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...]

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...]

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...]

Are the arts trading in happiness? If so, what kind?

happiest place on earth

A couple weeks ago I wrote a post on changing definitions of success in which I, essentially, asked, Can we change them? And do we really want to? In a thoughtful comment to the post (well worth reading in full) a veteran policy advocate, Margy Waller at Topos Partnership (who worked with ArtsWave in Cincinnati on The Arts Ripple Effect) floated the possibility of happiness among citizens as a measure of our success. She wrote: Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogota, … redefined the measure of success for his city: “If we in the Third … [Read more...]