Look Around, Look Around

After telling a story to my undergraduate arts entrepreneurship seminar yesterday, one student said, “that would make a good blog post.” So….here it is.

First, the set-up: One of several objectives for this course is to help students increase their capacity to recognize opportunities, especially opportunities for creative action. In week three of the semester, I noticed that the students in the class always took the same seats around the conference table. I invited them (OK…required them) to move to different seats so that they could get a new perspective on the room, perhaps inspiring new creative thoughts. On more than one occasion since, a student has remarked upon entering the room, “I don’t know where to sit…” “Sit wherever you like,” I reply.

What do we miss when we always sit in the same seat?

The story: I went for a long afternoon walk this past weekend. The weather was extraordinarily nice, even by February-in-Phoenix standards. I was bopping along the sidewalk, the soundtrack from Hamilton playing through my earbuds as I passed the local middle school athletic fields. 50 yards or so in front me, a father and daughter are looking up and excitedly pointing at something behind and above me. I turned my head to the right and didn’t see anything. I was getting closer to them and their excitement seemed to be growing, so I turned fully around, and there, about 100 feet in the air and somewhat behind me, a hang-glider was floating down to the ground for a landing in the field. hanggliderI live near an (urban) mountain preserve and there are frequently hang-gliders on beautiful Sunday afternoons, but they usually land in the designated landing area. The pilot had overshot by about a ¼ mile – but found an opportunity to land and took it. I never would have known had I not turned around when a neighbor pointed at the sky behind me. We don’t always have someone pointing the way to an opportunity, but when we do, take a minute to turn around and find it!

As Eliza Schuyler sings it: “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

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Thoughts While Waiting for a Plane: Value and Values

“Value” and “values” are such loaded words. Because the various concepts of both are top of mind as I teach arts entrepreneurship to a variety of student constituencies this semester, I’ve written several times recently about “values,” those ethical concepts that guide decision-making, as well as “value” derived from consumption or ownership. We talk about use value, hedonic value, aesthetic value, and, of course, market value, the only type of value for which price is an accurate proxy. I’m at the same time in the middle of reading Arko Klamer’s new-ish book, Doing the Right Thing: A Value-Based Economy. Until I dug into this book, I had kept separate the two types of “values,” but he is helping me see their connections. Ultimately, what we value is what is important to us. And “value,” as an unspecified quantity, is a measure of the degree to which something (an object, an experience, a relationship, or a concept that undergirds decision-making) is important to me.

When I was getting my MFA in stage design, we learned about another kind of “value” – brightness — and that high value contrast (think bright vs. dark) would create visual interest and draw attention on stage. Perhaps I find the concept of “value” in their ethical and economic senses so fascinating because their contrast creates interest.

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Bread and Bitcoin

“Bread is the staff of life,” or so the saying goes. When I was studying lighting design at NYU, my teacher there, Arden Fingerhut (who became my dearest mentor and friend), would ask students to bake something to bring in to class. She explained that she did this because lighting design was the most abstract of the theatre design elements: costume designers had tangible sketches; set designers had physical models; but we lighting designers had only concepts and ideas and analogies. We didn’t actually produce our work until we were in the theatre, which we did only once or twice in our graduate course of study. So, she reasoned, bringing in some baked item, something we had actually made and could touch and taste, would make us feel that we had really made something of value when all we had to bring to class otherwise was a “concept paper” and some chalk marks on black paper (it was the early 1980s, long before computer visualizations of lighting were commonplace).

Fast-forward a few decades, and I am teaching graduate seminars in which I sometimes bake for the class or invite (but don’t require) students to do the same. I do this for a somewhat different reason than Arden articulated: to build community by sharing and for the hedonic effect that fresh baked anything produces. “Sharing” has been a blog topic here several times over the last few months as I think about alternative currencies for arts and culture.

