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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Conference Reflections in a One-way Mirror

I go to three or four professional conferences each year. After each, I routinely post reflections or takeaways here on Creative Infrastructure. I am still processing the experience I had — or wanted to have but didn’t — at a recent “conference” in Dallas. (I place “conference” in quotes because very little conferring actually took place.)

This conference’s stated purpose was to be the inaugural meeting of an arts entrepreneurship educators’ society. It grew out of an invitation-only meeting last summer convened by the conference organizers attended by about 17 people, several of whom were students (I attended for one hour via a WebEx connection). That group was asked to vote on whether or not there should be such a society. Eleven people voted yes, the rest did not enter a vote or otherwise abstained (one could claim the vote was “unanimous,” since there were no negatives). Fast forward ten months and that group of 11 organized the conference held last week.

Hans Haacke, MoMA Poll, 1970.

Hans Haacke, MoMA Poll, 1970.

The conference schedule seemed “normal” at first: a plenary session, smaller panel discussions. But then there was this issue of “voting.” I queried the conference organizers several days in advance, “I’m looking forward to seeing you both on Friday. I notice that the conference schedule includes two plenary sessions related to ‘voting.’ Are there voting materials (e.g., draft documents) available for review prior to the conference session?” The reply was a simple “we will pass them out at registration.” I had, just the week before, attended another conference at which there was voting on several items, all of which had been distributed in advance and were available on the organization website. There is annual voting in other professional organizations to which I belong and materials are always made available in advance, so I asked again, “If the attendees are being asked to vote on issues or structures that will affect the future of the field, it would be helpful to have this material in advance so it might be given thoughtful consideration. Thank you for your understanding.” To which I received essentially the same reply, “I can understand your perspective. They will be shared on Friday.”

Arriving on Friday, I was handed an envelope that included the conference schedule, a ballot, and a name tag. That was it. No background information to aid in informed decision-making, no listing of the 70 or so attendees. The ballot started with a seemingly simple question about the naming of the organization, but this was followed by great big questions like what is the purpose of the organization (several options plus “table”)? Its mission (two options plus “table”), vision, frequency of meeting, and even membership tiers and levels. A colleague asked one of the organizers if there was going to be a discussion of whether or not there needs to be a professional society for arts entrepreneurship educators. She was told that that vote had been taken last summer and it was unanimous so no discussion was needed or would be held. (Remember the invitation only meeting attended by 17 at which 11 voted?).

As the conference began, there was an introduction, a plenary session, back-to-back panels, and then ballots were due in ballot boxes. There was no discussion. The organizers did not facilitate a way for the attendees, who came from all over the country and a variety of arts disciplines (although it seemed about half were from music) and arts administration programs to meet one another and network. So on top of there being no open dialogue about the really big issues, there wasn’t even a way to meet one another.

As I headed to the airport (earlier than expected due to a sick child), I wrote to one of the organizers, “Especially in a time of scarce resources, to bring 70 people together and then not give them an opportunity to meet and enter into dialogue about the professional issues that brought them together is, at minimum, wasteful, and seems antithetical to the very purpose of forming a professional society. We are unlikely to agree about this, but in the absence of an open forum or venue for dialogue, wanted to make my opinion known.”

This meeting was supposed to be the inaugural meeting of an academic society that works in a field without clear definition (see this and this). It would have been a perfect opportunity for the people who are most invested in the topic to discuss it, delineate the issues and questions that face us, and develop a vision for the future. Instead, I felt like I and my 70 colleagues were looking through a one-way mirror observing a select group discuss (or expound) on matters of interest to them with little concern for their audience or customer. Ignoring the needs and wants of the audience seems antithetical to entrepreneurial action in the arts – or ay other sector.

In a 2001 article in Theatre Topics, Jill Dolan writes, “We should teach our students to enter participatory democracy as artist/scholars with the skills to be competent, engaged, thoughtful citizens.” I assert that we should model, or to use her term, “rehearse” that participatory democratic behavior ourselves. To build academic legitimacy as a field of practice and inquiry, arts entrepreneurship educators, and any organization that purports to represent them, should support open dialogue and debate about the field and its practices, pedagogies, and theories.

(In a related sidebar, the organizers have also launched an online journal. They claim it is “peer-reviewed” but there was no open call for submissions and three of the four articles in the first edition are by the conference organizers themselves.)

