A Memorial Day Thought


Photo from the US Army Quartermaster Museum

This Memorial Day weekend, I’ve been thinking about some images from my youth – of the Vietnam war and, especially, watching the evening news with my parents and seeing coffins of soldiers killed in action being unloaded from a plane. More than the image itself (I couldn’t find the exact one of my memory, but this comes close) was the feeling I remember sharing with my family as we sat safely in our suburban basement where a couple of years earlier we had watched a grainy image of Neil Armstrong taking one small step on our 11” black and white television. My own children have also grown up during a war – our longest – but while they know it is going on, we don’t have the shared experience of watching those killed in action return to US soil in flag-draped boxes. My children seem far more disconnected from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than I was from Vietnam. Faulty parenting may be partially to blame, but the way we experience media (and fight wars) is so fundamentally different than it was 40 years ago that that seems the real culprit. We watch TV on a screen smaller than that old B&W of years ago, with ear buds or headphones that enable people to be in the same room while listening to different soundtracks. We can choose from an almost infinite variety, almost none of which includes news from the front. When there is news, it is of a drone strike: even killing is by remote control.

To what extent are we doomed to experience all culture in this way, individually, deaf to what goes on around us in the real world thanks to noise-canceling headphones? Or, perhaps, can an arts experience, a social experience, counteract the disconnections of our time? Or, perhaps, I should just send links of war news to my kids via text message…

[For a more nuanced perspective on Memorial Day (including a salute to the two fallen soldiers that saved my father) see this http://www.forbes.com/sites/toddessig/2016/05/28/five-ways-to-reflect-and-remember-on-memorial-day/#2105a58ddf1c ]

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Hoke, Daisy, and an Equity Ethos

[This essay is also posted on the Americans for the Arts blog, ARTSblog ]

Daisy programThere’s a line in Alfred Uhry’s play Driving Miss Daisy that has stuck with me for the last 30 years. In response to a well-meaning, but misguided (and forgotten) comment by Daisy, an elderly, White, Jewish, southern widow, to Hoke, her equally elderly Black chauffeur, Hoke replies, “How do you know what I see unless you can look out of my eyes.” I heard the play at least 50 times over several years serving as its associate lighting designer on numerous companies but that is the only line I remember today. I remember it because it is foundational to the development of my personal ethic of cultural equity. In one way or another, Hoke’s reminder that we all have unique, individual, and valuable perspectives formed by unique, individual, and valuable lives informs the way I interact with students, colleagues, board members, artists, neighbors, and all the other people with whom I interact who neither look like me nor believe what I believe.

“How do you know what I see unless you can look out of my eyes” were the words that sprang to mind unbidden when I was invited by AFTA vice president Clay Lord to comment on AFTA’s new Cultural Equity Statement and again a week later when I read about egregious statements made by the (now former) executive director of the National Association for Music Education. But an individual ethos can only go so far. We need to go up a level to organizations if we want to in turn change the system, which seems to be what AFTA and, previously, Grantmakers in the Arts, are trying to do in their public expressions of equity and inclusion policies. The GIA statement acknowledges a need to shift perspective: “Recommended solutions of the past, which have focused on diversity rather than structural inequities, have not resulted in successful outcomes in equitable inclusion and/or grantmaking.” The AFTA statement goes even further: “In the United States, there are systems of power that grant privilege and access unequally such that inequity and injustice result, and that must be continuously addressed and changed.” How, then, can we change the structures that undergird the system?

I don’t have the answer – or any answers. No one individual person can. It is only by listening inclusively and equitably to multiple diverse voices that answers can begin to surface. One voice that I “listened” to recently was Carlton Turner’s. His description of the setting for an arts leadership workshop as “a sterile windowless classroom listening to much older professors that don’t look like me lecture on business strategies, market segmentation and innovation” made me sit straight up and shout to myself “THAT’S ME AND I’M DOING EVERYTHING WRONG!” While in retrospect I understand that I’m not doing everything wrong, I can do much much better at executing the three principles Turner avows:

  1. Be aware of and acknowledge local cultural practices.
  2. Validate leaders who are responsible and accountable to their communities.
  3. Build coalitions by actively breaking down racial, ethnic, geographic, religious, and class barriers that separate communities experiencing the same struggles. [emphasis mine]

And, if I can do better, each individual in the arts ecosystem can also do better. That’s how change happens: each individual doing better to affect change in each organization to shift the way the whole system operates. For nonprofit organizations, that change has to happen at the board level, the seat of organizational power, with individual members whose perspectives reflect the rich diversity of our world. Actively break down barriers: get rid of give/get requirements; actively recruit underrepresented board members along the dimensions not only of ethnicity but also socio-economic and ability status; involve the audience/community in programming decisions (or at least dialogue); go out and meet the people your organization serves one-on-one in their own neighborhoods; hire people whose backgrounds are different than your own; find alternative structures for including all voices; and keep questioning when and why privilege is affecting equity. I can’t see out of Hoke’s eyes, but I can help make a place for him at the board meeting so he has a voice there.


