At a recent participant parent event at Rising Youth Theatre, a terrific young company for which I serve as board secretary, one of the parents, who happens to also be a work colleague, noted that our discussion of the company’s work to build the social assets of the youth participants reminded her of the grid I had shown her in my office a couple of weeks prior. “Which grid do you mean? I have a lot of grids,” I replied. (She was referring to an inventory of means template that I use with student arts entrepreneurs to help them assess who they are, what they know, and who they know — but I didn’t recall that at the time.) A short time later, the board’s incoming president whispered to me, “I have a lot of grids” was the most characteristic self-description he could think of for me.
I did not take it as a compliment at the time, but in retrospect, “grids” of one kind or another have been a critical component of my professional life since I first started out as a lighting designer and, especially, an assistant lighting designer. As an ALD, I was responsible for keeping track of hundreds of lights, their positions, colors, focus points, and so on across hundreds of cues as they changed intensity and, later, position and focus too. To do that (especially in the pre-laptop early years) required a lot of grids. Every one of those charts and forms — the hookup, the tracking sheets, the instrument schedules — were 100% in the service of the art on the stage; the grids themselves or the lights they tracked had no value except insofar as the kept the performance looking the way it was meant to. A long time ago, I said to one of my early graduate students in the lighting design program at UW-Madison, “There’s no ego in a leko,” meaning that the work on the stage is what’s important; if you have to move a light, change a cue, re-format a spreadsheet (aka “grid”), it is to make better art. The phrase must have stuck, because when the student graduated, he presented me with a wooden plaque with the saying on it, which I still have to this day.
As an academic administrator in the arts, grids were also an important part of my work, especially insofar as they communicated production schedules or personnel budgets. Again, the grids were deployed in the service of the art. Now that most of what I do is research and teach arts management and arts entrepreneurship, I find that students often have a hard time with grids – especially budget spreadsheets. The gridlines are not worth the paper they are printed on, but the art that they support is priceless. If the grid isn’t working, throw it out and start over. After all, “There’s no ego in a leko.”