A Short Comment on Current Events

I was a kid when when Watergate happened and although pretty young, followed along as people were indicted and a president resigned (and let us not forgot the VP who resigned before him due to tax evasion charges). My brother and sister were the age my own children are now. For our whole generation, faith in the executive branch was lost. I’m quite sure that my children’s generation, people now in their early 20s, will have no faith in the judicial branch. After all, why should they. That event 45 years ago, this event now (not to mention the whole 2000 and 2016 election debacles) weaken our institutions of government, perhaps to the point of breaking.

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Supreme Court Undergoing Renovation. Photo by Jonathunder, GFDL 1.2

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#LaborDay Reflection

Screen Shot 2018-09-03 at 10.45.08 AMIn 1985, I walked into Pace University, a light plot and section for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof under one arm and an opera score under the other. I waited all day for my turn – I was last — to go into the theatre where I directed a crew to focus sixteen lights and then sat down and wrote nine cues for a scene from Pelleas and Mellisande. A panel of experienced lighting designers who would decide my professional fate sat behind me. I was so focused on the stage, I didn’t realize they were not in the dark. “Aren’t you gonna turn the house lights down,” bellowed Lee Watson; I did. The scene finished, I brought the lights up and left the theatre with Allen Lee Hughes, a panelist and friend, who walked me to the subway. “Don’t worry, we throw out Lee Watson’s score sheets.” A few weeks later I got my United Scenic Artists Local 829 stamp and proudly used it for the next 25 years. For most of those years I benefitted from the collective bargaining agreements my brethren had negotiated with LORT theatres, agreements that protected my rights, my time, and my compensation.

When I started teaching at UW-Madison I no longer relied on the union’s health insurance for coverage, but was happy to pay my quarterly dues and have the theatres I worked for outside of the university (faculty at UW-Madison are not represented by a union) pay into a fund that would support my union member colleagues who did not have the benefits of a teaching position – that is the nature of the collective action that organized labor supports. Now, as an academic administrator in a collective bargaining environment, I may find that I am represented on the opposite side of the bargaining table from organized labor but we are not on opposite sides conceptually; we are all on the side of the students and their success, much as producers and designers are on the same side: that of a healthy and productive American theatre.

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One sentence at a time

As my book project, An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action, developed, I began posting paragraphs or short passages to help me work through ideas and garner feedback. With my transition into a new job, I am sometimes only able to muster a sentence or two. Here is today’s sentence:

Unlike traditional capitalist enterprises as they began to develop in the late Middle Ages or early Renaissance in Europe as separate entities from their owner’s household, the arts entrepreneurial enterprise is inseparable from the artist herself.

shop in the middle ages

That’s all I got this weekend…

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Working through an idea

Now that I’m almost four weeks in to my new position as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA, I have some headspace to return to An Ouroboros. I’m working through a thorny section of the second essay in the book, an essay on art, experience, meaning, and value. Here’s the Moebius strip I’ve create for myself:

Bill Sharpe, in his short book Economies of Life: Patterns of health and wealth, argues that art is the very currency of experience, much as scores and statistics are the currency of sport and money is the currency of the market. To understand his explanation, one first needs to accept his basic premise that an economy is “a coordinated pattern of human activity enabled by a currency.”[1] Sharpe’s contention, with which I agree, is that although we each experience art individually, when patterns form of multiple experiences, we have culture. Art, then, is the way in which these patterns of multiple experiences are made visible; art is the currency of experience.

However, one could argue that the reverse is also true: experience is the currency of art. If, as in the market economy, the value of a product is measured in its currency, money, then in the economy of culture, the value of art (the cultural “product”) is measured in its currency, experience. We understand the value of art through our experience of it.

Thoughts?

[1] Sharpe, B. (2010). Economies of Life: Patterns of health and wealth. London: International Futures Forum, p. 32.

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Moebius Strip By JoshDif – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18456094

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Values + Opportunity = Change

The Creative Infrastructure blog is in a period of transition because my career (and life) is in a period of transition. I don’t yet know what the future will bring for the blog, but I do know what the future brings for me: beginning July 1, I will be Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at California State University, Los Angeles. At an open forum with faculty and staff a little over a month ago, I talked about my professional trajectory and my interest in joining the CSULA leadership team. Here is what I said:

My first love – professionally – was lighting design.

After completing my MFA at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, I worked full time as a freelance lighting designer, but after several years realized I had something valuable to say to others about lighting design, so took my first teaching job at UW Madison. I soon after became head of the design programs in the Department of Theatre and Drama.

Later, I became director of University theatre and then Chair of the department, which is when I realized that my first love might be lighting design, but my true love is academic administration (yes…there are people who truly love academic administration).

So, when I was recruited to run a much larger unit at ASU and work to transform it into a school of Theatre and Film, I jumped at that opportunity.

As the Director of the School of Theatre and Film at ASU, I led a large and diverse unit; by the time I stepped down to concentrate on my personal loves — getting my children through high school — we had 32 tenure/tenure track faculty; numerous PT faculty; 12 FT staff; about 45 graduate teaching assistants. We grew the budget from $2.6M to $5.1M during my tenure as director, despite the economic downtown in the middle of that period. We built programs, including a very popular BA in film.