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#AAAE14 Takeaways: Entrepreneurship Everywhere!

770406-hec-montreal-offrira-nouveau-dessHappening right at the tail end of Barry Hessenius’s blogathon on arts entrepreneurship, the annual conference of the Association of Arts Administration Educators in Montreal further evidenced that arts entrepreneurship is maturing as an academic discipline. I was honored to be asked to join colleagues on two different panels, one on arts venture incubation and the other on arts entrepreneurship program building. What came out of these presentations, for me, was a further refinement of the distinctions between “creative enterprise” and “arts entrepreneurship,” the former being new venture creation in the creative sector and the latter entrepreneurial action not just in but for the arts (or art). A surprising number of attendees teach arts and/or creative entrepreneurship in programs from theatre, to music industry studies, to arts administration. Many of the same people are also attending a meeting next week at SMU on the topic of arts entrepreneurship; perhaps future meetings can be concurrent or in tandem to minimize duplication (and travel costs for faculty with scarce institutional resources).

Another theme of the conference was internationalization of arts administration and cultural management practices. There were several plenary presentation on this theme, as well as panel sessions about building international cultural management programming. Personally, this is an area about which I have much to learn and look forward to that journey.

Finally, there were several interesting research-oriented panels. One that I attended presented research-in-progress; scholars received feedback on methodologies and approaches from colleagues in a civil and supportive environment. Another focused on interdisciplinary research methods for various types of research: theory building, clinical, and network analysis. Arts administration/arts management is a discipline that, not unlike theatre where I came of age professionally and intellectually, combines scholarship and practice. The two not only co-exist side by side but support one another – or should. Research builds knowledge that we put into practice in the field, and the field provides subjects of study that further builds both knowledge and theory. It’s a symbiotic relationship that should be nurtured in our professional societies.

(Photo of and by HEC Montreal)

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It’s On!

Barry Hessenius is hosting a weeklong “blogathon” on arts entrepreneurship starting Memorial Day.  I’m honored to be participating, along with Adam Huttler of Fractured Atlas, Ruby Lerner of Creative Capital, Russell Willis Taylor of National Arts Strategies, Anthony Radich of WESTAF, Richard Evans of EMC Arts, and Andrew Taylor of American University. For detailed biographies of the participants and a list of the far-ranging questions Barry has posed to us, jump on over to Barry’s Blog.

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Yes, Aaron, there IS Arts Entrepreneurship

In a recent blog post, composer Aaron Gervais asserts that “there is no such thing as arts entrepreneurship.” He claims:

Art is infinitely scalable, communal, inherently subjective, and useless by design. Entrepreneurship is scarcity-based, individualistic, inherently objective, and pragmatic by design. Both are creative activities, but of opposite types.

I could cite counterexamples for each point on both sides that would make his argument crumble in its first paragraph, but instead I point to a section of his piece that is seemingly more accurate: that the arts fall into a “winner-take-all-model.”

The winner-take-all concept is also a theme in A.O. Scott’s thoughtful NY Times piece “The Paradox of Art and Work.” Scott notes that because of the winner-take–all model as well as technologically empowered amateurs,

The middle ranks — home to modestly selling writers, semi-popular bands, working actors, local museums and orchestras — are being squeezed out of existence.

The middle — that place where professionals do their work in conditions that are neither lavish nor improvised, for a reasonable living wage — is especially vulnerable to collapse because its existence has rarely been recognized in the first place.

Assembly,_George_Square_Box_Office,_2013And it is here, in the middle, where artists are “just doing their jobs” (Scott’s phrase) that arts entrepreneurship becomes an important tool for working artists. The mega-stars don’t need to be entrepreneurs, don’t need to proactively showcase and distribute their work to their audience – there’s someone already doing that on their behalf and making money doing so. The skilled amateur doesn’t need to find financing for their next installation and invite critics to see it because they are amateurs. It is the broad middle defined by Scott that needs to take entrepreneurial action; call it arts entrepreneurship or call it artist self-management, it is part of the work-life of the artist in the US.  It is these artists, the artists in the middle, who can serve the social good, create excellent work, and critique this system in a meaningful way.