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Knowledge, Clubs, and Journals

Artivate CoverThree articles/blogs/news items about academic journal publishing hit my inbox in the 24 hours prior to a guest lecture for Seattle University on the topic of….academic journal publishing. The primary mission of academic journals is – or should be – the dissemination of new knowledge and thus the advancement of a field or discipline. The secondary echo effects of the journal publishing process, as any tenure-track faculty member will tell you, are the employment benefits that can accrue from publishing in peer-reviewed journals: recruitment, promotion, tenure, enhanced reputation, and so on. And there are other less tangible externalities such as the opportunity to engage with new collaborators and more.

The first of the three articles was from the Australian blog Economists Talk Art. In it, the authors posit that knowledge is not a private good (although treated as such by academic publishers who charge exorbitant journal subscription fees to libraries and others), nor is it a public good (although often thought of as such by the scholars who receive no direct compensation for the publication of their work), but rather a club good. Club goods are excludable, but non-rivalrous. Club goods are things like private parks, satellite tv, or, obviously, club membership privileges. This begins to make sense when we consider the “clubby” atmosphere of academic conferences and learned societies; only members of the “Society for the Study of Some Really Specialized Topic” end up reading the “Journal of the Really Specialized Topic,” plus a few others who may have a tangential interest in the “Really Specialized Topic” because it intersects with their own research on “Another Specialized Topic.” I was thinking about this clubbiness of academic societies when an opinion piece suggesting that the peer review process be separated from the publication process and put in the hands of just such learned societies reached my in box from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

In this model, authors would submit their work to one or more of the professional societies most appropriate for that work. The societies would oversee the peer review and give accepted works an imprimatur. Authors could then shop their works with imprimaturs to different publishers, which would be in the business of dissemination rather than evaluation.

Like most academics, I belong to several such societies and have even served on the boards of them. Thus I can attest that they do indeed function as clubs, which has both positive and negative consequences. Like many nonprofit organizations, such societies may have governance structures that are resistant to change and innovation. This would not be an environment conducive to the review of the most cutting edge research. It may also come as no surprise that academic politics sometimes get in the way of the advancement of knowledge in such groups. Although many of the same people who serve as reviewers of journal manuscripts also serve on the committees of learned societies, putting the review of the newest, most experimental writing (on any topic) in the hands of a potentially large organization is akin to asking an ocean liner to steer the rapids when a raft would actually be the better choice.

goods-300x204Consider instead that scientific knowledge is neither a private good, nor a public good, nor a club good, but rather a commons, self-governed by those with knowledge of the “Really Specialized Topic.” (We published an article related to this topic in Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts, Pave’s free, open-access peer-reviewed journal on a really specialized topic). The knowledge is already governed as a commons through the review process: we who know something about a specialized topic act as the pro bono gatekeepers of the commons, keeping out the work that would pollute the knowledge commons and supporting the development of the ideas (through the reviewers’ comments) that help make the published material in the commons the highest quality for the benefit of all.

This brings me to the third of the three articles: the news that SSRN, the Social Science Research Network, a free repository of pre-publication working papers, had been sold to Elsevier, one of the largest for-profit academic journal publishers. For years, SSRN had treated knowledge as a public good; Elsevier most definitely treats it as a private good and profits from its excludability. This new arrangement will probably not turn out well. I, for one, will no longer post my works-in-progress on SSRN and am confident that I am not alone in making that decision. Why should Elsevier profit from what should be open access to knowledge?

I agree with The Chronicle’s Michael Satlow that we need a new business model for academic publishing. Perhaps we can use the commons of the internet to figure out what that should be. In the meantime, I will continue to publish and co-edit a journal that is free, open access, and rigorously peer-reviewed by commons stakeholders.


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Book proposal

I’m working on a book proposal – let me know what you think.

Ouroboros with textAn Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action. The long form of a book will enable me to delve deeply into the relationships between art, innovation, entrepreneurship, and money to develop an argument that gets to the heart of what is arguably the most critical issue for the visual arts today: how can an artists make work and live in our late-capitalist society? The Ouroboros, the serpent eating its own tail, is a visual metaphor deployed to shift commonly held perspectives on, especially, the relationship between art and money. Art is the head; money is the tail, feeding and nourishing the head in a cycle that enables the organism to not only survive but also thrive. In essence, my thesis is that money does not sully art — it feeds it. Between the art and the money is the body: innovation and entrepreneurship. I employ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of innovation: a novel idea that is implemented and has impact on a domain. Is that not what the artist does: create something new and unique that has impact? Entrepreneurship is conceived as the discovery or creation of a mediating structure that can convert the artistic innovation into money so that the money can be re-invested in the artist and the making of more art.

