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...]

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 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...]

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...]

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...]

Have we squandered the economic crisis and the opportunity for transformation?


About a month ago, art critics Sarah Thornton and David Hickey threw in the towel citing frustration, disillusionment, and annoyance with corruption in the art world. Reading their back-to-back commentaries gave me pause. I found myself stewing on their words for several days--not because I am consumed with their particular concerns regarding the machinations of the art world (though these are, indeed, troubling), but because I'm beginning to lose faith that necessary transformation in the nonprofit arts sector will come. Recently, I … [Read more...]

In the Intersection: Partnerships in the New Play Sector


In November 2011, twenty-five theater professionals gathered in Washington, DC to discuss nonprofit and commercial collaborations aimed at the development of new theatrical work. In spirit (if not structure and size) the meeting represented the third installment of an ongoing conversation that was sparked in June 1974 when 224 representatives from the American theater gathered at Princeton University to entertain the (then) remote possibility of cooperation between the nonprofit and commercial theater in the interest of advancing the American … [Read more...]

The Dark Side II: Not In It For the Money


A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about the recent turmoils at a few orchestras in the US which garnered several comments—all well worth reading and more interesting, in my opinion, than my original post—so I thought I’d continue the conversation. As one person wrote, the section of my post that seemed to provoke the most discussion was the statement: “I must be hopelessly naïve because I want to believe that if you go work for a nonprofit you’re not doing it for the money.” More than a few said that this was a potentially damaging idea for … [Read more...]