This last Dinnervention post is an experiment in group blogging–I wrote the core piece, and then three of my fellow Dinnerventionists– Margy Waller, Laura Zabel, and Devon Smith–were kind enough to react to it in commentary. It was really interesting to watch happen–hopefully it is interesting to read as well! The blogging platform allows limited capability to demonstrate in-text comments, so I’ve color-coded it. We’ll see if that’s as clear to others as it is to me…
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A new movement in the arts must break from the old, and must be flexible and moldable enough to accommodate our inherent decentralization.
- We need to stop over-preferencing the artist over the point of the arts institution (note: the point of the institution, not the institution itself) (second note: the point of the arts institution, not the point of an institution itself).
- Laura Zabel: Oh man. This wording is so challenging to me. I re-read this bullet several times and think I know what you mean (and that I probably agree with you), but I fear that very few institutions preference the artist’s needs. I would reframe this as a need for increased leadership from artists, diminished separation between artists and arts managers AND a mutual head turn towards the point of the organization.
- Margy Waller: This bullet points makes me think about the preferencing of the art — as someone at the institution defines the art. That leads to a great deal of focus on traditional ways of experiencing the art. (More on this in comments later). And campaigns that plead “our-art-is-so-precious-please-save-it” lead to the kind of Kickstarter campaign the New York City Opera tried this past week–an effort that failed miserably (see: “The Failures of Crowdfunding: No, Kickstarter Cannot Support an Opera Company”).
I disagree with the title of the article. Kickstarter may not be the wrong platform for opera fundraising–but the offer was clearly wrong.
I’m curious though–what are the classical music and opera leaders doing that has halted the decline in audience–unlike museums and theater which are seeing a decline? (See the new NEA’s “Survey on Public Participation in the Arts 2012”).
And hopefully we’ll speak up when there’s a “we’ve always done it this way” attack on a leader who is willing to try new approaches, to focus on social capital, to take risks that might build audience. (A leader who BTW is increasing attendance and membership at her museum, like Dinnerventionist Nina Simon.)
When stuff like this is published–which sadly the New York Times decided to feature–let’s start reacting in public, and out loud.
- We need to stop creating institutions built to generate social capital that are instead preoccupied with creating actual capital, and we need to understand that such capitalist impulses are not heretical, they’re natural inside institutions of a certain size, scope and responsibility.
- Devon Smith: That’s hard to reconcile with social good/social entrepreneurship organizations (B-Corps, L3C’s, the Toms/Warby models, etc) whose forms were created for just the opposite reason: capitalist institutions, intent on investing in social capital, who felt they needed protection from shareholders. I don’t think the problem is being preoccupied with creating capital, it’s misunderstanding how to do so effectively and efficiently. The idea that corporations’ sole purpose is to maximize shareholder value is a modern urban legend. It’s not the law. The idea that a nonprofit can’t or shouldn’t be profitable is another modern urban legend: see hospitals, unions, PACs, etc.
- Laura Zabel: I agree that those “modern urban legends” are prevalent and counter productive. But I am a skeptic of the Tom’s model, which I think has demonstrated that there is a difference between mission-driven work and “charity-washing” of for-profit ventures. Obviously, lots of nuance and gray area on that continuum to think about.
- We need to stop shouting about innovation and new outreach without recognizing either the instability that goes along with that or the length of time necessary to test out new approaches before they should replace the old ones.
- Laura Zabel: I’m in favor of less shouting and more doing. I don’t know if the world will wait for incremental change, though. A huge challenge for our existing infrastructure is that it is not well suited for the pace of change required “these days.” Epic strategic planning, the need for board approval, funding cycles, multi-layered hierarchical staffing structures: these structural elements really inhibit the kind of iterative, creative thinking needed to move incremental change to systemic change rapidly. But the world doesn’t care. We expect change and responsiveness now and we have the tools to demand it. For example, check out this Tumblr page created with essentially $0 and no institutional support.
- We need to stop encouraging ourselves to swallow the whole issue of relevance a