The Gumbo of Arts

Thursday was a busy day, a day of revelations and recognition.  Every contact was productive and meaningful.  Insight was nurtured; revelations educated us all, and caused many to recognize the strengths and weaknesses in our policies and practices.

The morning caucus was, once again, a lot like playing "Telephone".  What ultimately comes out at the end of the process will be a product of the process.  Whether it will be a direct reflection of what went into the process is something that remains to be seen.

Our conversations reminded me of the old adage, "when you consider changing someone else, remember how difficult it is to change yourself." Expand that to "when you consider something to do, just remember how difficult it is to decide on something."  Now scale that to "how do you get eight people to do something together?"  And, now, "how do you get a community to do something together?" Pretty tough.

The highlight of my week was Jim Collins address at the General Session entitled, "From Good to Great and the Social Sector".  Dr. Collins' knowledge is developed from studies of the contrasts between and among "good" organizations and "great" organizations, and identifies what differentiates the good from the great organizations.  The results are voluminous, and suggest powerful, insightful, feasible, justified, and successful concepts to embrace as we develop our NPAC Vision.

Here are some of the main gems I took from Dr. Collins' address:
-America cannot be a great nation without great performance art;
-Greatness is not a function of circumstance; it is a function of disciplined choices, decisions and actions;
-A culture of discipline in thought and action takes a long time to build;
-The fall from greatness is often a result of the undisciplined pursuit of more, too much, too fast;
-What you do should focus on that which is in your control to fix;
-Disciplined people, thoughts, and actions, are a product of a great leader, getting great people into the process and wrong people out of the process, who can adapt to whatever hits you (it's not the plan, it is the people);
-Great leaders are humble, with overwhelming ambition for a cause, work, art, but not "self", to succeed in the mission;
-The arts are a legislative community with diffuse power management, and we must create the conditions for right decisions to be made by legislation among power managers;
-Greatness requires RIGHT decisions, NOT CONSENSUS decisions, that are executed properly;
-Money is not the definition of success in the Arts; we must define success and its measurement;
-Minimize what is out of our control, and take action;
-Strategically fire bullets of funds until you hit the target, then fire cannonballs;
-Understand and hold to your values and reason-for-being regardless of times;
-Understand the differences between practices (traditions) and values (core values);
-Focus and Discipline will prevail over forces and circumstances;
-WE are on an adventure together.

I was moved.  I found new practices to embrace, and I found reinforcement for very difficult decisions I have made in the past.  I hope to move from good to great, and hope we will all move to greatness together.

Based upon my NPAC experiences thus far, my observation is that our our community will be brought together by circumstances around us, the environment we will attempt to survive in, and that hopefully we will retain our identities and goals as we adapt.  

My analogy was that of "Gumbo"...

My trick when making gumbo is to use the best of ingredients (sausage, chicken, green pepper, onion, celery, individual spices, etc.).  The gumbo is cooked for a while, all ingredients simmering together in a boiling environment; but flavors are not yet combined despite their marvelous individual flavors.  Then, I stop cooking for a few hours, changing the environment, delivering a sudden cooling off period.  Then I suddenly heat it up again.  Amazingly, after the cooling off and sudden reheat, the flavors have all combined into an amazing, unified, incredibly satisfying "GUMBO" that engages and delights the audience.  

We, the performing arts community, are a gumbo.  We've simmered for decades, flavors unmelded, and now we are suddenly forced to cool, to change, to adapt.  Now we must come together, blend, and become a GUMBO of the arts.  We will nourish our communities with delight, enrich our world, together.

Definitely, not everyone is feeling the same pressure from environmental changes.  Our measurement systems are so different in many facets of our community.  Some of us are in survival mode, while others never have to worry.  We are not on level playing fields, but, perhaps we can all focus on a loftier goal, "National Performing Arts", and buy-in to a broad, deep, communal goal to nurture all the arts at all levels, from aspiration to inspiration, from education to maturity, from fringe to mainstream, to National Greatness.

posted by MOJO.
June 13, 2008 12:18 PM | | Comments (0)

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Be sure to check in all week for continuous blogging from NPAC.  Attendees from across art forms and job functions report on their conference experiences. Comments from the convention and beyond are welcome!

Reporting from NPAC:

Amanda Ameer
- web manager, NPAC
Sarah Baird - media and public relations executive, Boosey & Hawkes
Joseph Clifford - outreach and education manager, Dartmouth College Hopkins Center for the Arts
Lawrence Edelson - producing artistic director, American Lyric Theater
James Egelhofer - artist manager, IMG Artists
Jaime Green - literary associate, MCC Theatre
James Holt - composer; membership and marketing associate, League of American Orchestras
Michelle Mierz - executive director, LA Contemporary Dance Company
Mark Pemberton - director, Association of British Orchestras
Mister MOJO - star, MOJO & The Bayou Gypsies
Sydney Skybetter - artistic director, Skybetter and Associates
Mark Valdez - national coordinator, The Network of Ensemble Theaters
Amy Vashaw - audience & program development director, Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State
Scott Walters - professor, University of North Carolina at Asheville
Zack Winokur - student, The Juilliard School
Megan Young - artistic services manager, OPERA America

Please note: the entries posted by the attendees above represent their personal impressions, not the viewpoints of the organizations they work for.

About this blog From April 1 through June 9, 2008, weekly entries will be posted here by some of the performing arts community's top bloggers. This 10-week intensive blog will serve as a unique forum for digital debate and brainstorming, and both the entries and comments will be archived for use at the live NPAC sessions in June.  New entries will be posted every Monday morning. Please note: the views expressed in this blog represent those of the independent contributors and participants, not the National Performing Arts Convention.

NPAC - the National Performing Arts Convention - will take place in Denver, Colorado on June 10-14, 2008. "Taking Action Together," NPAC will lay the foundation for future cross-disciplinary collaborations, cooperative programs and effective advocacy. Formed by 30 distinct performing arts service organizations demonstrating a new maturity and uniting as one a sector, NPAC is dedicated to enriching national life and strengthening performing arts communities across the country. Click here to register, and we'll see you in Denver!

The Authors Jaime Green, Nico Muhly, Kristin Sloan, Jason Grote, Jeffrey Kahane, Eva Yaa Asantewaa, Greg Sandow, Hilary Hahn, Tim Mangan, Paul Hodgins, Richard Chang and Andrew Taylor!

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