Working through an idea

Now that I’m almost four weeks in to my new position as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA, I have some headspace to return to An Ouroboros. I’m working through a thorny section of the second essay in the book, an essay on art, experience, meaning, and value. Here’s the Moebius strip I’ve create for myself:

Bill Sharpe, in his short book Economies of Life: Patterns of health and wealth, argues that art is the very currency of experience, much as scores and statistics are the currency of sport and money is the currency of the market. To understand his explanation, one first needs to accept his basic premise that an economy is “a coordinated pattern of human activity enabled by a currency.”[1] Sharpe’s contention, with which I agree, is that although we each experience art individually, when patterns form of multiple experiences, we have culture. Art, then, is the way in which these patterns of multiple experiences are made visible; art is the currency of experience.

However, one could argue that the reverse is also true: experience is the currency of art. If, as in the market economy, the value of a product is measured in its currency, money, then in the economy of culture, the value of art (the cultural “product”) is measured in its currency, experience. We understand the value of art through our experience of it.


[1] Sharpe, B. (2010). Economies of Life: Patterns of health and wealth. London: International Futures Forum, p. 32.


Moebius Strip By JoshDif – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Posted in arts infrastructure, Institutional Infrastructure | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Values + Opportunity = Change

The Creative Infrastructure blog is in a period of transition because my career (and life) is in a period of transition. I don’t yet know what the future will bring for the blog, but I do know what the future brings for me: beginning July 1, I will be Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at California State University, Los Angeles. At an open forum with faculty and staff a little over a month ago, I talked about my professional trajectory and my interest in joining the CSULA leadership team. Here is what I said:

My first love – professionally – was lighting design.

After completing my MFA at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, I worked full time as a freelance lighting designer, but after several years realized I had something valuable to say to others about lighting design, so took my first teaching job at UW Madison. I soon after became head of the design programs in the Department of Theatre and Drama.

Later, I became director of University theatre and then Chair of the department, which is when I realized that my first love might be lighting design, but my true love is academic administration (yes…there are people who truly love academic administration).

So, when I was recruited to run a much larger unit at ASU and work to transform it into a school of Theatre and Film, I jumped at that opportunity.

As the Director of the School of Theatre and Film at ASU, I led a large and diverse unit; by the time I stepped down to concentrate on my personal loves — getting my children through high school — we had 32 tenure/tenure track faculty; numerous PT faculty; 12 FT staff; about 45 graduate teaching assistants. We grew the budget from $2.6M to $5.1M during my tenure as director, despite the economic downtown in the middle of that period. We built programs, including a very popular BA in film.

Since 2011, I have concentrated on growing the arts entrepreneurship programming we launched in 2006 and fed my love of administration by building programs and by undertaking formal education in the field leading to a second terminal degree in the topic. Two years ago, we moved the fledgling arts entrepreneurship programs into the dean’s office, where I am now director of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs for our college-level entity, the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. In this position, I am not just director of a graduate program, but serve the entire college in a broad portfolio relating to design and arts enterprise and entrepreneurship. This includes graduate and undergraduate programs, public programming, research, and enterprise support, which has included helping almost 40 student teams develop arts-based businesses many –if not most – of them with a focus on social impact and public good.

In each of my administrative positions, I have led the unit forward by articulating a shared vision and implementing that vision to advance the mission of both the unit and the university.

Teaching arts management and cultural leadership, which is where my teaching is focused now, I lead my students in an exercise every semester in which they have to examine their  own values. I do that exercise along with my students. Although the rank order of them varies, for the last several semesters, my top 5 values have pretty consistently  included Justice (inclusive of social equity), integrity (inclusive of honesty), empathy, usefulness, and….love.

Becoming the dean of the college of Arts and Letters at Cal State LA will give me the opportunity to both live my values and realize my professional true love. The values of the university – that higher education is a tool for social equity and mobility – align clearly with the values I try to live daily. I will be able to live my values of justice, integrity, empathy, love and, perhaps most especially for this audience, usefulness here.

I can be useful to you here as someone who is more than a mere manager, but rather as a leader who sees both the big picture and the particulars, as someone who bundles resources to support program growth and development, as someone who is deeply committed to both faculty development and student success and sees those as intrinsically connected.

