2021 becomes 2022

It has become my annual ritual for the past 11 years to write a New Year’s Eve blog post, celebrating the launch of Creative Infrastructure on December 31, 2010. But let’s face it – blogs are so last decade…or maybe even the decade before. Both my blogging (this is only the fifth post of the year) and the readership have declined significantly this year (down to about 9000 from a high of over 200,000 in 2014).

Nevertheless, there were some very important milestones and transitions during 2021 worth noting. Quite unexpectedly, I left Los Angeles to return to New York to assume a new position as provost of Baruch College (CUNY). While on its surface this wasn’t because of the pandemic, can any transition in 2021 not have been affected by the pandemic?

Most noteworthy for readers of this blog, was the publication of Creative Infrastructures: Artists, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action. Many of the ideas in the book first saw the light of day here on the Creative Infrastructure blog. I started thinking about the book when I developed the ouroboros as a metaphor for arts entrepreneurship for a talk I gave in 2014 and began writing it in earnest in 2017. Despite working full time as an academic dean during the first year of pandemic, there was something about being sequestered and isolated at home that enabled me to finish it. I was working through the essays late in 2020 when I went to pick up the thread on “the next one” only to realize that I had indeed drafted all of them. So off it went to the publisher, from there to the reviewers, and back to me and then the copyeditor, layout editor and so on.

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Author copies arrived earlier this month!

I hope you’ll read it – I poured my heart into it (as well as some real scholarship).

I want to acknowledge those who helped along the way, in this selection from the Prologue:

I am grateful to those interviewed: Jesse Armstrong, Betty Avila, Aaron Landsman, Larron Lardell, Lauren Lee, Sharon Louden (who also introduced me to editor Tim Mitchell), William Powhida, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Gregory Sale, Sarah Sullivan, Beth Ames Swartz, Clifton Taylor, Carlton Turner, Xanthia Walker, and Laura Zabel. These fifteen artists appear throughout the essays. They have been making a living and a life in the arts for five years or fifty, some part of an arts organization and others on their own; I thank them profusely for sharing their time with me and their talents with the world. The interview with Ed Marquand excerpted in Essay Nine was conducted in 2014 as part of a research project entitled “Value Creation by and Evaluation of Arts Incubators.”

The arts entrepreneurship learning journey that began in 2005 was informed by numerous colleagues and artists whom I met along the way through both professional conferences and chance social interaction. I listened to them as well, and they taught me much. Some who have had particular influence on the essays in this book are Kim Abeles, Kiley Arroyo, Laurie Baefsky, Jamie Bennett, Danielle Brazell, Bob Booker, Paul Bonin- Rodriguez, John Borstel, Adrienne Callander, Tom Catlaw, Woong- Jo Chang, Shelley Cohn, Jennifer Cole, Jaime Dempsey, Alexandre Frenette, Jonathan Gangi, Ruby Lopez Harper, Liz Lerman, Bronwyn Mauldin, Porsche McGovern, Jacob Meders, Tim Miller, Ian David Moss, Lauren Pacheco, Mark Rabideau, Diane Ragsdale, Esther Robinson, Michael Rohd, Rey Sepulveda, Gordon Shockley, E. Andrew Taylor, Neville Vakharia, Tatiana Vahan, Scott Waters, Jason White, Margaret Wyszomirski, and the late Sherry Wagner Henry. There are many more; I apologize if your name isn’t included here. During this same period, I launched the Creative Infrastructure blog, from which this collection gets its name and where I worked through many of the ideas that follow. I am grateful for the interactions I have had there with readers, especially Carter Gilles, whose questions and comments, while usually challenging, were always quite thoughtful. My graduate students at ASU have helped me to clarify and articulate my thinking by asking really smart questions. Joanna Guevara and Mollie Flanagan deserve special thanks for their coauthorship of several reports and studies. Some of these were developed with support from the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, whose arts program manager, Heather Pontonio, has been an influence on me and the field.

Upon leaving ASU in 2018, I became dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA. I thank Lynn Mahoney, José Luis Alvarado, Jose Gomez, and President Bill Covino for their support of this project. Special thanks go to my assistant, Flora Saavedra- Hernandez, who helped me to carve a few hours a week (some weeks) out of an otherwise packed calendar.

Finally, thank you to my children, Simon and Monica, who grew into adulthood while I was learning, and to my loving partner Glenn, who has admirably sustained his own creative practice as a lighting designer for over thirty years.

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Pre-order now available

I am thrilled to announce that Creative Infrastructures: Artists, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action is now available for pre-order.

E-book or UK paper from Intellect Books

US Paperback from University of Chicago Press

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Page Proofs!

I’ll just leave this here.

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Book Update: Publish with Minor Revisions

I wanted to provide an update for my readers who have been following the progress of my book, Creative Infrastructures: Artists, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action.

            After some delay, I received a positive reader report from the publisher, Intellect Books. It was all one could hope for: thoughtful and constructive, with a conclusion to “publish with minor revisions.” Those revisions are now underway especially in response to the reader’s suggestion that I address race, class, and equity more directly. It is great feedback that provides a foundation for the revisions I am making now.  

