New Year Post 2019-20

Happy New Year! Happy New Decade!

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Since I launched this blog on New Year’s Eve 2010 it has been my tradition to offer a recap of the blog’s year, summarizing its stats and revisiting its most popular posts. As the decade comes to a close, I am going to do the opposite. Rather than look to the past, I look to the future, specifically, the future I imagine in the final essay of my forthcoming book, Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action: An Ouroboros. I decided recently to write this last essay as a work of speculative fiction in which I imagine the successful lives of three artists in the year 2050. Over the preceding three decades (starting in 2020), the United States has evolved into a social democracy akin to that of late-twentieth century Scandinavian countries, but one that sees its significant cultural and ethnic diversity as an asset and so have built on it successfully since the [hopefully] 2020 election brought the country together. I rest comfortably in retirement, knowing that there are artists who understand how to connect their work to their audiences in ways that enable them to sustain their lives. I profile three “fictional” artists:

Rey Lopez is an East LA artist and printmaker, based on an amalgamation of East LA artists and printmakers who I met in 2018 and 2019. Now in his early 60s, he maintains an active practice around community classes, political engagement, and local action. Monica Simon, age 50 sustains her artistic practice as a painter and performance artist through her membership in an artist collective, one of hundreds found throughout the country in the year 2050. Finally, Swift Z at age 30 is a media mega-star who supports both their own practice and that of others both through personal philanthropy and the restoration of the 70% marginal tax rate on wealthy Americans made possible by the election of the country’s first social democratic president.

I look forward over the next year to imagining the world inhabited by these three artists, a world in which entrepreneurial action is not driven by a desire for wealth creation but instead by a drive for social profit and cultural equity.

Have a creative, equitable, and peaceful 2020 — and beyond!

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Post Chanukah Thoughts

Hours after I posted my “Chanukah Thoughts,” tragedy struck. As I was considering the lessons of Chanukah, the persistent resistance to oppression and the collective action of Tikkun Olam, tragedy struck in two ways, intellectually and violently, and in two different milieus, the newspaper of record and a rabbi’s home in Monsey, NY. The rabbi’s house just 3 miles from the house where I spent my earliest childhood years in neighboring Spring Valley.

Anthropometry_exhibit

Anthropometry, while used legitimately by physical anthropologists, was exploited by eugenicists to support their fake “science” of racism

The intellectual tragedy was that the NY Times Opinion editor chose to publish a racist eugenicist screed written by conservative commentator Bret Stephens. In it (and no, I won’t link to such drivel) Stephens asserts that Ashkenazi Jewish are better thinkers than other races and ethnicities because they “think different;” that their tradition of debate and discussion of Torah and Talmud – as well as a genetic proclivity cited in a 2005 pseudo-scientific study of IQ testing, later removed by the editor – causes the group, a group to which I proudly belong, to count more “geniuses” among their numbers than other groups. I was so appalled that, while still in my pajamas, I dashed off the following letter to the editors of the NY Times, unlikely to ever see the light of day in the newspaper of record, but available now on social media platforms like this:

Nothing breeds antisemitism quite like false claims of Jewish superiority. Bret Stephens’s recent column will do much more harm than good and you should not have published it.

Where I work, in a minority serving institution where Jews are few and far between, I regularly see students who are the first in their families to go to college soar to intellectual and artistic heights (often while juggling two jobs and supporting a family). While I appreciate the Jewish tradition of questioning and discussion, the abilities of the boys and men in the yeshiva to do so were privileged by and because of the hard work of the women at home, women like my own grandmothers and great grandmothers. Study was a privilege, one that is now shared by millions of students of all races, religions, and ethnicities thanks to public higher education. When we all (men, women, Jews, gentiles, Whites, and People of Color) have access to quality public education, then we’ll all have, to use Bret Stephens’s metaphor, a soccer ball of our own.

The second tragedy is the sadly logical outcome of antisemitism: the murder or attempted murder of Jews because we are, somehow, different. Genetically, we are not any more different than you, dear reader, are from your neighbor, whether of the same race or ethnicity or not. A 37 year old man searched “German Jewish temples near me” and “why did Hitler hate the Jews,” before breaking into the home of an orthodox Hasidic rabbi and stabbing the family there, gathered to celebrate the lighting of the Chanukah candles. While there is no obvious causal relationship between the Stephens column and the hideous act of violence in Monsey, there is at minimum a correlative link between the rhetoric of hate in our current time and the increase in hate crimes against Jews, Blacks, and other people of color or minority religions.

It is the tradition of debate, discussion, and questioning that keeps me marginally interested in Judaism (as well as all the greasy, fattening holiday foods (e.g. latkes) that I grew up with). Questioning can itself be a form of resistance to oppression, and we must never stop questioning why someone would stab a family of Jews lighting candles, why the NY Times editors would publish and reference the work of eugenicists, or why the current regime is insistent on reducing access to healthcare (e.g., the decimation of the ACA) or food stamps (e.g. changes to TANF rules). To repair the world, our shared “temple,” we must work together with love and not hate, in the spirit of togetherness rather than difference.

