An Art Adventure

As part of my ongoing research program on arts incubators and their success metrics, I recently traveled to Washington to do some field research at Mighty Tieton, a for-profit creative enterprise incubator in the rural Yakima Valley. I also made a visit to Ellensburg, WA and couldn’t miss a chance to spend some time in Olympic Sculpture Park.  All, in all, it was an art adventure.  In a departure from my usually text-heavy postings, and in celebration of the waning days of summer, I share some “artventure” pictures with you:

Yakima Valley orchards and vineyards as seen from Naches Heights

Yakima Valley orchards and vineyards as seen from Naches Heights

Inside Goathead Press, one of Mighty Tieton's resident enterprises

Inside Goathead Press, one of Mighty Tieton’s resident enterprises

Tieton Mosaic's sampler

Tieton Mosaic’s sampler

Dick and Jane's Spot, Ellensburg

Dick and Jane’s Spot, Ellensburg

More of Dick and Jane's

More of Dick and Jane’s

 

The Ellensburg Bull by Rich Beyer

The Ellensburg Bull by Rich Beyer

Another amusing sculpture from Ellensburg's public art program

Another amusing sculpture from Ellensburg’s public art program

The Clymer Museum in Ellensburg featured an exhibit of decorated cattle skulls to be auctioned at the upcoming rodeo.

The Clymer Museum in Ellensburg featured an exhibit of decorated cattle skulls to be auctioned at the upcoming rodeo.

My favorite is this "gem" by Don O'Connor

My favorite is this “gem” by Don O’Connor

 

Echo, 2011, Jaume Plensa

Echo, 2011, Jaume Plensa

The weathered steel of Richard Serra's "Wake" were reminiscient of the shipyards just on the other side of park.

The weathered steel of Richard Serra’s “Wake” were reminiscient of the shipyards just on the other side of park.

 

The art adventure was great -- but I also got to enjoy this beauty...

The art adventure was great — but I also got to enjoy this beauty…

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A Pitch Too Far in San Diego

Kelsey Kessler pitchingThe program I direct, the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship, was fortunate last spring to benefit from a new program of the AZ Commission on the Arts, Art Tank. Modeled loosely after the tv show “Shark Tank,” artists and organizations entered a pitch competition at four different locations throughout the state to receive grants of up to $10,000. The program is designed to incentivize “business unusual,” and to provide organizations both large and small a way to fund their innovative ideas. It proved to be a great way to seed innovation. The pitch-for-funding idea can go to far, however, especially if goals and processes are not in alignment, as appears to be the case in San Diego.

Rather than granting funds to artists and arts organizations through a peer-review process administrated by a local arts agency, arts organizations, chambers of commerce, veterans groups, any nonprofit make two minute pitches directly to members of the county board of supervisors.  Individual supervisors then fund the organizations whose pitches they like from a discretionary fund called the Community Enhancement Program (CEP). You can read about this unusual approach here.

What could possibly go wrong?

[Image of ASU's newest softball recruit Kelsey Kessler from the ASU Softball website.]

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Forest Lessons: Persistence, Resilience, and Cooperation

I was fortunate to have recently taken a long walk in Redwoods National Park. As I looked carefully at the towering redwoods, lush ferns, and soft mosses, I began to see in the forest ecology a metaphor for an entrepreneurial one; an ecosystem that exhibits behaviors that support entrepreneurial success. There had been a fire in this part of the forest. It’s damage could be seen everywhere, sometimes subtly appearing as shadow in the bark of a tree, and sometimes more obviously in a hollowed out stump (granted this “stump” could be twenty feet high and eight feet across).

persistent treeDespite the damage and the threat to their environment, the trees persist.

Resilient tree

 

 

Sometimes, their resilience is surprising as new trunk grows in a slightly different direction from what at its base appears to be dead wood.

 

cooperative tree

 

But even as a tree dies, it feeds the ecology of the forest providing a supportive home for smaller plants to thrive cooperatively.

