Oh, the Irony

Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 9.58.42 AMI’ve immersed myself lately in reading about the decline or end of capitalism as background for the first essay in An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action. Last night, it was with some excitement that I had an opportunity to explain the theme of the essay and the book to Adam Horowitz, founder and “Chief Instigator” of US Department of Arts and Culture (not a government agency): “it’s about the place of the artist in what is becoming a post-capitalist society.” Ten minutes later came the text alert from the New York Times: Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Untitled” had sold at auction for $110.5M. Oh, the irony. I guess capitalism is not dead. Yet.

(Image of collector and capitalist Yusaku Maezawa with Basquiat’s “Untitled” from Maezawa’s Instagram feed; appropriated.)

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Multiple Points of Entry and Exit

In the past several weeks, I have found myself using the phrase “multiple points of entry,” to describe different aspects of our programming: at meetings with ASU Enterprise and Innovation; with alumni; at our recent Herberger Institute Student IDEA Showcase; and at the Fifth Biennial Pave Symposium. These entry points are various: a student can take class, pitch an idea, or attend a public talk to engage with the connection between entrepreneurship and arts or design practice.

Last night over dinner with a friend, after I explained my book project, a series of essays about the relationship between art, entrepreneurship, and money in a post-capitalist society, he asked, “how can you have entrepreneurship without capitalism?” “Think of entrepreneurship as a behavior, as the proactive creation of opportunities to connect one’s means with ends that create cultural and aesthetic value,” I replied. Entrepreneurship need not mean undertaking risk to grow financial capital (although I acknowledge this was JB Say’s original late Enlightenment-era definition). An artist can create value for self, community, or nation without participating in the private ownership — and subsequent inequities — of capitalism.

choices1Thus, multiple points of entry connect to multiple points of exit. If student artists and designers learn to be proactive, recognize and create opportunities, and connect means to ends to create value, then they will also have multiple points of exit (e.g., solo artist; arts organization employee; public sector worker; commercial artist; etc). They will be able to navigate the uncertainty and risk inherent in artistic practice with adaptability to go in any one of many directions, or several directions at once.

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Is the Hug the New Handshake?

Rubio_and_Crist_huggingI’ve been noticing a trend lately: the business hug. At first I thought it was just an anomaly when a colleague, also a friend, hugged me at the beginning of an on-campus committee meeting. We were friends, and she asked permission first: “Can I give you a hug?” So of course I said, “Yes.” And it was nice to have some human contact at the beginning of a meeting. There’s some evidence to suggest that the “stress-buffering social support” of a hug can make one less susceptible to the common cold; hugs from loved ones trigger the release of oxytocin, which makes us feel happier. But hugs between coworkers?

I recently co-led an entrepreneurial artist workshop at The Heard Museum with a friend who is an artist and a colleague. I socialize with him regularly, so a hug as a greeting didn’t seem odd, and there were only a couple of people in the room. Enter the museum’s community engagement director whom I had only met once before: hugs all around. Throughout the day, I tried to remain neutral, neither putting out my hand for a handshake (as is my usual MO) nor opening my arms for a brief business-like embrace and sure enough, people, even people I had never met before, would approach me in “hug stance” – body slightly turned (the business hug is not full frontal) and arms slightly open, one higher than the other. Invited into a hug, it would be rude to refuse, right?

Last month, I had a one-on-one meeting with one of my university’s associate VP’s. We Funerary_stele_of_Thrasea_and_Euandria_Antikensammlung_Berlin_01had met briefly in large groups, but this was our first one-on-one. We ate an informal lunch (which we had each brought from home) over a conference table. At the end of the meeting, my colleague stood and rather than shaking my hand, said, “I feel like we should hug; let’s hug.” I felt a wee bit awkward, but hugged her anyway, since she invited me to. I survived. I doubt that I would have assented had this been a male colleague, and doubt that a male colleague would have approached me in this way without a third person in the room. I also doubt this exchange would have happened ten years ago.

My observation is that this trend may be generational; my hugging colleagues tend to be in their 30s (I am not). When I entered the workforce, there were many times when I would be the only woman in the room; hugging was most definitely uncommon.

Perhaps if we all hugged more, raising our oxytocin levels and triggering a dopamine response, we could less stressful, more productive meetings. But, as I would when working with a community of which I am not a member, when it comes to a hug, I won’t presume anything and instead participate only when invited in.

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Stopping the Binary

I’ve just spent 2 ½ days with students from the Mike Curb Master of Arts in Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership visiting innovative cultural organizations in New York City along with my colleagues Daniel Bernard Roumain and Colleen Jennings-Roggensack. One of several themes that surfaced during our visits is that each organization was one way or another living out its values to subvert the binary thinking New York Live Artsthat is so pervasive in our culture. As the work of New York Live Arts extends across the uptown/downtown divide that was prevalent in New York in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, it also implements an “Anybody” bathroom policy. At New INC, arts and tech enterprises develop alongside each other or, often within the same entity, while anchor tenants and part time renters work side-by-side at workstations developing both for-profit and nonprofit businesses. At The Apollo mitchell apolloTheatre, it’s not about Black/White, but about America’s cultural history, or as “Mr. Apollo” Billy Mitchell put it, “his story,” where even the binary between amateur and professional has long been a porous border (how many careers have been launched by “Amateur Night at The Apollo?).