I approach the study of art not through the lenses of history and criticism but rather as an artist (my MFA is in Design for Stage and Screen) and policy analyst (my PhD is in Public Administration and Policy). As such, I approach my analysis dramaturgically, assessing the given conditions, the setting, the actors (i.e., “characters”) in the arts economy, their motivations, and potential outcomes for both individuals and the economic social system of which we are all part. The book’s ten interconnected essays in four sections corresponding to the head, torso, belly, and tail of the Ouroboros: Art, Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Money. The essays draw on my ten years of research, practice, and teaching in the nascent field of arts entrepreneurship to argue that entrepreneurial action leads to positive results for individual artists, but individual entrepreneurial action may not benefit the “arts sector” writ large. Artists who produce work entrepreneurially either as individuals or collectively are deployed as case study examples in each essay. Other data undergirding the essays comes from research conducted on artists’ professional development needs and on arts incubation practices about which I have previously written.

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Showcase, Not Competition

idea students

The Herberger Institute student participants.

The Herberger Institute Office of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs, which I direct, just hosted its First Annual Herberger Institute Student Idea Showcase. It was a great event, with 18 students pitching ideas for everything from an app that reminds you to water the houseplants to theatre for the very young in a yurt, the latter winning the judges choice award; a visual impaired comic book artist won the audience award for her narration-enhanced Sonic Comics. For the ten years that I’ve led the Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship, I’ve been reluctant to produce a traditional pitch competition. This event came close, but we wanted to create an event that wasn’t only about “business,” but rather one that rewards arts and design students for their innovation, for novel ideas that have the potential for positive impact.

Idea judges

Our judges (l to r): Lawdan Shojaee, Jessica Rajko, Sara Cochran, and Bob Booker

My reticence to foster the kind of high-competition atmosphere one sees in some pitch competitions may have some basis in research. As I’ve been conducting a review of the literature on networking and entrepreneurship*, I noticed that entrepreneurial success in the arts and culture sector may be fostered by environments of low competition where networks that enable cooperation and friendship provide both emotional and business support, rather than the kinds of cut-throat competitive environments one associates with Shark Tank or high-stakes Silicon Valley VC presentations. So, we will continue to host our new event on annual basis by emphasizing “IDEA” and “Showcase” rather than “competition.”

* The two articles in our sample of 53 that address this issue also happen to be two of only three that specific look at the arts and culture sector:

  • Konrad, E. D. (2013). Cultural entrepreneurship: The impact of social networking on success. Creativity and Innovation Management, 22(3), 307-319.
  • Kuhn, K. M., & Galloway, T. L. (2015). With a little help from my competitors: Peer networking among artisan entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 39(3), 571-600.
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“The Dramaturgy of Public Policy”

thumbsI’ve had the great good fortune to have had several interactions recently with the brilliant Roberto Bedoya, artist, arts administrator, public intellectual, and someone who has earned the title of “thought leader.” The first of these interactions was at the 3 Million Stories Conference hosted on the ASU campus, then two weeks later when he returned as a guest on our Pave Speakers Series talking about “Property Rights, Human Rights, and Places,” and then this week during the ArtPlace Summit held in downtown Phoenix. It was there that I heard him use the phrase, “the dramaturgy of public policy.”

The dramaturgy of public policy.” And with those words, I could almost hear the heretofore tenuously connected gears of theatrical design and public policy analysis mesh together and begin 70px-Cog-scripted-svg.svgrunning smoothly in my head. “Of course!” said the voice in my head, “you understand policy the way you analyze a script dramaturgically: the characters, the setting, the given conditions, the motivations, the inciting action…” I thought to myself: Dramaturgy can be the entry point to understanding policy analysis for the theatre makers, dancers, and visual artists in my policy class. The garbage can model and policy streams could be thrown out the (policy) window in favor of a metaphor these students can relate to: policy as dramatic script.

Thank you, Roberto!


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Teachable Skills

A basic question that comes up often at meetings of arts entrepreneurship educators is “what should we be teaching?” As I was preparing to write the editor’s introduction to the Winter 2016 issue of Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts, I realized that two articles in the issue as well as two additional articles we had recently published all contained studies of just that question: “What are the crucial skills for arts entrepreneurs?” Through both qualitative and quantitative inquiry, the four articles described several overlapping families of skills that I summarized in a table:

Skills Figure 1

The skills families include networking, especially networking for collaboration (which is confirmed by some other research we’ve done recently); hard skills for business, although this is only considered crucial by 2 of the 4 research teams; two modes of cognition: the strategic and the creative; confidence or “self-efficacy” (which I’ve noted earlier is best taught or developed experientially); communication, including marketing communication; and understanding context and recognize opportunity, a core competency for entrepreneurs in any field.

With this summary, the core competencies for arts entrepreneurship begin to emerge, signaling the beginnings of the maturation of the field itself.

(Table source: Essig, L. (2016). Editor’s introduction to the Winter 2016 issue. Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts 5 (1), 1-3.)

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