There’s an easy bread recipe I use, and the bread has been a real favorite of my current group of graduate students, gobbled up swiftly and with more gusto than sweeter dessert-type baked items. I brought a loaf in to my graduate arts entrepreneurship seminar today, paired with butter that my dean, Steven J. Tepper, had churned and made into holiday gifts for his team. We did eventually get around to a discussion of alternate currencies – specifically crypto currency like bitcoin — and how its use was riskier than that of other currencies because, as I put it, “I can’t walk into the Safeway on the corner and buy a loaf of bread with bitcoin.” There was a wide range of opinion about the use of crypto-currencies and I look forward to learning more about the concept. Even though I can’t use bitcoin to buy bread in the local supermarket, if you want to gift me a bit-coin, I will ship you a loaf of my bread! Or if you prefer, you can bake it yourself – but please share it if you do.

LINDA’S NO-KNEAD BREAD RECIPE: 

The most important component of this bread is TIME – it does not require skill. If I start the bread early Friday morning, It’s ready for a late breakfast on Saturday. If I start it Monday night, I can bake it Tuesday night and bring it in for my grad seminar on Wednesday.

You’ll need 24-30 hours.

You will also need a large mixing bowl and a cast iron Dutch oven

dutch oven

  • 4 cups of WHITE WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR (King Arthur or Kroger brands are good)
  • 2 cups of UNBLEACHED WHEAT FLOUR
  • 1 TBS of salt
  • ½ tsp of active dry yeast (not the fast rising kind)
  • 3 cups of water
  • Some cooking spray and a sprinkle of oatmeal or cornmeal for the bottom of the pan

Mix the flours, salt, and yeast together.  Add the water and mix together well to form a wet dough. You don’t need to knead. Cover with plastic wrap and put aside in a cabinet or closet. (I put a cutting board on top to keep the plastic wrap on.) Let it sit undisturbed for 20-24 hours.

After this time has passed, punch down and knead a few times – not much is necessary, but if you can actually see some raw flour in the mix, make sure it gets incorporated. Let it sit (covered) for another 2-4 hours.

Put the Dutch oven in the regular oven and preheat both to 450 degrees.

Spray some cooking spray in the pan, sprinkle some oatmeal or cornmeal on the bottom (don’t cover the whole bottom – this is so the dough lifts up and gets some air circulating under it), pour in the dough (it will be wet and gloppy) and bake it COVERED for 30 minutes; remove the cover and bake an additional 18-20 minutes. It should pop right out; cool on a rack. It should look something like this:

bread

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#Resistance Values

When I start teaching a new semester of arts entrepreneurship or cultural leadership with graduate students or advanced undergraduates, I usually have them do an examination of their own values so that they can consciously consider the values that drive their decision-making. This year in my arts entrepreneurship courses (an undergrad seminar, a graduate seminar, and a venture incubation workshop) the exercise included a prompt that seemed to initiate even deeper thought. Reading aloud from Arjo Klamer’s new book, Doing the Right Thing: A Value Based Economy (Ubiquity Press, 2017) got us thinking about how our values directly impact our economic behavior. He writes:

If you embrace the idea that what we do, or what organizations or governments do, is ultimately the realization of values, you will have to recognize with me that the standard economic models of rational behavior do not suffice. The realization of values calls for something like phronesis, or practical wisdom.

and

When doing the right thing, people strive to realize their values. That is, they need to be aware of what those values are and then, by interacting with others, by producing, buying, selling, socializing or conversing, they try to make those values real. This perspective contrasts with the focus on preferences and utility maximization in standard economics.

Values can evolve over time, so I undertake the self-examination along with the students. “Honesty” is usually close to the top for me, along with “usefulness,” “empathy,” and for the past five years I’ve also come to understand “love” as a core value as well.  On Wednesday 1/10, my top five in order were 1-Usefulness, 2-Empathy, 3-Honesty, 4-Love, and 5-Justice. Then on Thursday 1/11/18, the President of the United States displayed his utter lack of all of these in strong and vulgar terms. The contrast between the values I believe a good leader possesses and those he exhibits in words and action is so strong that I felt an intense need to draw a starker contrast by the time I got around to the third exercise in class on Friday. My list therefore took on a different order: 1-Justice, 2-Empathy, 3-Integrity (replacing “Honesty”, “Integrity” has the additional implication of morality and uprightness – both of which the President lacks), and then 4-Usefulness, and 5-Love.

valuesLike Klamer, I embrace the idea that what we do, or what organizations or governments do, is ultimately the realization of values. My personal mission moving forward, what I will strive to do every day, is to make my values of Justice, Empathy, Integrity, Usefulness, and Love real for me and for those I interact with. Klamer offers an ideal of a value-based economy, but we can only achieve that if we live a values-based life.