In a country more polarized than ever – in my lifetime at least – we can look to these arts organizations* and others to help the country understand that it’s not a matter of “either/or” but of “and,” “with,” “together.”

Bill T

*Many thanks to the staff of Creative Capital, Opus 3 Artists, Sozo Artists, New York Live Arts, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Co., The New Museum and New INC, The Apollo Theatre, BAM, and Wicked Broadway for meeting with students and faculty of the Mike Curb MA in Creative Enterprises and Cultural Leadership, a program of the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University.

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An NEA Story: #SaveTheNEA

arizona_desert-1218One of the most impactful projects I have every worked on would not have been possible without a modest $32,000 investment from the National Endowment for the Arts*.  The project embedded nationally renowned visiting artists and ASU Herberger Institute faculty artists in Phoenix and Mesa youth communities to create a series of original, meaningful, multi-disciplinary performance works showcased at South Mountain Community College in April 2012 and subsequently in an expanded site-specific performance in December of that year. This comprehensive and innovative program connected art, science, technology, culture, and communities. Young people examined their desert city and their experiences through an artistic lens and used collaborative, creative tools to find new ways of knowing and understanding their desert home. Some even decided – against all odds – to go to college because of it. This collection of activities entitled “At Home in the Desert: Youth Engagement and Place,” consisted of three inter-related performance projects.

The three strands of the program were:

  1. Desert and Land/Desert and Place: Cassie Meador of Dance Exchange (Washington, D.C.) with Mary Fitzgerald (ASU) and Elizabeth Johnson (ASU) partnered with youth from the Arizona Cactus-Pine Council Girl Scouts and South Mountain High School as well as ASU students to create dance work that encouraged young people to re-imagine and re-enliven their relationship to the desert via an unconventional solution to environmental education. Their experience was enriched by site visits from ASU scientists affiliated with the School of Sustainability. High school dancers worked with ASU students and faculty to create a site specific performance from their experiences of the ‘Moving Field Guides’ in the BioDesign Garden on the ASU campus during the Desert One Festival.
  2. Hip Hop Oasis. Pop Master Fabel (NYC) Raul Yanez (Phoenix) and Sarah Dimmick (Phoenix) with Rick Mook (ASU), Melissa Britt (ASU), and The Gabel Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix (BGCMP). This thread explored the many points of connection between desert life and hip hop culture through collaboration between leading figures in hip hop and members of the Boys and Girls Club of Phoenix. Guest artists collaborated with local D.J.s and spoken word artists and youth in the Warren A. Gabel Boys and Girls club of Phoenix to create original music and lyrics through the lens of the desert. The metaphors of light, heat, space, and flow were explored in the creation of the music and choreography. Participants related these elements to desert adaptation/survival, the cultural development of new music forms and their personal experiences and subsequently added urban dance forms to their beats. A selection of the products of these fruitful collaborations was performed by the youth for a public audience at South Mountain Community College and as part of the Desert One Festival.
  3. Story Geocaching, Locative Digital Storytelling. Stephani Etheridge Woodson (ASU) with Center for Digital Storytelling (Berkeley, CA), Mesa Office of Arts and Culture (Mesa Arts Center, Mesa History Museum, Mesa Natural History Museum), and the Mesa Boys and Girls Club. Acknowledging that youth are producers of culture and community assets, locative storytelling is a fresh way to engage an intergenerational public with art. This strand partnered ASU artists trained by the Center for Digital Storytelling with local youth. The partners created digital stories exploring cultural history that were showcased for the pubic audience at the Desert One Festival.

Yes, just $32,000 was able to catalyze all of that activity. By the numbers:

  • Youth participants: 60
  • Guest artists: 5
  • ASU-based artists: 12
  • Family-members of youth participants: 100+
  • Scientists and other collaborators: 5
  • Community members: 50+


  • In a post-performance discussion, one youth commented, “Now I think about keeping things not so dirty. I think about heaven, how you would want it to be in heaven, and make it so.”
  • A Girl Scouts staff member noted, “They loved being here; they felt so special.”
  • From a Boys and Girls Club staff member: “This is the first time any of these kids have had a chance to perform anything – even for friends and family. The boost it has given to their self-confidence is awesome.”
  • One fourth-grader from the Girl Scouts, who had never envisioned college, said: “You mean I can go to ASU?”
  • 100% of the Boys and Girls Club participants chose to remain with the program, as did a majority of South Mountain High School participants, despite the program moving from within the school day to after-hours even after the initial NEA funding sunsetted
  • A South Mountain High School student commented, “it really helped me understand where I am, cause you know, I’m not from here.” And my favorite…
  • Running into an alum of the program who had not been sure he would attend college six months earlier: “When I worked with the ASU students, it really helped me want to come here.” This young man decided to attend college because of this NEA-funded project.