            In short, all is on track for publication later this year!

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Winners, Thought Leaders, and System Change

I just finished reading Anand Giridharadas’ 2018 book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. This isn’t a book review – I don’t do book reviews here – but rather a thought exchange which, according to him, is what public intellectuals do (as opposed to “thought leaders” who don’t exchange ideas with others but rather just expound on them from the TED stage*). His book is both a prompt for and an affirmation of the approach I am taking in Creative Infrastructures: Artists, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action. That approach is to admit my complicity with and disentangle myself from what Giridharadas calls “marketworld” and what I and others (such as the brilliant Wendy Brown) call “the neoliberal regime.”

Giridharadas decries the “win-win” approach of social enterprise, impact investing, and big philanthropy because it maintains rather than corrects global economic inequity. Such endeavors treat symptoms rather than change systems. Arts entrepeneurship is itself a way to work through, around, or with this system. While I was happy to be called arts entrepreneurship’s “national exponent” by Bill Deresciwicz in his book Death of the Artist, I was relieved to not have been called its national “proponent,” which would have been quite inaccurate. I now find myself explaining arts entrepreneurship in much the same way Giridharadas explains win-win consulting, thought leadership, and globalism: as trying to relieve the symptoms of an economic and social system inhospitable to artists rather than as a way to change the underlying system.

A young person in my life, much like the person profiled in the first chapter of the book, stopped reading in the middle of chapter two when it became clear to him that the book indicted the perpetrators but didn’t offer any alternatives or solutions. “Where do we go from here?” Giridharadas asks rhetorically in his epilogue. “Somewhere other than where we have been going led by people other than the people who have been leading us,” isn’t much of an answer. I am not a revolutionary – I don’t think we can knock down a system that has been built up over the last 130 years. I am, like many profiled in the book, a pragmatist. How can we make lives better now in ways that don’t further strengthen marketworld systemically or contravene values personally? Giridharadas alludes to a few answers and states one explicitly. The two that jumped out at me (both from Chapter 3, I think) are those that I discuss in my own book: listening and participation. In the end, we all have to commit to the one he makes clear at the very end: “do less harm.”

I write this just 36 hours before the inauguration of the 46th president of the US, Joe Biden. At the very least, Biden appears intent on undoing some of the greatest harms perpetrated in the last four years against the planet (by re-engaging in the Paris Climate Accord) and to immigrants (through executive actions reversing some of his predecessor’s executive actions.) I would prefer he make the kind of system changes Giridharadas (and I) believe are needed, but ten days after an armed insurrection and with close to 400,000 dead in the US from Covid, sticking his finger into the dyke of suffering seems like the right and reasonable action. We can work on the system next month.

* Giridharadas discloses in the acknowledgements that he has been an associate with McKinsey Consulting and spoken from the TED stage not once, but twice. (I have done so from an early TEDx stage myself.)

Image: Systems Thinking clip art, designer unknown, but likely developed for a corporate meeting; used here with irony.

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Tenth Anniversary!!

Each year, I write a New Year’s Eve post, recapping the previous year. But, this isn’t just any New Year’s Eve post, this is the TENTH ANNIVERSARY of Creative Infrastructure! I have posted far less frequently the last couple of years, coincident with accepting my current position as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA, and also, I think, because blogging just isn’t so much of a thing anymore.

The blog has afforded me the opportunity to work through a lot of ideas related to the arts and entrepreneurship. Now those ideas are synthesized into a collection of essays, Creative Infrastructures: Artists, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action, which will be available as an e-book from my publisher, Intellect Books, before the end of 2021.

As I have for nine of the last ten years, I recap some Creative Infrastructure stats:

  • Readership in 2020 was about even with 2019, at just under 10,000 reads
  • There were 6700 unique users
  • Most of those were from the US, but Canada and the UK were second and third
  • I only posted eight times this year (including this post) as opposed to 24 posts in 2019 when I made my online course, Foundations of Arts Entrepreneurship, available here for free
  • The most popular topic continues to be, for the third year in a row, a definition of arts incubators and related posts; it is gratifying that the research that consumed five years of my life from 2010-2015 is still of use – or at least of interest. The “Donut Post” on unpaid internships, still remains the single most read post overall.

I hope 2021 will bring an end to the pandemic and with it a recognition that community action is actually more effective at increasing individual well-being than the pursuit of individual interests.  

With gratitude to my readership, I wish you all a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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Creative Infrastructures: Artists, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action

Creative Infrastructures: Artists, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action is a labor of love, the culmination of fifteen years of ever-evolving thinking, and, now, a manuscript submitted to Intellect Books. A prologue, nine essays, and an epilogue (this last is still in progress); almost 80,000 words; over 400 citations; hours of interviews with artists; a new title. I had to print it out for a final read.

And now…thinking about what’s next.

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Real Estate

All too often, artists who are attentive to the “business” of their creative practice are accused of “selling out.” But for many working artists, that attention to business–to revenue generation, asset accrual, the arts economy—is what enables an artist to not just survive, but to thrive. When artists follow their mission, or organizations theirs, they don’t sell out, they spiral up. As I talked with artists and arts infrastructure leaders about what makes their work sustainable, an unexpected theme emerged: property ownership.