Note: If you would like to do a value sorting exercise yourself, you can do an online version designed by The Good Work Project or you can download my set of “Values Cards” here: Values cards. Print them, cut out the cards, and begin by picking out the ten that are most important to you. From there, rank the top five. Save them, and think about how you realize them “by interacting with others, by producing, buying, selling, socializing or conversing.”

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Top 5 Creative Infrastructure Posts of 2017

ULI panel Pacoima

A panel convened by Urban Land Institute-LA to assist Pacoima Beautiful and LA Department of Cultural Affairs in arts incubator plan

#1. For the second year in a row, a short piece defining arts incubators was the most popular post on Creative Infrastructure. I first posted “What is an ‘Arts Incubator’?” in 2013 early in my research on the topic, but the post has gained in popularity year after year; thousands read it in 2017. My publicly viewable posts on the topic of arts incubators, unlike my formal scholarship on the subject found behind publisher paywalls, led to both formal and informal consulting engagements with communities or cities interested in setting up arts incubation programs. A journal article summarizing my research findings will be published next month in the International Journal of Arts Management; the link to “Value Creation and Evaluation in US Arts Venture Incubators: A Cross-case Analysis” will be posted here when it is available.#2. The second most popular post in 2017 is most popular overall: “Just Say NO!” is my advice to young people with specialized skills and equipment asked to take on unpaid work under the guise of an “internship.” It has been viewed almost 200,000 times.

#3. Another definitional post, “What is the Arts and Culture Sector?” was also quite popular in 2017. This post is drawn from a longer scholarly article, “Means and Ends: A Theory Framework for Understanding Entrepreneurship in the US Arts and Culture Sector,” which was published in the Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society.  

mv5bmzuzndm2nzm2mv5bml5banbnxkftztgwntm3ntg4ote-_v1_sy1000_sx675_al_#4. La La Land was a popular movie in 2017, and so was my critique of it, “La La Land of Broken Dreams.” I felt the movie did a tremendous disservice to young artists and performers by re-mythologizing what it means to “make it” as a professional artist.

#5. Rounding out the top five is another early arts incubator piece, a teaser for what would become a formal article in Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society: “Arts Incubators: A Typology.” The blog post shares results of some early field scanning, “Arts Incubators: 47 and Counting.” The arts incubator landscape has shifted around since this work started in 2013, but I hope to have made some contribution to the field’s understanding of what arts incubators are, what they can do, and perhaps most importantly, what they can’t do.

I give my own honorable mention to a post about workplace sexual assault. “Un-bully-able” was also written in 2013, but I decided at the time to password protect it and only share it with friends. Thanks to the heroines of the #MeToo movement, I felt empowered enough – and safe enough – to share it publicly a couple of months ago.

Ouroboros with textDuring 2017, I started teasing out small pieces of a book that I’m working on, putting paragraphs out into the blogosphere for your feedback along the way. I hope you’ll continue to read and respond as I continue to develop that project.

2017: that’s a wrap!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

new year cork

Illustration used for my very first CI post published New Year’s Eve 2011

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Sharing

Preparation for a recent meeting about a project I’m affiliated with, The Rural Cultural Wealth Lab, got me thinking about the word sharing, or share, or shared. The phrase that jumped out at me had to do with shared values and customs leading to sustainable culture. How do we share values and customs? What does it mean to share one’s time? If I give a gift, am I sharing?