 

 

Now imagine that this isn’t just an entrepreneurial forest ecology, but an ecology of arts organizations. What are those stalwart arts organizations in your community that persist despite the occasional crisis? Which have found a new direction when its original mission proved to be no longer tenable? And, when an arts organization is dying, can it find a way to shelter the growth of new, smaller organizations or individuals, perpetuating a healthy ecology for the future?

 

 

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Trigger Warning: Capitalism

Trigger_lock_on_a_revolver_-_close_up_of_warningBefore Creative Infrastructure‘s hiatus (i.e. before I went on a vacation road trip through the Pacific Northwest), there was a lot of social media discussion about “trigger warnings.”  Trigger warnings are notices placed on syllabi – sometimes at the request of students and sometimes at the request of administrators – about course content that might trigger an unwanted and disruptive emotional reaction in students.  Some of the best critiques of the practice are by sociologist (and my cousin) Laurie Essig, another by Jack Halberstam, and this by Arlene Goldbard. While reading through these critiques, I coincidentally happened to be developing the syllabus for my grad seminar on arts entrepreneurship, which will be using the lean launchpad process for business model generation. As I worked on adapting lean launchpad for use in a potentially nonprofit or low-profit arts context, I decided – somewhat tongue-in-cheek – that it needed a trigger warning: Capitalism.  I posted the trigger warning on facebook before my trip. My facebook friends enjoyed it so much I decided to share it more broadly here:

Warning: capitalism. Many of us have “grown up” in a nonprofit arts environment and may have a complex relationship with the notion of capitalism, especially as capital appears to accumulate or concentrate in smaller and smaller segments of the arts and the economy as a whole. Historical and neoclassical views of entrepreneurship focus on entrepreneurship as the means by which capital is invested, grown, and harvested. This may not be of interest to you. By shifting the means/end relationship from “product-for-profit” to “revenue-for-art” we can reconcile our need to make art with our need to make money.

That’s the end of the warning, but not the end of the syllabus. Students will be blogging about their experience applying the lean launchpad to an arts venture. Once we’ve set up the blog, you will be able to follow along too.

(Image: trigger lock by flickr user “Rick,” Creative Commons license)

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Is Everyone in the Room?

I learned via twitter of a troubling occurrence at the recent TCG conference in San Diego. Rather than recount any details of it here, I point you to this piece by Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez, and also to the comments that follow it. The crux of the situation described there seems to hinge around the dis-invitation of one group from an ethnically self-identified affinity group. The episode reminded me of an important takeaway from a leadership institute I attended years ago: “The right to aggregate does not imply the right to segregate.” So, yes, people who identify as [fill in the appropriate attribute] can and should declare their commonalities, but should not do so in a way the excludes those who might not be defined by those in the group as being a part of it. After all, if we self-identify, who is someone to tell me I’m not part of your group?

Artistic_representation_of_human_ageLearning of the TCG event came on the heels of my participation in an “Imagining Phoenix” session of the “United States Department of Arts and Culture.” [1] As a member of the Phoenix arts community and a believer in the arts as a catalyst for positive change, I was excited to be a part of this event. Looking around the circle of about 40 people, I couldn’t help but notice the observable demographics of the group – there was one African-American man; a few African-American or multiracial women; one man over 50; one or maybe two women in that over 50 group; there was nobody observably Asian; there was nobody in the circle under 18. Asked to write the one thing we’d like to see in Phoenix in 2034, the African-American man left the page blank. As we went around the room, he explained that he left it blank because he didn’t see anyone who looked like him in the room so wasn’t sure that he would be here to see 2034. I realized during a group improv activity that the future of Phoenix had been imagined for people who were like the people in the room: 25-35, predominantly White, and connected with the arts in some way. When it was my turn (and I happened to be the last in the circle), the circle improv concluded, “I woke up to realize that there was nobody living in this future Phoenix who is over the age of 65.” The ideas that people expressed were energizing and appropriate for who they are, but they were exclusive to them. They were designing a future Phoenix for who they are and who they are now, bringing home to me once again the importance of having diverse voices in the room and listening to those voices.