 

 

 

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Chanukah Thoughts

IMG_1101 I am not a particularly observant religious Jew, but my Jewish identity is still very important to me. Chanukah is a festival holiday, one that commemorates an historical event, rather than deeply spiritual holy day like Yom Kippur or the Sabbath. When I was a teenager, my pacifist self was disturbed by the hanukiah my mother dug off a bottom shelf each year. It depicted a line of heavily armed Maccabees entering the gate of Jerusalem to save the Jews from oppression. I’m not an expert on either the history or the religion, but it is unlikely that a group of religious zealots who had been camping out in the wilderness would look this put together. Like so much of religion, this view of Judah and the Maccabees is the stuff of myth. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something important in the Chanukah celebration, which seems more relevant now than ever before in my life.

The story is, in its essence, about a fight against an oppressive regime that sought to coerce Jewish assimilation into Hellenic culture. And it is about repairing something that was broken (more on that below). Growing up in New York, I had not been aware of this particular form of insidious coercive influence until my 10th grade English teacher required a paper due on Yom Kippur (and he would accept it neither early nor late). Now, living far from New York in a predominantly Latino and Asian/Asian-American part of LA, the signs and symbols of my culture are few and far between. My cultural practices are tolerated, but poorly understood: “Why can’t you celebrate Christmas? It’s not really a religious holiday.” (I’m sure that practicing Christians of all denominations would likely disagree.)

While the coercion is subtle, the oppression – or attempts at it – are not. Something shifted for me when right wing demonstrators in Charlottesville two years ago chanted “Jews will not replace us.” How can I list my race as “White” on demographic forms when there are large groups of White people who don’t consider me such, while also acknowledging that I benefit from the appearance of Whiteness? We live in a country where oppression is more rampant now than at any time in my life: Black people are profiled (or shot) at traffic stops; people of color are stopped at the border and some held in cages; and women still earn just 79 cents for every dollar earned by men. So…this part of the lesson of Chanukah need not be about Jews at all, but about persistent resistance. As a Jew (as a human, really), I resist this injustice where I see it through words, actions, and the Jewish notion of Tzedakah – not “charity,” but “justice,” — sharing what I have to try to “balance the scales” toward the oppressed and less fortunate than I.

For me the other important lesson is that of repair, in Judaism “Tikkun Olam” or “the repair of the world.” The Maccabees made it into the Temple to find that the menorah was broken and most of the oil was gone. For me, the miracle isn’t one in which God makes the oil last for eight days, but rather one in which a community of people work together to keep the light burning and repair the Temple. It is only through community collective action that we can repair the world – and boy does the world need fixing now!

IMG_1102So…I light my candles, using not my mother’s militaristic hanukiah, but this more neutral one that I bought when I was in Israel forty years ago. I light the candles to remind myself and my family that only if we work together can we resist the oppression of all people and repair the world.

 

Please consider supporting the organizations that will benefit from my own family’s commitment to “Tzedekah” this season:

CHIRLA

RAICES

Byte Back

A couple of posts of interest:

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-maccabees-heroes-or-fanatics/

https://ajws.org/blog/8-nights-8-jewish-values-reflections-for-chanukah-on-the-jewish-obligation-to-build-a-better-world/

 

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Building Community Cultural Connections

Analyze > Listen > Formulate > Ideate > Prototype > Evaluate > Iterate

My November letter to Cal State LA College of Arts & Letters focused recent activities that support building community cultural connections. I share it with you here.

Dear Arts & Letters Community:

The past month has been a busy time for the College of Arts & Letters and for me as its Dean. The “big event,” was on November 1, when we hosted a day-long professional development event for students, “Connect the Dots: Pathways into the Creative Industries,” about which you can read more in Kathleen Sanchez’s story by clicking, here. It was also a month when we focused a lot on the College’s strategic priority to “Build Community Cultural Connections.”

I attended the annual convening of Imagining America in Albuquerque, New Mexico, along with department chairs Mike Willard (Liberal Studies) and Linda Greenberg (English), faculty members Kathryn Perry (English) and Tanya Kane-Parry (Theatre and Dance), graduate student Jose Cubias, and undergraduates Ashley Robles and Sam Ortiz. Cal State LA joined the Imaging America consortium last year as part of its effort to expand on its mission of Engagement, Service, and the Public Good. Imagining America focuses on “artists and scholars in public life;” thus the convening includes not just traditional academic panels, but also sharing of smart practices around community engagement, workshops, performances, and exhibitions.

