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 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 a sector defined by our permanently failing organizations?

zombies are people too

A few weeks back I wrote a post responding to a session at the Theatre Communications Group conference in which an esteemed leader of a resident theater (Michael Maso) called “bullshit” on some criticisms being lobbed at large theater institutions. I am incredibly grateful to all who took the time to read or respond to the post. The comments, including a link to Mr. Maso’s response, are well worth reading if you have not done so. I want to pick up on some of the ideas raised by Maso and others in a future post, but today I want to draw … [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...]

A planned ending for Merce Cunningham Dance Co.


Merce CunninghamIn last week’s post on direct subsidies to artists, I expanded upon a premise from artist/economist Hans Abbing--that direct subsidies to artists may provide incentives to more people to become artists, thereby increasing competition, and making it more difficult for any to make a living--and suggested that the same may be true of arts organizations. I wrote, "We have incentivized the exponential growth of the arts and culture sector in the US and, despite significant resources (government and private) flowing into the sector on … [Read more...]

Digitisation in the arts: Is there a do-over if we get it wrong?

shutterstock_26267014 leap over gap

I've recently come across four articles/papers that have me grappling with the promise and the potential threats of digitisation in the arts and culture sector. At the end of September I read an article in “Inside Higher Ed” discussing some truly exciting advances in the 'digital humanities', a branch of the field that uses “technology-heavy approaches” to study and provide new ways of understanding and experiencing history, language, art and culture. The National Endowment for the Humanities recently hosted a conference with the 60 … [Read more...]

What are we incubating and to what end?

starry night egg

A couple weeks back Thomas Cott published an issue of “You’ve Cott Mail” centered loosely on the theme of innovation and business incubators in the arts world, in which he linked to a post by one of my favorite bloggers/researchers/thinkers, Devon Smith. Devon contrasted the concept of ‘incubator’ in the tech world and the arts world. After reading her post I was curious to read up on technology and business incubators and ask myself what, exactly, arts incubators are incubating and to what end? Devon makes the point that in the tech world … [Read more...]

The lesson in my new tree for arts policy makers


About my tree: Last month my husband and I hired a small family-owned landscaping business to help us renovate the small gardens in the front and back of our house. They planted three new trees, two of which are young (thin) but already quite tall. They planted the trees with support poles on either side to ensure they grow straight (see pic). As I have never had a garden I asked how many weeks the poles would need to stay. The answer: three years. About the production houses in the Netherlands: For years the Netherlands has had a … [Read more...]

How to avoid a strip-mall future for the arts sector: Lessons from the boutique label, Pi

shutterstock_53960845 strip mall

This past week I came across a New York Times article featured on ArtsJournal examining the remarkable success of the indie Jazz label, Pi. The article demonstrates that Pi is bucking trends in the music industry. It is managing to not just keep its head above water at a time when many music labels are struggling, but it is having tremendous impact despite being a relatively small Jazz label focused on the leading edge of its artform. Here are a few keys to Pi’s success (which I gleaned from the article): (1)   Unlike many labels … [Read more...]

The mad, mad chase for innovation in the arts

shutterstock_8129566 chasing innovation

A few weeks back, I wrote in a post that I’m beginning to wonder whether the process of adapting to a changing environment has become harder for arts organizations than it needs to be because many arts funders seem to be fixated on the idea that future success will come only through ‘radical innovation’. I suggested that perhaps we could see some pretty great results through good-old-fashioned, common-sense, it’s-about-time, just-do-the-right-thing, ‘improvements’. I'm not suggesting that 'innovation' in the arts and culture sector should not … [Read more...]