I have just returned from my first STP+A conference. STP+A stands for Social Theory, Politics, and Arts – an itinerant conference loosely connected to the Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society, but without any other fixed institutional affiliation. I applaud my colleagues at Seattle University for taking on the challenge of producing the event.
It may have been a result of the sessions I chose to attend, but my impression is that the focus of the conference was far more on the last two – politics and arts – than on the first – social theory. Many if not most sessions had a cultural policy or arts infrastructure focus. And although the purported conference theme was “Arts and Culture: Creating Community in a High Tech World,” the emphasis seemed to be less on creating community and more on using data in a high tech world. Putting these together – cultural policy, arts infrastructure, and data – were what made the conference such a positive experience for me. In stark contrast to the USASBE conference where my research on arts incubators was shoehorned into a session with a presentation on micro-lending in India, I was fortunate to present in a session devoted to organizational practices in the arts along with my colleague Andrew Taylor (The Artful Manager), whose presentation on theories of capital drew a standing room only crowd.
The policy focus of the conference was most fully on display at the opening plenary panel which included arts agency representatives from every level: federal, regional, state, county, and city. My reading of the theme of that session – a welcome theme indeed – is that there needs to be a more investment in arts research infrastructure and that research that extends beyond the economic impact of the arts would be most welcome. Because the vast majority of the attendees are arts researchers, this was a very welcome perspective, although the panel was preaching to the arts research choir. (Speaking ofchoirs, a highlight of the conference was a short concert by Seattle University’s choir in their beautiful Chapel of St. Ignatius.)
The last session of the conference was particularly interesting because of my interest in arts entrepreneurship and arts business models. Stephen Preece presented a bricolage frame around an arts entrepreneurship case study, Serge Poisson De Haro explained the evolving business model of the Montreal Museum of Art, and Jean Hamilton traced the legislative and judicial history of nonprofit tax-exempt status back to a 1601 Elizabethan definition of charity. It was a rich 90 minutes that served to remind me of why I attend conferences and also why I’ve remained in academia for so long: doing so both requires and enables a lifetime of learning.