Following on work begun by Professor Emeritus Jose Cruz Gonzalez, Professor Kane-Parry has been working with the Glazer Family Dreamers Resource Center and students in her classes (including Robles and Ortiz) to develop a performance script about immigration to be performed in schools and community centers. With the script still in development, she and her two students used the Imagining America convening as an opportunity to workshop the script-in-progress and receive feedback from other community-engaged artists. I was privileged to be in the room when the reading took place and be a small part of the conversation that will help advance the project. Kane-Parry is collaborating with the Center for Engagement, Service, & the Public Good to book the community-based performance tour.

Dr. Greenberg, Dr. Perry and Jose Cubias presented on the various ways that our Department of English is working toward becoming an engaged English department. This includes the work they already do with students at Lancaster Prison as well as curricular developments that will include an “Engaged English” requirement for all majors. Internships that can fulfill this requirement are made possible in part thanks to The Dr. James Garrett Pathways to Professional Success Program Fund.

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Poet Alice Lovelace meeting with CSU deans at the CCAS annual meeting in Atlanta

Following on the heels of all of this activity, I led a workshop for other CSU deans of similar colleges as a part of the pre-conference activities at the annual meeting of the Council of Colleges of Arts & Sciences. We had two guest speakers: Jilo Tisdale of Spelman College’s Bonner Office of Community Service and Student Development, and Alice Lovelace, poet, arts advocate, and director of Atlanta’s Arts Xchange. Ms. Lovelace talked with the CSU deans about how the arts can be a powerful force for economic as well as cultural development. I then led my colleagues through a small group exercise to get us thinking about our various institutional contexts, the communities we serve, and how we might listen even more effectively to these communities to develop successful community-engaged programming. This is an important area of the College of Arts & Letters’ work already, and one that necessitates ongoing development as well. Look for announcements soon of new partnerships with the City of LA Department of Cultural Affairs, and the LA County Museum of Art, as well as deepening relationships with local high schools.

…I note that the Thanksgiving holiday is just around the corner. Regardless of whether or how you celebrate this, I hope your time away from campus will be filled with warmth and love.

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Back at it (Finally)

After a summer vacation and some less fun issues (now completely resolved!) that unfortunately coincided with the very busy start of a new semester, I am back at work on my collection of  essays on the relationship between artists, money, and entrepreneurial action. The seventh essay in the collection explores what entrepreneurship means to artists, develops several case studies that illustrate these entrepreneurial principles, and then describes and analyzes several resourcefulness strategies artists employ to enable them to thrive including the development of the “portfolio career” and web-enabled patronage. As in the past, I’ll dribble some teasers out one paragraph at a time, admittedly to incite interest in the project, but also to collect feedback from you, Creative Infrastructure‘s readers. Here’s this week’s entry:

            The very term “entrepreneurship” is distasteful to many artists (and other people) for its neoliberal and/or brashly capitalist implications both historically and recently. Nevertheless, asking artists what the term means for their practice supports the perspective taken throughout these essays: for artists, entrepreneurship means directly connecting their creative work to other people, their audience. Of the forty artists who participated in a Tremaine Foundation phone survey, the plurality (nine of the forty) indicated that being an entrepreneurial artist means connecting their work with other people, while an additional three said it means keeping the buyer in mind and two others noted it means making their work accessible. Only seven said “thinking about yourself as a business” is what it means to be an entrepreneurial artist. Although I note that overall the survey was not analyzed for statistically significant correlations, those seven as a whole are younger than the rest of the group, which may indicate a shift in thinking among artists who have been exposed to arts entrepreneurship as a concept earlier in their careers. Such artists, unlike artists of earlier generations, have been, at minimum, introduced to the idea that being an independent artist means being a sole proprietor of a business, even when generating revenue is not the motivation for the creative activity of the artist.

Because I mentioned that summer vacation, I offer some eye candy:

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Arts Entrepreneurship 11 through 15

Four years ago, I created a series of short videos for use in my class Foundations of Arts Entrepreneurship. I’m no longer teaching the course (and the videos themselves admittedly could use some updating) but for those of you looking for a primer on arts entrepreneurship or some supplemental material for use in your own classes, I’m making these available to the public. For expediency’s sake, I’ve decided to post the remainder of the course, modules 11 through 15. You can find modules 1-10 by scrolling down through the pages or via the search bar.

Module 11: Business models and business forms/types.

 

Module 12: Business plans and the business model canvas

 

Module 13: Professional communication

 

Module 14: Grantwriting and fundraising for artists

 

Module 15: Public policy and intellectual property basics

I hope you’ve enjoyed Foundations of Arts Entrepreneurship!

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AE 10: Entrepreneurial Decision Making and Basic Finance

Module 10 looks at two approaches to entrepreneurial finance: venture capital vs. effectuation. To understand the module you will need to first seek out and watch the Voyage Air Guitar pitch on Season 1 Episode 3 of ABC’s Shark TankPlease watch this before you listen to the short lecture.

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