For those of you keeping financial score, because an adult with a BA will earn approximately $650,000 more in their lifetime over someone who just has “some college,” just this one participant will likely return in taxes more than 3X the initial NEA investment; there were 60 youth participants. Furthermore ASU Herberger Institute and its partners directly invested an approximate 3:1 match of federal dollars (only a 1:1 match is required), with additional indirect investment in facilities.

The NEA is a good investment for the United States. #SavetheNEA

*This is just one of dozens of stories I could tell about work on NEA funded projects or NEA funded organizations or state arts agencies.

Project co-director Elizabeth Johnson created this video:

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Outrage is Easy; Strategy is Hard

“Outrage is easy; strategy is hard. Outrage provides necessary motivation. But only strategy can deliver victory,” writes Tony Blair in a recent Op-Ed in the New York Times. I wasn’t a particular fan of Blair when he was Prime Minister of the UK, but am a fan of this opening line. I am not a left-wing radical, but am outraged by the head-spinning flow of news and non-newsworthy tweets flowing out of Washington recently. In fact, my centrist rationality is the very reason for my outrage.

When I teach “strategy” to arts managers I refer to the classic concept of goal attainment through the establishment of specific, measurable objectives for which action plans are developed. In this process, the goal might be, for example, maintaining or growing support for the National Endowment for the Arts, currently a target for elimination by the current administration. Objectives could include: secure support of a legislator who is currently undecided; raise $X funds for a social media campaign in support of the agency; organize 100 friends to write postcards; and so on. However, when I teach Greyhound_racing_turnstrategy in the creative enterprise context, it is more recursive, incorporating malleable inputs, cognitive processes, and iteratively generated outputs. It seems like this kind of an openly adaptable model is what is needed now. The challenge is to employ such a strategy model responsively but not in an overly reactive way because when the rabbit is zigzagging all over the track, the greyhounds need to keep their eyes on the finish line and help pace one another.

In my creative enterprise strategy model, inputs include scans of internal assets and the current environment as well as traditional research. As an individual working in the arts and culture and education sectors, I have developed an action plan for responding to outrageous actions that is based on my internal asset scan (e.g., how much time do I have to devote to advocacy work; what skills do I have that can be deployed in advocacy work); an environmental scan (e.g., stay rationally up-to-date on social, cultural, and political developments; assess organizations that can help me achieve my advocacy goals); and research (e.g., keep empirical evidence at hand for deploying in policy arguments; know where to find information). Sometimes we forget that “strategy” can be deployed at this level, the level of the individual, to make change; enacting strategy is not something that only organizations do.

[Note that I do not condone greyhound racing. Image by Alex Lapuerta, CC 2.0.]



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Symbols Matter

Several years ago, I walked onto my campus and saw a swastika and two SS signs scrolled in chalk on a wall. They were high enough on the wall that whoever placed them there had to do so with some thought, intention, and a ladder – or at least an accomplice or two. I reported the sighting to campus police who said I should call facilities to have it removed. “I’m reporting it to you because it is hate speech that creates a hostile environment for faculty, staff, and students.” Surprisingly, the intake officer replied, “it’s not directed at a specific group or groups so isn’t our responsibility.” I replied that it is very much directed at a group that I belong to and thus it created a hostile environment for me. The markings were removed that day and, eventually, I received a personal apology from the university police chief.

swastika-trash-canI bring up this incident by way of reminder that the recent spate of hate directed against people of minority faith – Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and so on – is, sadly, nothing new. It does, however appear to be more prevalent and more public now than it has been at any time since the last “America First” movement in the 1940s. The hateful rhetoric of the election campaign, now enacted in policies and executive orders, seems to have given people permission to express their biases with pride (White pride). Yesterday, I was on the campus of a central Phoenix public high school as a volunteer judge for a speech and debate tournament. I sat down under a ramada to eat lunch and noticed a red marking on the trashcan next to the table. Yes, a swastika, hastily scrawled with paint marker.

Symbols matter. Artists are uniquely qualified to not only communicate symbolically, but to convey symbolic meaning. When artist Ana Teresa Fernandez paints a border wall the color of the sky, she both makes it seem to disappear as a symbol of the border, and conveys meaning about the ephemeral nature of the border itself. As I continue to gather background material for An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action, I keep coming back to a 2007 article by Galloway and Dunlop that critiques definitions of cultural and creative industries in terms of, well, industry, and instead write that arts and culture products “are about the production and circulation of symbolic ideas. Cultural activities thus play a central role in the freedom of human expression, and this provides a direct link to questions of democracy.” We need artists now, more than at any period in my lifetime, to convey symbolic meaning in support of democracy and inclusion and to fight back against the symbols of hate that are far less artistically deployed.

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