Hurtling through the sky in a metal tube with wings, ninety minutes behind schedule, and missing the second game of the NLCS, I pause from what has been a hectic fall semester (thus far) to reflect on the conference just attended, as I usually do on flights home. (Three cheers for in-flight internet.) The itinerant “Social Theory, Politics, and Arts Conference” was held in Ottawa, graciously hosted by the University of Ottawa faculty of social sciences. The most valuable lesson I learned is that there is so much learning to do, so much investigation to undertake, so many threads of inquiry to try to weave together.
There were many concurrent sessions, so it is difficult to assess the degree to which there was a singular conference theme. I chose to go to sessions that would be most likely to feed directly into my research on arts incubators as tools of cultural policy (and their evaluation), my current teaching topic (arts entrepreneurship), or prepare me for the arts policy seminar I will teach next year. The sessions didn’t really provide answers, but rather opened up new questions, sparking new ideas for future research and teaching. Here are a few highlights:
The conference began with a ceremonial “tobacco offering” by city officials to two Anicinàpe (commonly called “Algonquin”) chiefs who reminded us in impassioned speeches that we were privileged to be on their land, land that still belonged to their people. “Cultural policy” is not an abstract concept here, it was played out in front of me. In that sense, the ceremony reflected the conference subtitle: “Understanding and Strengthening the Relationship Between Cultural Research and Practice.”
In his opening keynote, Philip Schlesinger discussed the concept of “knowledge exchange,” a methodological framework for research at a nexus of ethnography, participant/observation, and consulting. The topic raised more questions than I could scribble down at the time or have room to posit here: who “owns” the intellectual property generated in such an exchange? For that matter, who owns “culture”? (While Schlesinger noted that oligarchistic power owns culture in the marketplace, the Anicinàpe chiefs who immediately preceded him would probably disagree.) What are the ethics of knowledge exchange? Will embedded knowledge exchange scholars censor themselves to maintain their placements?
This first morning of the conference ran a bit behind schedule, so my own presentation was somewhat truncated and I was late to a presentation by my colleague (and Artivate editorial board member) Margaret Wyszomirski. Her project-in-progress is of great interest: a comprehensive and systematic review of the arts entrepreneurship literature from about 1987 to 2012 when Artivate was founded. Embedded in her presentation was a goals-based definition of arts entrepreneurship about which I will be following up with her. It was concise, clarifying, and had artistic production at its center, but I couldn’t jot it down fast enough before we went to the next slide so don’t quote it here.
A few more tasty tidbits:
- Constance Devereaux discussed using narrative structure as a means for evaluating policy.
- Gretchen McIntosh explained a system of contracting out and inter-organizational relationships among performing arts organizations in central Ohio that could be a model (or a cautionary tale) for practice elsewhere.
- Lois Foreman-Warner traced some changes in corporate philanthropy in the arts from a corporate social responsibility approach to a marketing/sponsorship approach.
- Having visited Beijing’s 798 district myself, I found Li Shao’s presentation on the artist-landlord-government relationship there fascinating, especially the willingness of the artists to be “self-disciplined” (which I read as “self-censored”).
- Bruce Thibodeau’s presentation on “community performativity” was of particular interest for its theoretical framing in stakeholder theory and methodology of qualitative inquiry, both of which are almost precisely the same as I am employing in my current study of arts venture incubator evaluation. His presentation, like others spurred me to frantically scribble down references and citations that I didn’t already have on my own lists.
In the end, this last is what I was left with: a long list of texts, articles, websites, and research centers to look into further — many threads to pick up and weave together.
And a postscript: Ottawa is a beautiful city, especially in the fall, when the weather is crisp but not cold, and the fall colors are at their peak. I hope to have an opportunity to return.