‘Tis the season for gift giving; some might call that sharing. However, when I give a gift, even if I give it freely, I am not sharing because I no longer have whatever it was I IMG_5981gave away. But, when I share the custom of lighting Hannukah candles with my daughter, we experience something together; the cultural custom is shared and thus sustained. When I give an unrestricted financial gift to a nonprofit organization, I am supporting the organization’s operations, its mission delivery. But, when I volunteer along with other board members to staff an event for the organization, that feels more like sharing because I am not just giving my time (as I might do as a pro bono consultant), but sharing the experience of volunteering with other board members and staff; we are taking collective action.

The Comprehensive Rural Wealth Framework, which is foundational to the work of the lab project mentioned earlier, is based on an acknowledgement of the multiple capitals from which wealth is comprehensively derived: physical, financial, human, intellectual, political, natural, social, and – of course – cultural. These capitals can be held, spent or shared. It occurs to me that only by sharing can comprehensive wealth increase. If you hold it, it stagnates; if you spend it it’s gone; but if you share it, then everyone benefits. What might the implications be for the arts and culture sector if we all did more sharing?

‘Tis also the season of debates over tax reform. I view paying taxes as a kind of sharing. Taxes are not a gift to the government, it is me sharing 28% of what I earn so that 100% of people can have roads, and bridges, and schools. Perhaps if we could reconceive taxation as a form of sharing, there wouldn’t be such bitter fights over who gets which piece of the pie.

Happy holidays!

IMG_5973

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“Oh, for Pete’s Sake!”

LDI

Photo from the LDI website is a view of the show floor with about 24 people; all of them are men.

LDI is an entertainment technology trade show held every November in Las Vegas. When lighting design was central to my creative activity and scholarship, I attended every year. This year, 2017, I attended for the first time in six or seven years. I wanted to see what had changed in technology since I was last there (a lot) and see what might still be the same. As expected, there have been some sweeping technological changes thanks to advancements in LED technologies. What is the same is the demographic makeup of the attendees: predominantly white, and overwhelmingly male.

I’ve been teaching in or adjacent to theatre production programs for a long time. My observation, backed up by actual data, is that there is significantly more gender parity among students interested in entertainment technology than in the entertainment professionals on the show floor. Why and where is the breakdown in the professional pipeline to entertainment technology? I last looked seriously at this gender disparity in a 2005 article for Theatre Design & Technology, finding that approximately 22% of lighting designers are women. I expected there would be more parity by now, but in 2016, Porsche McGovern, writing for HowlRound found even worse results – 20%. Entertainment technology is different than entertainment design, and traditionally even more male dominated. So again, I wonder, what contributes to the lack of women in positions as production electricians and riggers?

While I was at LDI, I met a female electrician and rigger, Krissy Kenny. She, like me, was looking around and questioning why there aren’t more women working in entertainment technology since there were plenty of women studying production in college. Overt bias is an unlikely single cause. Sexual harassment exists and is certainly a factor, but has abated since I started in the business in the 1980s (when I was routinely harassed, or worse). But implicit bias and gender stereotyping exists everywhere.

Screen Shot 2017-12-04 at 5.07.22 PM

Exhibit A

Exhibit A is this ad from Wenger (a staging manufacturer) and JR Clancy (a rigging equipment manufacturer), found by Kenny in Protocol magazine. Yes, an ad agency or marketing manager probably just pulled some stock images – but they could have been stock images that actually integrate creativity and engineering along with gender. The ad is a throwback to a kind of 1950s view of gender in which women are delicate ballerinas and men are sturdy workers who can handle tools. One female set designer saw the ad and commented, “I’m going to stop specifying Wenger and JR Clancy.” A close friend, a corporate communications executive for major technology company summed it up nicely, “Oh, for Pete’s sake!”

I picture a young woman, perhaps a major in theatre or entertainment technology at your local community college, flipping through Protocol magazine, seeing the ad, and subconsciously (or even consciously) saying to herself, “I’m not a ballerina and I’m not a dude – this job isn’t for me.” This company, this magazine, and the entire industry needs to do better at portraying itself if it wants to be welcoming to women. We can wear tool-belts and rigging harnesses too. Maybe if we could just find pants with real pockets

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