The dark side of nonprofit-land


Unseemly. This is the word that keeps coming to mind when I think about the recent spate of lockouts, strikes and general discord at US orchestras. The underbelly of orchestras that has been shown in too many of these cases completely undermines my belief that nonprofit organizations are filled with good people trying to do the right thing. Moreover, I worry that the public airing of these disputes has left the American public with the inaccurate impression that all orchestras are filled with greedy bastards both on stage and in the offices. … [Read more...]

Renegotiating the value of a museum

dia levy passes

Over the past couple of weeks quite a few people have weighed in on the Detroit Institute of Art’s successful appeal to three counties in Michigan to pass a “millage” (a property tax) which would provide $23 million per year for the museum (91% of its budget) over ten years, while it raises $400 million for its endowment to replace the tax revenues when they run out. One of the most interesting aspects of this strategy is that the DIA offered free admission to the museum only to people living in the counties that passed the levy (which equates … [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?


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...]

As nonprofits do we (or should we) put all art in service of instrumental ends?


This past Thursday and Friday I had the honor of attending a convening on global performance, civic imagination, and cultural diplomacy at Georgetown University, hosted by Derek Goldman and Cynthia Schneider. By bringing "leaders in international theater and performance together with foreign policy leaders from academia, think tanks, and government," the stated hope of the organizers was to bridge the gap between the fields of politics and culture, to the mutual benefit of both. Over the course of the first two days of the convening some … [Read more...]

Are feasibility studies a racket? If not, then why do so many capital campaigns derail?


Last Friday, I read a story posted on AJ about Michigan Opera getting a one month reprieve on the $11 million it must pay to Chase Bank if it is going to avoid a possible bankruptcy related to delinquency on a bond obtained for a capital expansion in 2004. How did this arts organization get here? I’m assuming there was a feasibility study at the outset and that the feasibility study gave the arts organization a green light, right? So how did it end up several million dollars “short” on its campaign? How did we end up hearing yet another … [Read more...]

The sinewy stuff: It makes it hard to connect the dots


In one of the more recent (of many) essays on the controversial move of the Barnes collection from the home of Albert C. Barnes (in Merion, PA) to a new facility in downtown Philadelphia, Peter Dobrin of the Philadelphia Inquirer questions some of the changes that have been made in the name of improvement of the cultural landscape of Philadelphia, which he perceives to be eroding some of the distinctive characteristics of the city. In his post, Barnes move to Parkway is progress, but a quirky something has been lost, Dobrin … [Read more...]

Funder knows best


In a recent thought-provoking Createquity post, Creative Placemaking Has an Outcomes Problem, Ian David Moss examines one of the newer initiatives of the NEA (and its private philanthropy friends) and finds it to be lacking a logic for how it will achieve its aims. Moss criticizes this program and others for attempting to connect the arts with economic development without considering the steps in between. Moss's post is a call for a clear and detailed theory of change for such initiatives and he goes so far as to share two models (one simple … [Read more...]

Lessons in my struggles to learn Dutch


This is a post about my struggles to learn Dutch and assimilate to my new country (which I've endeavored to wrap back around to the arts). The past few weeks I’ve been studying rather intensely, preparing for my NT2 Staatsexamen I—the Dutch language exam that I must pass in order to be granted permanent residency status and the ability to stay in the Netherlands with my Dutch husband and his two daughters once my PhD position at the university ends in a couple years. It’s a two-day exam that tests reading, writing, speaking, and listening … [Read more...]

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


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...]

Guest blogging this week on two sites

Tulip fields in Holland

No Jumper post this week as I have the great honor to be blogging on two other sites. Laura Zimmerman at the Minnesota-based McKnight Foundation invited me to submit a post on the subject “What is the role of an artist in the world today?” for its new State of the Artist blog. My post, The Professional Lens: Are we a sector of underemployed ‘professional’ artists or successful ‘pro-ams’? is now live. I hope you will find time to read it and comment. Additionally, Arlene Goldbarb (writer, speaker, social activist, and consultant) and Barry … [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...]

On my Soapbox: Digitization of Live Performance

The Wooster Group

The Wooster GroupClay Lord has written a provocative and rather erudite post, The Work of Presentational Art in the Age of On-Demand Technological Empowerment, in which he cautions that as arts organizations embrace or respond to pressure to record and disseminate their live work that they not lose their identity and the core of what live performance (and theater in particular, perhaps) is all about. Clay mentions my post from last week in which I wrote: "If our goal for the next century is to hold onto our marginalized position and … [Read more...]

If our goal is simply to preserve our current reality, why pursue it?


About a month ago I read an article in the Atlantic (recommended to me by LINKED IN) on the phenomenal success of Finland’s primary and secondary education public school system—a success which, the article suggests, the US has failed to understand. There are some notable differences between the US system and Finland’s: Teachers in Finland are given prestige, decent pay and a lot of responsibility. Finland has no standardized tests; teachers are trained to create tests and assess students independently. (Periodically the government … [Read more...]