[Image: Photo of Assembly Festival box office by Kim Traynor, Creative Commons license]

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Warning: Art

earthquake warningI saw this sign outside a little brick building in Sausalito::

EARTHQUAKE WARNING: This is an unreinforced masonry building. You may not be safe inside or near unreinforced masonry buildings during an earthquake.

I read this sign and have the information I need to make a choice about whether or not to enter the building, which houses a coffee shop. If I had a five-year-old child with me, I would not even mention the sign and make a choice on her behalf. With my teenage children, I would point out the sign and say, “What do you think – do you want to go in?” (A question that would be met, no doubt, with some eye rolling by said teens.) The chance of an earthquake during the brief time it takes for us to grab a coffee or a snack is slim, even here in the Bay Area. If I were chaperoning a class field trip of teens to the region, I would probably include in the permission slip materials that are standard parental reading in advance of a field trip, “Please note that on this trip, a brief time will be spent in unreinforced buildings.”

The earthquake warning sign brought to mind recent events at my home institution at which high school students attending a music festival saw a short scene from Rent as part of a larger showcase of School of Music offerings. Neither students, nor teachers, nor parents (or even, apparently many School of Music staff) were told in advance that the scene that was shown, “La Vie Boheme,” included simulated sex and partial nudity. However, the description of the full production mounted in Tempe, is as follows:

Winner of the Tony® Award for Best Musical and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, RENT has become a pop culture phenomenon with songs that rock and a story that resonates with audiences of all ages. Based on Puccini’s La Boheme, RENT follows a group of impoverished, young Bohemian artists and musicians struggling to live in New York City’s Lower East Side. Filled with humor and poignancy, love and laughter, these voices sing out to us about the struggles we all face today. The music rocks you to your soul and will leave you singing hits such as La Vie Boheme, Seasons of Love, Tango: Maureen, Take Me or Leave Me and many more. RENT is a modern classic about falling in love, finding your voice and living for today. This show is verbally, sexually, politically and culturally charged. It is meant for mature audiences only.

Adequately informed by this description, audience members — including parents or teachers acting as agents for their children — can make choices about whether or not to attend. For myself, I would encourage my teens to see a good production of good work that is “verbally, sexually, politically and culturally charged” but would provide them with the agency to make their own choice. The point at which parents transfer such agency to their minor children is a personal choice, however, and not one that should be dictated by a third party, be it school, arts organization, or faith community.

I digress, a bit however. The point I really want to make is about an artists’ responsibility to know, understand, and engage their audience. In a response to an online petition related to the Rent incident, my colleague David Schildkret made this point eloquently, “The students in the audience did not come to see Rent…This is not about a few offended parents. It is about the responsibility of artists to know their audience…the question is not whether Rent itself is problematic. The question is whether this was the suitable occasion for this particular performance.”

The Sausolito coffee shop (and likely the city ordinance that requires the signage) understand its audience of Bay Area residents and visitors. The sign would be both unnecessary and misplaced in Phoenix.

There is, however, a key difference between the earthquake warning sign and the production’s disclaimer. The former is a warning of a physical situation that can cause bodily harm, the latter could be considered a “trigger warning,” and trigger warnings have reached, according to my cousin Laurie writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, tsunami levels, especially in academia. Art functions to change our perspective on the world or, as Anne Bogart writes, “to wake up the asleep.” If we are constantly “warning” our audiences rather than engaging them, we could end up with a bifurcated culture made up of those who view such disclaimers as information and those who view them as caution signs or, put another way, those who experience the beauty and breadth of art and those that choose not to experience art out of fear that it is too highly “charged.” If we can know our audiences and initiate two-way relationships with them, we can engage them with highly charged material in a way that benefits both artists and audiences. I close by repeating Laurie’s closing:

The world is a painful and anxiety-inducing place, and human representations of the world are often painful to consume. But rather than retreating into a world where our courses are reduced to viewings of My Little Pony, let’s all put on our big-girl panties (or big-boy tighty whities, as in the case of the Wellesley statue) and face that world together. Let’s talk about it, think about it, write about it, analyze it, and, in the end, learn to engage fully with all of it, even those parts that cause us to curl up in pain and sob. Because that’s what a real education requires, and limiting ourselves to pretty images of rainbow ponies is not enough to know the world.

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