perhaps we need to rethink which nonprofit arts groups are considered leaders in their fields?

shutterstock_71062825 fallen king exp grey

Many have written in the past week on the pending and proposed eliminations of the Kansas, Texas, and South Carolina state arts agencies (among others). For a roundup of the news on this front I recommend this post on Createquity. Some see these attacks as yet another sign that the country is filled with philistines, some see them as symbolic or purely political, and others as the reasonable end of decades of disregard by arts organizations of their communities-at-large. The arts (which in the minds of most people equates with 'the fine … [Read more...]

Slow Food: a model for the arts and culture sector?

Capay heirloom tomatoes at Slow Food Nation

In 1986, a McDonald’s opened near the historic Spanish Steps in Rome. It was the inciting incident that prompted culinary writer Carlo Petrini to launch Slow Food, a grassroots movement and counter-revolution to the fast food industry, which had ‘revolutionized’ dining beginning in the early twentieth century. I've been wondering the past couple years whether the 'high arts' sphere in the US might benefit from modeling some of Slow Food's strategies. For example: Through festivals and events, Slow Food connects everyday people (not just … [Read more...]

Who has access to ‘culture’? Who gets to define it?

culture and class

Last week, I wrote a response to a blog by Judith Dobrzynski in which she asked, “Are we, as a country, defining the arts down?”  I essentially challenged her question. Responses to my blog varied, with one person calling my views ‘nonsense’. A few days ago, I happened to read a provocative new pamphlet by Counterpoint, the British Council’s think tank, called “Culture and Class,” which goes straight to the crux of last week’s conversation. Author John Holden describes a culture war being waged on two fronts:  the first concerns who has access … [Read more...]