Since 2011, I have concentrated on growing the arts entrepreneurship programming we launched in 2006 and fed my love of administration by building programs and by undertaking formal education in the field leading to a second terminal degree in the topic. Two years ago, we moved the fledgling arts entrepreneurship programs into the dean’s office, where I am now director of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs for our college-level entity, the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. In this position, I am not just director of a graduate program, but serve the entire college in a broad portfolio relating to design and arts enterprise and entrepreneurship. This includes graduate and undergraduate programs, public programming, research, and enterprise support, which has included helping almost 40 student teams develop arts-based businesses many –if not most – of them with a focus on social impact and public good.

In each of my administrative positions, I have led the unit forward by articulating a shared vision and implementing that vision to advance the mission of both the unit and the university.

Teaching arts management and cultural leadership, which is where my teaching is focused now, I lead my students in an exercise every semester in which they have to examine their  own values. I do that exercise along with my students. Although the rank order of them varies, for the last several semesters, my top 5 values have pretty consistently  included Justice (inclusive of social equity), integrity (inclusive of honesty), empathy, usefulness, and….love.

Becoming the dean of the college of Arts and Letters at Cal State LA will give me the opportunity to both live my values and realize my professional true love. The values of the university – that higher education is a tool for social equity and mobility – align clearly with the values I try to live daily. I will be able to live my values of justice, integrity, empathy, love and, perhaps most especially for this audience, usefulness here.

I can be useful to you here as someone who is more than a mere manager, but rather as a leader who sees both the big picture and the particulars, as someone who bundles resources to support program growth and development, as someone who is deeply committed to both faculty development and student success and sees those as intrinsically connected.

Twenty-first century skills are the skills learned in the humanities and the arts: critical thinking; idea generation; working in collaborative groups; multi-faceted communication. The ability to not do just “one thing” but to do “many different things” over the course of one’s work-life. The College of Arts & Letters is positioned to be a leader in supporting the students it serves by giving them tools to navigate the uncertainty that they will face, to understand the technological world humanistically and creatively, and to advance social justice and equity. I want to help you all do that – and that’s why I’m here.

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Willingness

You may have heard about the recent late winter storm that rocked the east coast. Thanks to that storm, I was stranded in Washington DC in between a meeting of the RUPRI/NEA Rural Cultural Wealth Research Lab and the Mike Curb MA in Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership Field Experience class trip to NYC. This unexpected extra night in DC afforded me the opportunity to reconnect with a dear friend who happens to be the Properties Director at Arena Stage.

Over dinner, Monique and I got to talking about collaboration. Then she said:

Collaboration is the WILLINGNESS to sit in darkness together.

Screen Shot 2018-03-24 at 4.58.58 PMMic drop. What a great way to think about artists’ collaboration. Being a theatre artist, she meant it both literally (she and I spent a lot of time sitting in darkness together at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in the early 1990s) as well as figuratively. Collaboration requires a kind of mindset, a WILLINGNESS, that is intentional, open, and non-judgmental. Finding companies and “company” where that kind of collaboration happens consistently is rare in my experience. I have seen a director throw a chair across a room, a choreographer get up in the face of a student and stare her down, a faculty member shout down a colleague for no apparent reason other than as an exercise of intimidation. When artists behave in this way they are not collaborating; they are asserting power. In collaboration, even when power differentials exist (and they always do) all the participants enter the darkness together and willingly.

In my arts entrepreneurship classes, we often talk about “uncertainty.” In a way, entrepreneurship, like collaboration, requires a willingness to sit in darkness, hopefully together, but maybe alone, navigating the uncertain with the limited information at hand. Despite the distance of years (it had been four since we last saw each other), Monique and I were able to sit together, willingly sharing our experiences, not in darkness, but in the light of a lifelong friendship.

(photo: Plymouth Theatre; photographer unknown; public domain)

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Sharing and Value

I continue to explore, somewhat casually and, unfortunately, intermittently, the concept of “sharing” and what it could mean to have a true “sharing economy” for the arts. As part of that exploration, I am reading Arjo Klamer’s Doing the Right Thing: A Value Based Economy. In it, he differentiates between “willingness to pay,” a familiar concept in both economics and market research, and “willingness to contribute.” “Willingness to pay” is a concept of exchange in which something of value (a private good) is traded for something of value (a currency of some kind). “In the case of willingness to contribute, the expectation is that the contribution will add values to a shared good” (Klamer, 2017, p. 88).

If we consider that artist and audience co-create the value of art, then we begin to value the role of the audience and begin to conceive of art not as a private good, or even a public good (per Samuelson) but as a “shared good.” A “consumer” is antithetical to the concept of a shared good because a consumer reduces the value of a good through her very consumption of it (think of ice cream here or a car, which depreciates with every mile driven). [Sidenote: If we consider knowledge to be a shared good, as Klamer does, then the student-as-consumer model of higher education falls apart, as well it should; students and faculty co-create knowledge and understanding.]

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[Shared] Knowledge is Power by Seymour Joseph Guy

But an artist creates work and wants to sell it to support the creation of more work (and the material needs of her life). Is such work — the product of an artist’s mind and labor — a shared good? Not yet; for this reason I can’t buy Klamer’s argument wholesale. But, as I am beginning to understand, the value of that work — its exchange value, its social value, and even its aesthetic value — is enhanced by the participation of the audience. So, it’s not that the audience co-created the work itself, but the audience, through participation, collection, attendance, co-creates the work’s value as a shared good.

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