Education, Communication & Representation: A Formula for the Arts?

By Casey Rae-Hunter, Communications Director, Future of Music Coalition

Am I detecting a theme here? I hope so, because there are a lot of ideas flying around, and it might be worthwhile to try and shoehorn a few of them.

Here's the "known unknowables," or "knowable unknowns," or just plain vexing conundrums.

We know the issues are complex, prone to tech-driven change, and consensus-resistant -- for all the reasons that my fellow bloggers have so eloquently articulated.

We also know that some of the institutions that arose to help shepherd the creative disciplines towards a more art-friendly future are having a hard time adapting to the sudden influx of complexity.

We're starting to understand that any number of government agencies that were previously in separate silos are all tangled up for many of the same reasons (technology chief among them).

Finally, we know that our education system isn't doing much as much as it could to prepare the next generation of artists, arts managers, arts presenters, arts advocates and rodeo clowns (just seeing if you were paying attention) to navigate this shifting terrain.

Maybe we can break potential solutions into chunks, too. If for no other reason, than because everything looks better bulletpointed.

The following rubrics are pretty basic, and aren't meant to ignore or downplay the tensions and difficulties within each. But they may provide some points of focus. Or not.

  • Education: We all know that early arts education in schools is among the first things to be cut when the economy goes pear shaped. That's going to be a tough one to fix. Maybe we should enter from the other end of Education Alley? I talk to university professors in the music and business worlds on a semi-regular basis, and they often tell me their frustrations about how there aren't any programs that make connections between the new tools for arts creation, distribution and promotion and the structures that determine how, where -- or even if -- we get to use these tools. To a large degree, policy determines access, availability and economic possibility. Our academic institutions should make this explicit, or else we're doing our young minds a disservice.

    To put it plainly, the upcoming generation of artists and arts leaders need to know more than just how to use technology to produce and market art. They also know how to create more efficient systems, manage information and disseminate it to partners, peers and policymakers. This would help strengthen the field in general, and go a long way towards removing the artificial barriers between disciplines and agendas. (Some of these ideas are expanded on in a white paper Future of Music Coalition put together with Fractured Atlas and NAMAC.)

  • Communication: I thought what Yolanda said about a lack of resources was very apt. So how do might we conjure up additional capital and capacity? Well, first of all, we have to come up with more compelling ways to make our case to not only to our traditional supporters but also to potential new champions who don't yet know why they should be on our team, but might if we spoke more of their language. We also should consider how we're listening: to our supporters, representatives and, most importantly, each other. Are we missing something important? Can we clear some mental space to better hear what others are really saying? Might prove informative, perhaps even galvanizing.

    If we got better at this, we'd be further along in preparing ourselves for the real fights ahead of us; the ones that require dedicated cross-field advocacy. Even if we're not always able to come to a consensus on every single priority, surely there are a few issues with which we share clear common ground. Knowing how to communicate is the key to preparation for any situation, from individual fundraising to all-in advocacy.

  • Representation: Who speaks for us? Are we able to effectively speak for ourselves? What do we need to be informed self-advocates on the issues that affect us? As I mentioned at the start of this rambling post, this stuff gets really complicated really quickly. Are there folks in our networks who can assist us in getting up to speed on what we need to? This takes trust, and trust takes communication. It's not about speaking with one voice, or submitting to a command-and-control construct (although I am pretty fond of Bill Ivey's idea of a Department of Cultural Affairs, which is hardly the same thing.) What we need to do is look for more opportunities to make our voices heard en masse, via the most appropriate ambassadors in our ginormous tent, or in strategic -- and even ad hoc -- coalitions that can apply the right pressure at the right time in the right place.

When things seem impossibly complicated, broad concepts can help organize specific goals and ideas. Maybe not these broad concepts, per se. But, you know, something to help focus our efforts, hone our communication and amplify our shared ideals. Because we do share some, right?

July 20, 2010 2:18 PM | | Comments (0) |

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