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...]

Change in the arts sector. Can we speed it up or must we wait it out?


  Devon Smith has written a smart, provocative post on a debate she engaged in at the recent Americans for the Arts Conference in Nashville. It’s called We Should Allow Failing Arts Organizations to Die and it has lit up the arts blogosphere, Twitter, and Facebook the past few days. So much so that she has added a second post responding to the internet comments. This topic is close to my heart. In 2009 I was on a panel at the Grantmakers in the Arts Conference alled Graceful Exits,What Can Funders Do When It's Time to Pull the Plug. In … [Read more...]

Can arts organizations be both art-focused and community-focused?

False Dilemma-thumb-300x254-153811[1]

  Doug Borwick has a new post (inspired by comments made by Lyz Crane at the Creative Placemaking Summit) on the “central disconnect” between arts organizations and community engagement. The cornerstones of his argument appear to be that the “art world” exists to do what it wants to do (in contrast to most of the social sectors that exist to solve a problem or need); that arts organizations, therefore, depend upon true believers that are willing to support them in their self-interested pursuits; that community engagement requires seeing … [Read more...]

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 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...]

My Grantmakers In the Arts 2013 Conference. I’m Sensing an Evolution.


A few weeks back I was invited to attend the 2013 Grantmakers in the Arts Conference in Philadelphia as a Conference Blogger. I joined Barry Hessenius (Barry's Blog) and a whole team of bloggers, led by Ian David Moss (Createquity), from Fractured Atlas. I wrote three posts summarizing the activities I attended and reflecting on key themes, which you can find here. I vowed (to myself) that I would let the conference sink in a bit and then write a post for Jumper--a brief summary of the sticky points, if you will. This is that post. ARTISTS … [Read more...]

On tipping the dominoes then walking away …


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...]

Trying to find the money-motivation sweet spot

for love and money

Last week, over on New Beans, Clay Lord wrote a post in which he mentioned the release of a new report on the salaries at arts agencies and used some of the findings, as well as some personal experiences, to discuss (among other things) the relationship between passion and salaries. He opined:  We, as a field, need to get out of the cycle of allowing passion or lack of knowledge to displace financial worth—especially when this (and other) data show that such passion likely in part allows for disparities that should not exist.  We, as a field, … [Read more...]

Taming our inner speculators …


A few days ago, while doing research, an article caught my attention. It was written in 1936 and it was about the birth of Theatre Arts magazine twenty years earlier (in 1916). Here's how the founding of the magazine is described in the article:*** For it began in revolt against musty tradition, its first issue proclaiming a credo that still rings in the ear: ‘To help conserve and develop creative impulse in the American theatre; to provide a permanent record of American dramatic art in its formative period; to hasten the day when the … [Read more...]

A new talk: Our long tug of war in the arts

coconut grove

A couple weeks back I gave a talk in Australia at the annual conference of APACA (the Australian Performing Arts Center Association). It’s called Living in the struggle: Our long tug of war in the arts. I would characterize this as a rather existential talk, concerning our necessary missions and the free market society in which we now exist, and the different directions they so often seem to pull us. The first section of the talk is called Mission, Markets, Morals, and Mice. In it, I recount the highlights of a newly published experimental … [Read more...]

Are we overdue to amend our default cultural policy?


A few weeks back, in a guest-post on Engaging Matters, Roberto Bedoya extended an invitation for others to join him in blogging about “how the White Racial Frame intersects with cultural policies and cultural practices.” The proposition grew out of a series of posts (largely written by a bunch of white people, like me) focused specifically on the Irvine Foundation’s new participatory arts focus and, more generally, on (funding) diversity in the arts. I don’t feel qualified to address this topic and I’m positive I do not do it justice, but this … [Read more...]

When does coaxing become coercing?


Last week I wrote a post on the efforts of foundations to encourage diversity (of various forms) in nonprofit arts organizations, in which I suggested that such efforts could be construed as a form of coercion. In particular, I discussed a new initiative at the Irvine Foundation and suggested that Irvine has been trying to "coax" its grantees into uncharted territory and "coerce" them into behavior that some are not ready or willing to adopt. In response to my post, Ted Russell at the Irvine Foundation tweeted the excellent question, “We're … [Read more...]

On coercive philanthropy and change: Breakups may be good and necessary


Clay Lord has been on fire over this past week with a couple truly substantive and provocative posts—both aimed at issues around ethnic diversity in the arts. The first asserts that (1) valuing diversity and managing it are different (the former relatively easy, the latter not so much) and (2) funders interested in funding organizations to reach more diverse audiences are not as patient as they need to be if they want to see this change realized. The second post examines data from the Bay Area that attests to the (relative) lack of ethnic … [Read more...]

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


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...]

I see an arts cliff, too, Mr. Kaiser; but it’s not fiscal in nature.

Cliff-Warning BT

HuffPo blogger and Kennedy Center chief Michael Kaiser recently wrote a post reflecting on the financial corner that many arts organizations have painted themselves into (which he compares to the Fed’s fiscal cliff). His post got me thinking about our tendency to see the problems facing the arts and culture sector as inherently financial in nature. Kaiser ends his post with the following recommendations: I have spent the better part of my life arguing that revenue increases are not only advisable, but necessary. It is inarguable that over … [Read more...]