Please don’t get me wrong, the USDAC is doing great things to imagine a more participatory and culturally literate future. My point – and I’ve written about this in relation to board governance – is that when some voices are left out of the room, those in the room may not know what they’re missing.  Had the San Diego “dis-invited” been “re-included,” I can imagine a lively discussion resulting; as it is, we will never know. I don’t always buy in to ASU’s rhetoric 100%, but there is at least one ASU slogan that I can get behind 110%:

We measure our success not by who we exclude, but by who we include.

A note to my regular readers: Creative Infrastructure will be on hiatus until August.

[1] The USDAC is not a federally affiliated agency. It is an act of collective imagination.

[image of human aging from wikicommons, Creative Commons license]

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AZ Arts Entrepreneur Toolkit Progresses

Last spring, the Arizona Commission on the Arts hosted its first-ever “Art Tank” program. Art Tank is modeled loosely on the ABC TV show “Shark Tank.” The commission describes, “Arizona Art Tank is a funding initiative of the Arizona Commission on the Arts that makes strategic investments in Arizona’s best arts-based entrepreneurial ventures.” The Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship was fortunate to successfully pitch the “Arizona Arts Entrepreneur Toolkit” to the art Tank panel of judges.

Toolbox_arttankThe past six weeks have been devoted to putting together material for the toolkit. Part textbook, part resource guide, and part template library, the Arizona Arts Entrepreneur Toolkit will provide Arizona artists with plain-language explanations about incorporation, social media, budgeting, and more, delivered on a USB drive. There are several excellent guides available for artists who want to manage their business side more effectively (I particularly like the Center for Cultural Innovation’s Business of Art, and the New York Foundation for the Arts The Profitable Artist). But with the Arizona Arts Entrepreneur Toolkit we’re adding another level of information specifically for artists in the state. We’re also spending hours and hours hunting the web for the information Arizona artists need so that they don’t have to. Modules on planning, budgeting, finance, publicity and marketing, and incorporation have been drafted; taxes, intellectual property, and public art commissioning are in the pipeline. Many people from the arts community – most notably the public art community — have offered their assistance, for which Pave (and me personally) are very grateful.

The benefits of the toolkit are two-pronged: Arizona artists will benefit, and the Pave Arts Venture Incubator will receive all proceeds to support the development of new arts ventures in the future.

If this sounds like a shameless promotional post – you’re right! There’s no shame in promoting something I’ve been working on hard and that will benefit both Pave’s programming and artists throughout the state.

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Case Studies Are People

Although I cringed when Mitt Romney said “Corporations are people, my friend,” the phrase came to mind as I read about yet another theatre closing this week. Throughout the spring semester, students in my graduate arts management class had been following reports about San Diego Opera, looking for information about the board governance and artistic leadership issues raised by the on-again-off-again-on-again season. One student did an arms length case study of the Metropolitan Opera’s financial woes as a final project. A few days ago, a local theatre company announced it was cancelling its final production of the season because of a cash shortfall. Then, San Jose Rep announced it was filing for bankruptcy and shutting its doors.

(Karen T. Borchers/Mercury News)

A colleague who has designed at San Jose Rep for years posted something on his facebook page that re-framed these stories – these stories of theatres failing. Fingers will be pointed and lessons about organizational behavior and arts management will be learned, but ultimately, these case studies are the stories of real people, stories of a designer who’s daughter grew up in the back row during tech rehearsals, who sold his house to move closer to a theatre only to find he would need to find something elsewhere.

The next time I sit in a seminar room with my grad student and we dissect the cashflow statements of a failing theatre, I’ll be reminding my students – and myself — that behind every case study there are real people who are affected, for good or ill, by the decisions organizational leaders make, decisions they may not have had any part in making.

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