Twenty-first century skills are the skills learned in the humanities and the arts: critical thinking; idea generation; working in collaborative groups; multi-faceted communication. The ability to not do just “one thing” but to do “many different things” over the course of one’s work-life. The College of Arts & Letters is positioned to be a leader in supporting the students it serves by giving them tools to navigate the uncertainty that they will face, to understand the technological world humanistically and creatively, and to advance social justice and equity. I want to help you all do that – and that’s why I’m here.

Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 8.32.02 PM

Posted in Arts education, Arts entrepreneurship, Higher education, Institutional Infrastructure, Personal infrastructure | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments


You may have heard about the recent late winter storm that rocked the east coast. Thanks to that storm, I was stranded in Washington DC in between a meeting of the RUPRI/NEA Rural Cultural Wealth Research Lab and the Mike Curb MA in Creative Enterprise and Cultural Leadership Field Experience class trip to NYC. This unexpected extra night in DC afforded me the opportunity to reconnect with a dear friend who happens to be the Properties Director at Arena Stage.

Over dinner, Monique and I got to talking about collaboration. Then she said:

Collaboration is the WILLINGNESS to sit in darkness together.

Screen Shot 2018-03-24 at 4.58.58 PMMic drop. What a great way to think about artists’ collaboration. Being a theatre artist, she meant it both literally (she and I spent a lot of time sitting in darkness together at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in the early 1990s) as well as figuratively. Collaboration requires a kind of mindset, a WILLINGNESS, that is intentional, open, and non-judgmental. Finding companies and “company” where that kind of collaboration happens consistently is rare in my experience. I have seen a director throw a chair across a room, a choreographer get up in the face of a student and stare her down, a faculty member shout down a colleague for no apparent reason other than as an exercise of intimidation. When artists behave in this way they are not collaborating; they are asserting power. In collaboration, even when power differentials exist (and they always do) all the participants enter the darkness together and willingly.

In my arts entrepreneurship classes, we often talk about “uncertainty.” In a way, entrepreneurship, like collaboration, requires a willingness to sit in darkness, hopefully together, but maybe alone, navigating the uncertain with the limited information at hand. Despite the distance of years (it had been four since we last saw each other), Monique and I were able to sit together, willingly sharing our experiences, not in darkness, but in the light of a lifelong friendship.

(photo: Plymouth Theatre; photographer unknown; public domain)

Posted in Arts entrepreneurship, Institutional Infrastructure, Personal infrastructure | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sharing and Value

I continue to explore, somewhat casually and, unfortunately, intermittently, the concept of “sharing” and what it could mean to have a true “sharing economy” for the arts. As part of that exploration, I am reading Arjo Klamer’s Doing the Right Thing: A Value Based Economy. In it, he differentiates between “willingness to pay,” a familiar concept in both economics and market research, and “willingness to contribute.” “Willingness to pay” is a concept of exchange in which something of value (a private good) is traded for something of value (a currency of some kind). “In the case of willingness to contribute, the expectation is that the contribution will add values to a shared good” (Klamer, 2017, p. 88).

If we consider that artist and audience co-create the value of art, then we begin to value the role of the audience and begin to conceive of art not as a private good, or even a public good (per Samuelson) but as a “shared good.” A “consumer” is antithetical to the concept of a shared good because a consumer reduces the value of a good through her very consumption of it (think of ice cream here or a car, which depreciates with every mile driven). [Sidenote: If we consider knowledge to be a shared good, as Klamer does, then the student-as-consumer model of higher education falls apart, as well it should; students and faculty co-create knowledge and understanding.]


[Shared] Knowledge is Power by Seymour Joseph Guy

But an artist creates work and wants to sell it to support the creation of more work (and the material needs of her life). Is such work — the product of an artist’s mind and labor — a shared good? Not yet; for this reason I can’t buy Klamer’s argument wholesale. But, as I am beginning to understand, the value of that work — its exchange value, its social value, and even its aesthetic value — is enhanced by the participation of the audience. So, it’s not that the audience co-created the work itself, but the audience, through participation, collection, attendance, co-creates the work’s value as a shared good.

Posted in Arts entrepreneurship, Arts funding, Culture and democracy, Institutional Infrastructure | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.”

Posted in Arts entrepreneurship, Higher education, Personal infrastructure | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in Arts entrepreneurship, Personal infrastructure | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.


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)
  • 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:


Posted in Arts education, Arts entrepreneurship, Higher education, Personal infrastructure | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments