The Razor’s Edge

Razor's edge by Tim Allen

Razor’s Edge by Tim Allen. Available for purchase from

My social media universe lit up over the weekend with the news of the entire first year Art MFA class leaving University of Southern California’s Roski School of Art and Design half way through their two-year program. A day or two later, all but one of the graduating class boycotted graduation. There were 7 students in the first year class of what is described as a “selective” program at a private university where annual base tuition (before fees) topped $47,500 this year.

In their open letter, the first year class cited changes to funding packages promised at recruitment, changes to faculty (including one high-level resignation), and changes to curriculum. The coverage of the students’ departure and editorializing around it, although not the letter itself, explicitly or implicitly blames the school’s (and perhaps the field’s) embrace of a “structural overhaul that valorizes neo-liberal corporate clichés.” An anonymous Roski faculty member defines the problem this way to Hyperallergic, “It’s an economic vision of austerity and neo-liberalism that is one-sided and short term, and does not take in to account the symbolic value of programs in the humanities.”

This is the razor’s edge on which I walk as an arts entrepreneurship educator. On one side of the razor an artist risks being dragged into the abyss of exclusively financial motivation — fueled by student debt — to make work that is inauthentic, derivative, uninteresting, or just plain bad (think Thomas Kinkade). But on the other side of the razor is the very opposite of austerity: abundance. I don’t mean financial abundance, but abundance of spirit and creativity that can be supported by (arts) entrepreneurial action. Arts entrepreneurship educators and higher ed administrators listen up: we can avoid USC’s tragedy not by teaching artists to make money from their art but rather the mirror image, teaching them to make art from the money art generates. Money is the tail, not the head, of entrepreneurial arts practice.

As arts entrepreneurship education continues to advance and grow in universities, faculty and students must navigate this razor’s edge without cutting their feet (or their spirit). Consider that entrepreneurial action by artists makes them the principal in their own career rather than the agent of a third-party producing structure over which the artist may have no control. To not provide students with an education that includes the skills and knowledges needed to navigate the creative economy does young artists a disservice. To provide an education that includes only the skills and knowledges needed to navigate the creative economy does them an even more egregious disservice, one that potentially diminishes the quantity and quality of the art that becomes our shared culture.

The Cherusker, from Albion Europe

The Cherusker, from Albion Europe

Posted in Arts entrepreneurship, Culture and democracy, Higher education | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

+, Δ

Plus/Delta is a popular format for formative evaluation and organizational learning. What are we doing well (the “plus)? And what should we change (the “delta”)? Used summatively, the questions are similar: What went well? What should we change for next time? It is in the plus/delta spirit that I offer initial reflections on the 4th Biennial Symposium on Entrepreneurship and the Arts: Creativity and New Venture Creation, which finished just 48 hours ago.

The Plus(es)

Overall, the event exceeded my expectations, but that overall assessment needs to be broken down into specific chunks to be 1) useful organizationally and 2) interesting to the readers of this blog.

Active engagement. Traditional academic conferences can be dry and, most problematically, often result in small groups of people talking within their small groups about things they already know. We (and the “we” here is me and the small cadre of terrific graduate students in the arts entrepreneurship and management program as well as members of our steering committee) wanted to host an event that included active engagement and interaction. This was an area where the symposium truly excelled. From the icebreaker activity over breakfast (participant super-bingo) to the small groups working collaboratively and creatively during Elizabeth Long Lingo’s workshop, participants were actively engaged. They listened to each other empathically, shared ideas openly, and even got out of the building for some physical stretching led by Jessica Rajko to complement the stretching of our minds.

Symposium 5

Small group activities encouraged collaboration

Creative interaction across many spectra of expertise. Again, the symposium met or exceeded expectations. There were students, faculty, and administrators from ASU, students and faculty from other universities (to name just a few: UT Austin, Millikin, University of Missouri, Seattle University, Colorado State, American U, Pratt Institute, New England Conservatory, Peabody, Indiana U and more), arts industry leaders such as key note speakers Ruby Lerner of Creative Capital and Diane Ragsdale, policy actors from the Arizona Comission on the Arts and Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, independent artists such as Rick Noguchi and Chris McGinnis, people who work in artist support like Beth Flowers of Arts Incubator of the Rockies and Kristine Maltrude of ArtSpark, funders [big THANK YOU to the Women and Philanthropy Program for making the event possible], and others. It wasn’t just that these people were all in a room together – they were meeting each other and working together. One graduate student wrote in social media: “It was amazing to be with such passionate, gifted, beautiful people. This very much felt like a wonderfully intimate gathering with friends.”

Symposium 7

Ruby Lerner and other participants share ideas

[speaking of social media, you can search hashtag #paveASU on twitter]

Elizabeth Long Lingo leading a workshop on New Venture Creation from the Ground Up

Elizabeth Long Lingo leading a workshop on New Venture Creation from the Ground Up

Knowledge sharing. In addition to the programming we created, an open call had gone out for workshops or presentations on arts entrepreneurship theory, practice, and pedagogy related to Creativity and New Venture Creation in the Arts. We received numerous outstanding proposals that constituted the “concurrent sessions” that ran on Friday afternoon. This segment was the most like an academic conference, but since by then we had mostly all met one another and because of the mix of backgrounds, interest, and expertise, the sessions avoided the pitfall of the academic conference: spiraling inward with the same people who attend such conferences. Especially given the attendance by undergraduate students (not too many, but some), I feel confident that new knowledge was disseminated.

Between Plus and Delta is “wait and see.” It’s too early to know if the pedagogic techniques and research presentations will have impact, but presenters are being encouraged to 1) share their presentation materials with attendees and 2) consider submitting material for publication in Artivate, Pave’s peer-reviewed journal.

The Delta(s)

Diversity. The room was packed; conversations about art, policy, business, and design thinking were taking place between people of different ages and backgrounds. I walked up to the podium to deliver my introductory remarks and knew immediately what the theme of the Fifth Biennial Pave Symposium on Entrepreneurship and the Arts would be: Minority Arts Entrepreneurship. There was a lot of diversity in the room, but not of the observable type one usually associates with the word “diversity” (with the exception of the observable age diversity).Symposium 4 Of the almost 90 people in the room, I observed that less than 10% were people of color. This homogeneity does not reflect my personal or professional values. Neither does it support the growth and development of he field. So, before I uttered the first words of the Fourth Biennial Symposium, the Fifth was on my mind.

Symposium 6Students. Approximately 20% of the attendees were ASU students. I want to increase that to 30% and to do that, we need to more clearly articulate why the event is important to them. We should also get a student sponsorship program in place well ahead of time so that price is not a barrier to entry (this year the student registration price was $50, inclusive of meals). Timing is tricky for students, but sandwiched between finals and graduation, we’re probably going to keep it where it is as a “best compromise.”

Programming costs. This iteration of our symposium was only possible because of a generous grant from the Women and Philanthropy Program of the ASU Foundation. We have already taken steps to reduce the 2017 cost by using our own theatre spaces and will need to be strategic about both fundraising and expense reduction for 2017.

So, although I am extremely pleased with what happened here May 8-9 2015, there is room for improvement. We are sending out our formal evaluation to attendees this week, which will give us data for a more formal plus/delta evaluation. For now, I’m just going to thank the support team of graduate students: Shelby Maticic, Mollie Flanagan, and Kara Chesser, and our sponsors: Women & Philanthropy; Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts; School of Film, Dance, and Theatre.

And this quote from an attendee:

I loved the diversity of the arts that was represented, as well as the various ways the attendees were engaged – thinking, creativity, networking, etc. I’m still thinking about all that transpired and wishing for more…

… more to come May 5-6, 2017! [and watch for our 2015-2016 speakers series too]

In the post-conference glow with speaker Diane Ragsdale and co-conspirator Sherry Wagner-Henry of the UW Madison Bolz Center for Arts Adminsitration

In the post-conference glow with speaker Diane Ragsdale and co-conspirator Sherry Wagner-Henry of the UW Madison Bolz Center for Arts Adminsitration

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I Love Mondays!

WEEK MONDAYThe Boomtown Rats may not like Mondays (and neither, apparently, did Brenda Ann Spencer, about whom Bob Geldof wrote their hit) but I LOVE ‘EM! Mondays are an important part of my personal creative infrastructure, so I’m opening a window on them today.

My Mondays have one critically important attribute: I work in my home office rather than my campus office. This saves about 90 minutes commuting, assuming I plan on working 8:30-5:00, which not only gives me more time to be productive, it also puts me in a better frame of mind to be creative because I haven’t spent 45 of those 90 minutes going just five miles on the interstate.

A really important part of my job isn’t just teaching students in the classroom, but also mentoring them one-on-one in my office. Mentoring is my favorite kind of pedagogy, because the results are so immediate and visible. My drop-in office hours are on Tuesdays and Thursdays and, at this time of the year as students prepare final projects, extra time on Wednesdays as well. During the middle of the semester, I can be very creative during my office hours, because they are often uninterrupted. At this time of year, however, there’s a steady stream of students who need help with their creative infrastructure, making Mondays even more precious. On Mondays I am alone; on Mondays it is quiet; on Mondays I can focus.

I think it’s important for anybody creative (not only artists, but also designers, systems engineers, scholars of any type, students, etc) to carve out time each week to focus. And not only to think but to do. Because of the uninterrupted time that Mondays afford me, I can accomplish more on Mondays than on any other day of the week –crossing one, two, three projects off of my to-do list. Being productive lifts my spirit as much as being stuck in traffic dampens them, so when I walk on to campus on Tuesday morning, it is with spirits high. (On this particular Monday, I accomplished enough that I could take a break to write this blog post.)

It helps to have an aesthetically pleasing environment. I finished writing an article today (yay!) and this is where I did it:

Monday 2





But it’s not always necessary to have beauty, per se. On this Monday, I also designed a new format for my class sitting in a more traditional location with a view of, well, a wall.

Monday 1

What’s important about these two pictures isn’t that I have a beautiful garden, but that I was able to move around and work in more than one place during my Monday. Variety energizes creative thinking and, as the Hawthorne experiments proved quite some time ago, productivity goes up as well. Sometimes, when working on campus, I will try to recreate this variety of venue by moving from my office to a table outside.

When I mentor students — or sometimes colleague faculty — about time management, one of the first things we do is look at a schedule for the week and block out the creative time. (With students we sometimes also reserve sleeping and eating time.) This is not the time to run errands, nor the time to get your hair cut, nor is it the time to reply to every email in your email box (I prefer to triage email as I go). This is the time to think, do, create.

When is YOUR Monday?

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Snake in the Suburbs

snake in the suburbsYesterday, I found a dead rattlesnake in the gutter a couple of houses up the street from mine. My first reaction was, “there could be one of those in my own back yard – have to alert the kids and make sure they always have shoes on and are careful where they step.” I posted the picture of the critter on facebook where there was a range of responses from “horrifying” to “snakes and cars-not a good combination” to “the other white meat.” My reaction was definitely on the “horrifying” end of the continuum of reactions. Actually, if I plotted the reactions of my friends on a continuum, an interesting pattern emerges:

Horror/defend yourself! →emotionally neutral →snake empathy → humor

Correlates with:

My immediate neighborhood→nearby urban area → adjacent state → farther away

I think we find correlations like this around policy issues as well. For example, cuts to arts funding. When funds are cut, those most closely affected might have an immediate reaction of panic and assume a defensive posture; those not immediately affected might not even notice; those who don’t realize they are affected may even poke fun at the very concept of arts funding. One of my friends reacted to the dead viper with a suggestion to “cut off the rattle with a shovel; it dries well and makes a great sound.” I like this idea of taking the thing of which you are afraid and re-imagining it to make a musical instrument. When that thing you fear is the forced re-design of an arts organization, it takes great imagination to cut off its tail and make something new. In the heat of the moment, when you’re staring the snake in the eyes, it’s hard to have that kind of imagination (OK – my snake was dead, but it’s a metaphor). I didn’t go back with the shovel to retrieve the rattle but I did manage to check the backyard for unwanted visitors. We seem to be safe…..for now.

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Arts (for) Infrastructure

Photo by Buddy Rogers

Art work on entrance ramp to Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport Photo by Buddy Rogers for Google Maps

I dropped a friend off at the airport today – airports, along with roads and bridges are what most people think of when they think of infrastructure projects. Driving on the highway near the airport, my friend commented, “They do a really good job here of integrating art into infrastructure.”

When I started Creative Infrastructure about four years ago, it was because I wanted to develop a platform to share “thoughts and ideas about infrastructure for the arts.” Today, as I was reading Jason Shupbach’s piece on the 100 Resilient Cities blog, I recognized that my interest has evolved over the years to include not only “infrastructure for the arts,” but also “arts for infrastructure.” I was fortunate to have had an opportunity last month to sit down with Jamie Bennett and Jamie Hand of ArtPlace America, the creative placemaking consortium. They were explaining their goal of making sure that arts and culture is included in every urban planning process along with utilities, education, transportation, and so on. Arts and culture IS part of the infrastructure of our cities – and also our towns and rural areas — and can/should be at the planning table. Thus is woven the fabric of our communities.

Too often, people (and you know who you are) get bogged down in arguments about intrinsic versus extrinsic benefits of artistic creation and arts participation. Such arguments are not only futile; they are counter-productive. It would be far better to recognize that the relationship between art and infrastructure is a two-way street: the arts need solid infrastructure and the arts are a necessary component of solid infrastructure. AZDOTActually, it’s not just a two-way street; it’s a complicated network of connections that encompass the intrinsic and extrinsic, the economic and the altruistic, the private and the public. If it were easy…well, I wouldn’t need to write about it so much.

(image from AZ Department of Transportation)

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We’ve Been Warned

Over the past several weeks, as I read of a bill in Oklahoma to ban the teaching of AP US history, an attempt by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker to delete “search for truth” and other central tenets of the Wisconsin Idea from the University of Wisconsin System, and then my own governor’s budget proposal (passed by the majority Republican state legislature) to slash state funding to the state’s K-12 system, community colleges (all the way to $0), and universities, I was reminded of a bit of black humor that made the rounds after Hurricane Katrina.

My feeble summary of the joke is that a pastor hears a hurricane warning on the radio advising he seek shelter and says to himself, “No thanks, if I need help, the Lord will provide.” Then the rains and winds come and his neighbor knocks on the door before she flees offering to give him a ride out of town. “No thanks, if I need help, the Lord will provide,” he replies. The waters start to rise and a man in a rowboat comes by and shouts an offer of assistance to the pastor, surveying the worsening scene from a second story window, but he replies, “No thanks, if I need help, the Lord will provide.” Then, with nowhere to go but up, the pastor climbs onto his roof. A helicopter with a rescue crew lowers a ladder, but the pastor says, “No thanks, if I need help, the Lord will provide.” The pastor dies of exposure and reaches St. Peter at the pearly gates who says, “Why are you here? It’s not your time.” The pastor told him about the horrible storm and how throughout it all he kept his faith that the Lord would provide. St. Peter replied, “We provided a warning on the radio, a helpful neighbor, a man in a rowboat, and a helicopter. What more did you expect and WHY DIDN’T YOU PAY ATTENTION?”

The recent assaults on education at every possible level are our warnings: PAY ATTENTION! First came the culture wars, which resulted in what Bill Ivey calls “a simple idea: if TV, radio, movies, and CDs are scrubbed free of sex and profanity, if government funding never lands on sex or political protest, we’ll be a happier, healthier nation. From comic books to NEA grants, to hip-hop CDs. Cultural content has been exploited by our leadership for political purposes” (Arts, Inc. p. 224). Now, by choking off funding to education, the very quest for knowledge is being exploited for political purposes. George Carlin said it pretty forthrightly:

They don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. Thats against their interests.

Thats right. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around a kitchen table and think about how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago. They don’t want that!

You know what they want? They want obedient workers. Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shitty jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it,

The “they” Carlin refers to isn’t even the government; it’s the owners of the corporations that control the government through political patronage (c.f. “Citizens United”). And now elected government – where it has been elected to do so – is doing everything it can to make it harder for young people of modest means to access the education a person needs to make thoughtful decisions, to critically examine beliefs and structures, to exercise creativity boldly.

We’ve been warned. Now we need to join with our neighbor, get in that rowboat, and climb into the helicopter. PARTICIPATE in the democratic process. Make your VOICE heard.


For more on the Oklahoma bill to ban AP US History, including efforts to revise it see:


Walker followed up his attack on higher ed with an attack on organized labor:

and more on is education cuts:

For more on the AZ budget bill, see:

(image “Jesus is Coming. Look Busy (George Carlin)” by Bonnie CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Art Not Automated

Draper_Station_parking_payment_kioskUntil a few weeks ago, I would pay a student worker in a kiosk adjacent to the parking ramp where I have a meeting each Friday and have a ticket validated before returning to my car and exiting the garage. The facility changed to an automated system earlier this year and as I passed the empty kiosk with its venetian blind pulled down behind the cash-handling window, I thought about who might now be out of a job because of this latest “advance.” Perhaps it was on my mind because of a snippet of a story I heard this morning on NPR about all of the telephone operators that were fired in the 1930s as AT&T switched over to an automated system.

Technology has steadily displaced human workers, moving workers from manufacturing to service industries. This is a form of progress and for the most part is positive. But if we don’t need the parking lot attendant, or the delivery driver (because of automated drone-executed deliveries), if we don’t need the service sector jobs, what sector will the human move to next?

The arts are not as easily automated as a parking garage. This “inefficiency,” of course, is at the root of “cost disease,” which, in a nutshell refers to the fact that in certain fields (think symphony orchestras) as labor costs rise there is not – nor can there be -a concomitant increase in labor efficiency; technology won’t reduce the number of musicians it takes to perform Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony live. But it isn’t Baumol’s cost disease that I was thinking about as I considered the displacement of the garage attendant – it was the spiritual dimension of art itself.

Let’s put economics aside for a few minutes. If art is a way of knowing and understanding the world, it is because it connects with humanity at its essence. An artist connects with her/his audience intuitively, emotionally. As hard as the economics of art-making may be [damn! I couldn’t leave it alone], artists cannot be automated out of their work. The bar is raised, however, on creating the authentic connections between people and their world so that that world understands the true value of the arts.

(image: Draper Station parking payment kiosk by An Errant Knight, Creative Commons license (this is a wikimedia commons image and not a picture of the ramp referenced above))

Posted in arts infrastructure, Culture and democracy, Technology and arts | 4 Comments