On tipping the dominoes then walking away …

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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...]

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

icebergs

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...]

Can we change our definition & measures of success? Do we really want to?

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Happy New Year a week late. I picked up a book at the university library a few days ago called Morals and Markets and have read a few chapters, which have been tumbling around in my mind with an excellent New Year's essay by Polly Carl on the measures of an individual playwright’s success, a New York Times op-ed on trying to measure the impact of social media using “yardsticks” of traditional marketing, and a much cited New Year's prediction for the arts by Rick Lester at Target Resource Group that appeared on Thomas Cott’s Year End Predictions … [Read more...]

Nonprofit Arts Orgs and the Boards That Love Them

Ashamed head-in-hands

Last week I read an article by Pablo Eisenberg in the Chronicle of Philanthropy in which he argues that greater oversight of nonprofits is needed because nonprofit boards can no longer be trusted to make sure the institutions they govern are serving the public interest, which they are legally obliged to serve. Eisenberg mentions hospitals and universities in particular, citing the recent debacles at University of Virginia and Penn State as evidence for why we can no longer put our faith in boards. However, I think it’s fair to say that the arts … [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...]

When did being pro-artist make one anti-institution?

wedge

I attended the Theatre Communications Group conference in Boston a couple weeks ago. On the first day of the conference Michael Maso, managing director of the Huntington Theatre, was presented with an award recognizing his contributions to the American theater. Towards the end of a humorous and lovely acceptance speech, Maso switched gears and used the opportunity to share thoughts on those that would question the priorities and processes of large institutional theaters. He said: Over the next few days we will be engaged in an exploration of … [Read more...]

Is Opera a Sustainable Art Form? Excerpts from a new keynote …

aida

I’ve been on hiatus in order to concentrate my time on the weekends to learning Dutch (state exam coming up). My last post was before Mike Daisey unhinged Ira Glass and Ira Glass exposed Mike Daisey and the whole world wrote about it. I’m not going to write about Mike Daisey. Instead, because I’m still concerned about the state of the arts and culture sector in the US (despite its “turnaround” according to Americans for the Arts), and because I’m still studying Dutch and neck-deep in my research at the moment, I’m going to share an excerpt from … [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...]

A planned ending for Merce Cunningham Dance Co.

Merce_Cunningham

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...]

On artists being tossed off the truck

people falling off truck

About a month ago I wrote a post on ‘'on artists making a living and artistic directors that could make a difference but don't.’ I had a significant number of comments (relative to other posts on my blog) including several from actors (thanks, all). One of the most inspiring posts came from Ron Russell of Epic Theatre in NYC. Epic (founded in 2001) has operating expenses of approximately $1.7 million (according to its 2010 990 filing on Guidestar) and recently renegotiated its contract with Actors Equity Association (AEA) to enable it to … [Read more...]