The Arts in a Civic World Upside Down

occupy-wall-street-poster

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...]

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...]

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...]

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 making a living and artistic directors that could make a difference but don’t

Ethan Lipton

Saturday night I went to Joe’s Pub to see playwright-lounge lizard Ethan Lipton & His Orchestra perform  his new work, No Place To Go, about a playwright-lounge lizard that must decide whether to relocate or stay in the ‘the city’ when the company that has provided him with a steady ‘day-job’ (part-time no-benefits employment) for a decade decides to relocate to Mars.  It’s funny, satirical, and poignant. As you might have inferred, the piece is inspired by events in Lipton’s life. Some of my friends who are actors, playwrights, … [Read more...]

But What Does Barry’s List Mean?

the politics of culture

So Barry’s Blog posted its annual Top 25 Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in the Nonprofit Arts list last week. In years’ past I would see this list and bemoan the fact that it seemed to be dominated by funders. I never said anything because I thought it would probably come across as sour grapes since I was, at the time, a funder (but not one that made the list).  As it turns out, this year I squeaked onto the list … barely. And so (with this new found and, no doubt, short-lived position of influence) I have decided to raise the … [Read more...]

Which nonprofit arts orgs deserve these pennies?

shutterstock_1347453 penny jar cropped

In response to last week's post, Leonard Jacobs posted a thoughtful essay at The Clyde Fitch Report in which he made many excellent points--many of them fair criticisms of my post. I cannot adequately address all of Jacobs' points in this post, but I hope to address a few while expounding upon some of my previous comments. In my first post, I was endeavoring to both (1) discuss perceptions of the current threats to funding (which Jacobs rightly says are not 'attacks' in the sense of the culture wars) and (2) make the assertion that the … [Read more...]