What Leadership Can Do

By leadership and leading, I mean influencing. As I suggest in my first post, it begins with understanding and respecting your various stakeholders—an audience being one of many important constituency groups. Observe and learn from them, inquire and engage them. Take the time to create trust and fortify the relationship. Also, learn to take the good with the bad and be better for it. Sustain the effort for the long term. Institutions, and therefore its leaders, should invest in their futures … [Read more...]

A Critic’s Perspective

Artists and arts institutions aren't the only ones who have to worry about engaging their community. Critics, used to leading with their opinions suddenly find that the vast audience wants to engage... … [Read more...]

Empty Forest. Tree Falls. Was It Heard Or Felt?

"If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" How would the City of ______ be damaged if the ______ Symphony Orchestra / Opera Company / Ballet Company / Theater Troop / Art Museum were to disappear tomorrow? How would the City of ______ be damaged if the all arts education programs were to disappear tomorrow? Recent data from the Americans for the Arts Economic Impact reports that there are $63.1 billion in total expenditures from arts and culture … [Read more...]

Who Foots the Bill?

There are literally hundreds of new museums nationwide that didn’t exist forty years ago.  Museums have never attracted greater crowds nor have they held more flexible hours to accommodate an increasingly dynamic public. They’ve made themselves places of social gathering with the introduction of music, film, and fine dining. So what’s the problem? Corporate support has all but evaporated. Government aid remains modest at best (and compared to many European cities, infinitesimal – sadly … [Read more...]

…. It is more about the courage of imagination and the plural

In regards to “Lead or Follow?” and its relationship to audiences,  I say yes to lead, yes to follow and yes to question. Leadership is not a black/white, lead/follow proposition, life is and audiences are more complicated and slippery than this binary set-up. As a director of The Tucson Pima Arts Council (TPAC) a local arts agency my charge is to serve the general public, an audience that ranges from the white gloves to the anarchists – the plural, with all its complexities and … [Read more...]

Leaders Build Lasting Relationships

Anyone can be a follower. To borrow from Tolstoy, followers are all alike; leaders are leaders in their own way. Organizations that lead set themselves apart from the rest and provide unique experiences. If we are to build organizations that survive—organizations that people want to make time to visit—then we need to lead, at least in the sense of maintaining curatorial responsibility. We all know that the public’s leisure time choices are exponentially growing and arts organizations need to … [Read more...]

Change We Must (As We Lead)

For a very long time the arts field resembled the companion on a road trip who said "I know the way, I'll drive." Our systems in the nonprofit part of the sector are set up so that arts organizations lead with authority and with the power to dictate much of what is consumed as art. The quality of these products is extremely important and should continue to be, so we have understandably set up our feedback systems to be responsive to their quality production and presentation. If that’s called … [Read more...]

We are the Movers and Shakers of the World Forever, It Seems

My position in this debate was stated most eloquently by a man who studied frogs for a living, as quoted by a Welsh fighter pilot and re-purposed by an Oatmeal company hoping to launch a new candy bar. His name was William O'Shaughnessy. And he said, We are the music-makers, And we are the dreamers of dreams, Wandering by lone sea-breakers, And sitting by desolate streams. World-losers and world-forsakers, Upon whom the pale moon gleams; Yet we are the movers and shakers, Of the world … [Read more...]

Art with a Point of View

Think about it. Great art in any genre succeeds because it has a unique point of view and has been elevated from obscurity to accessibility by virtue of advocates, be they organizations, cultural taste makers, or the public. Who would want to read a piece of literature where there is no clear point of view from the author, or go to a play with no dramatic arc or plot, or listen to a piece of music that was a random collection of notes assembled by a community of amateurs with no set of rules … [Read more...]

The Problem of Taste

As Michael frames it, the question on the table is whether arts workers (my term for artists, presenters, producers, educators, funder and commentators) should lead “taste” rather than follow it.  But there’s a fundamental problem here, one that needs to be explored before I can take a side.  What exactly do we mean when we use the word “taste?”  The elite has always told the public what to value when it comes to the arts, of course, and gatekeepers have always been concerned with identifying … [Read more...]

Art or Audience; Chicken or Egg?

This week we examine the nature of leadership in the context of developing the most fruitful relationships with our audiences. Good relationships often strike a healthy balance between competing interests, and frequently this balance is forged over the course of many years. Arts organizations have relationships with their patrons, donors and communities, and those relationships are constantly evolving. As such, I find the framework of this debate limiting, as I would argue that great arts … [Read more...]

Lead we Must

Not-for-profit arts must lead audience taste rather than follow it. Just read the mission statements of not-for-profit arts organizations. Their missions are proactive and reflect a desire to bring a specific aesthetic, or a range of aesthetics, to their audiences. I know of no arts organization with a mission to do simply what the audience wants it to do. (Of course the mission of for-profit arts organizations is to make a profit and pandering to audience tastes is not only acceptable, it is … [Read more...]