So starts Essay Nine, the last before I complete the speculative fiction of the epilogue. The essay is inspired by two complementary quotes:

Art is a way of survival (Yoko Ono)

I had a dream. My father had just died, and in my dream … I called my Dad and I said, “Should I give up my art?” He said, “No. Don’t give up your art, but keep the house.” (Beth Ames Swartz)

Another update: after consulting with my editor from Intellect Books, the title of the book now aligns with this blog, where I tried out so many of my ideas:

Creative Infrastructures: Artists, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action

Inspiration for Essay Nine
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First Principles, Inadequate Soil, and Artist Entrepreneurs

On June 8, I participated in a virtual symposium sponsored by the Arts, Entrepreneurship and Innovation Lab at Indiana University entitled “New. Not Normal.” Some panelists were invited to pre-record ~15 minute talks, while others, like me, were invited to respond to those prerecorded talks. What follows is the prompts I was given in advance, and my responses to them.

Prompt from Doug Noonan: “In her presentation, Lucy [Bernholz] talked about the importance of first principles in thinking about our systems. She pressed us to push beyond the ‘mushrooms’ that are on thesurface and to examine the ‘soil’ underneath. I’d like to go around the panel, and ask: in light of recent crises, what are the first principles that you think are most important?”

Before I answer the question about first principles, I want to Thank Doug [Noonan] and Joanna [Woronkowicz] for the opportunity to share my thoughts with my esteemed panelists and the many others watching. I also want to thank Indiana University for allowing me to defer its modest honorarium to an artist in need rather than accepting it myself. I’m not sharing this to highlight my own righteousness, but rather because her story is emblematic of what working artists who serve communities of color are facing right now in the world of Covid-19. Martha Carrillo is a member of the Self-Help Graphics and Art Census Atelier, working toward a full count of all of the residents of East LA as well as, under different circumstances, a resident artist with their Barrio Mobile Art studio. She lost that contract work as a result of the pandemic. I’ll come back to that…but on to the matter at hand.

If it’s possible to have TWO first principles, I want to share my observations of them

  1. One. The free market economy has been our default first principle. The neoliberal version of it we’ve lived in since 1980 is the “soil,” to use Lucy’s metaphor, but it is soil that does not provide the nourishment we need as a nation; a soil that has proven to be completely inadequate to the task of nourishing us during this time of crisis; As a system, it is inadequate to the task of producing and distributing necessary goods equitably in a time of crisis. The free market, as a first principle, has not provided masks, or testing kits or even toilet paper efficiently or effectively. The current regime’s responses to Black Lives Matter protests is one the “mushrooms,” growing out of this sick soil (and I note for my colleague Tyler Cowen who in his pre-recorded comments called these “riots” – they are not, they are protests). This response favoring property rights over human rights exposes the sickness. As Marc Bamuthi points out, there is a tension between public good and private wealth. Our free market soil helps the latter grow, but often at the expense of the former.
  2. Second: the second “first principle” is the healthy soil of communities. Community-level actions really matter for community and individual well-being. Whether it’s neighbors feeding neighbors or people in a café deciding to wear or not wear a mask, individual actions in community or neighborhood settings have life-or-death consequences. We need to look to community action during this time of crisis. (And I learned from Nwamaka Agbo that we can call this “resorative economics,” a term I love.)

Later in the panel, Doug asked me about the challenges and opportunities for artist entrepreneurs. Here is my response:

First, they should keep making art because that’s what artists do. But for a dozen of the last fifteen years, I’ve been teaching artists to navigate an economic system that really doesn’t work for them. Arts incubators, crowd funding sites like Kickstater, arts business workshops are all “mushrooms” that have sprung up out of necessity in this neoliberal freemarket soil. But rather than changing what artists need to do, maybe it’s time to change the soil, the system. The Pandemic shows this clearly enough, and the recent protests point out that it is just unethical to value property rights over human rights. One of the things I’m working on now in my writing is this idea of artists forgoing the organizations that have grown up inside the capitalist system and instead connecting their work more directly with their audience. I don’t really have any answers to that…but it is what I think about, when I’m not focused on my day job as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA.

[image: Mushrooms found growing in potting soil. Photo by WDavis1911; CC 3.0]

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An Open Letter to Students: “Don’t Wait”

A colleague dean clearly articulates both the challenges and the hope…”We need the next generation to define and improve the next normal”

Sarah Bay-Cheng

Dear arts student:

You are essential.

I hope that wherever you are in the world and whatever discipline you practice or field you study, that you’ll continue your creative work this year. We need you.

Amid all the current uncertainty and planning, it is so tempting to wait for things “to go back to normal.” As the parent of someone who just finished his first year of university, I see the challenges of the zoom classroom and understand the appeal of taking a break until this current situation is all over. But it’s not clear yet what the next “normal” will look like or when it may come. Some things may resemble what we remember; others will be forever different. While this uncertainty can be a cause of anxiety, it also offers a rare opportunity, especially for the next generation of global artists.

Emerging artists, designers and scholars entering universities…

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