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!


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“Oh, for Pete’s Sake!”


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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Revised Book Proposal

[Now that I’ve written over a third of the book I’ve been working on, I’ve revised the proposal for submission to publishers, and share it here.]
Ouroboros with text

Book Proposal: An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action



        An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action is a book of connected essays that delves deeply into the relationships between art, innovation, entrepreneurship, and money. 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. Between the art and the money is the body: innovation and entrepreneurship. Innovation is understood to be a novel idea that is implemented and has impact on a domain. For that is what the artist does: create something new and unique that has impact. Entrepreneurship is conceived of as the discovery or creation of a mediating structure that can convert the artistic innovation into capital (financial and other types) that can be re-invested in the artist and the making of more art.
        Despite the apparent simplicity of the ouroboros — artists connect art with audience to generate the revenue needed to make more art – the ouroboros is an organism living inside a much larger eco-system, one which is not particularly friendly to artists, even self-sustaining ones. It is an eco-system filled with jargon, competition, power struggles, and extremes of both poverty and wealth. The very term “entrepreneurship” conjures images of high-rolling venture capitalists, shark-tank style pitch competitions, and slickly produced slide decks. Therefore, it is with some ambivalence that I continue to use the term “arts entrepreneurship” to mean something slightly different: an action and a mindset unique to artists that is as much about self-sustainability as it is wealth creation and that can result in increasing collective well-being rather than economic growth. This book endeavors to untie the knotty relationships between artists and entrepreneurship in order to answer the question “How can artists make work and thrive in this late-capitalist society?”
        The book’s ten interconnected essays are presented 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 entrepreneurial action in general may not benefit the “arts sector” writ large. I spoke with dozens of artists who produce work entrepreneurially in the development of the essays; their stories serve as examples and case studies throughout the book. Other knowledge undergirding the essays comes from research conducted on artists’ professional development needs and on arts incubation practices about which I have previously written.
        Originally a theatre artist, I approach the analysis dramaturgically, assessing the given conditions, the setting, the actors (or “characters”) in the arts economy, their motivations, and the potential outcomes for both individuals and the economic social system of which we are all part. Writing for an interested lay audience, I employ a voice that bridges the gap between scholarly writing for academic publications and popular writing such as that on my blog, Creative Infrastructure. Each chapter is designed to be an individual essay on the theme of its title. Three essays are completed and the remaining ten outlined (or more); thus, the book is already 35% complete. Finished length is estimated at 75,000 words.

Table of Contents

PROLOGUE. (This is a short snapshot of the impetus for the book; it is already drafted.)

ESSAY ONE: Introduction: An Ouroboros
This chapter introduces the Ouroboros as a visual metaphor for the relationship between art, innovation, entrepreneurship, and money and the theoretical constructs undergirding each section. It explains my “dramaturgical” method of analysis and deploys that method to describe the late-capitalist arts economy and the players in it. (This essay is completed and included with the proposal.)

Part 1: Art

ESSAY TWO: Art and Symbolic meaning
This essay explores motivations for making art that has impact: the expression of symbolic meaning in which use value is present but secondary. How are meaning, value, and quality produced and assessed? Artists interviewed for this essay include Gregory Sale and Sharon Louden. (Essay is outlined and currently being drafted)

ESSAY THREE: Art, Economy, and Control of Production
Drawing on the work of economists from Karl Marx to Richard Caves, the artist is described as someone who makes unique work and maintains control of the means of the production of that work.

Part 2: Innovation

ESSAY FOUR: Novelty, Uniqueness, Originality
Novelty or “newness” can be evidenced in individual works and in and by organizations. This chapter connects individual, organizations, and systems along the spectrum of novelty by exploring the differences between the unique and the mass-produced in the arts and culture sector. The difference between multiples for efficiency of individual artist production versus for multiple sales are examined along with the sale and production of multiples for Museum gift shops. (Essay is completed and available for review)

For something to be an innovation it must not only be novel, but also have impact. This chapter looks at trends in the social practice of art and how such social practice can sustain artists while making positive change in communities.

Part 3: Entrepreneurship

ESSAY SIX: The nature of entrepreneurial action
This essay looks at examples from across the visual and performing arts to explain how artists create mediating structures that connect their novel and impactful work with their audience and other publics. (This essay is completed and available for review)

ESSAY SEVEN: Being an entrepreneurial artist
Drawing on data collected for “Artist Professional Development Needs,” this essay addresses the issue of the sustainability of artist careers. Follow-up interviews with artists inform the analysis of the entrepreneurial actions being undertaken by individuals. (Essay is outlined and currently being drafted)

Part 4: Money

ESSAY EIGHT: Abundance
Where are the sources of abundance in the arts economy? We know where there is scarcity, but this essay shifts the perspective from scarcity to abundance by showcasing the ways in which artists have used entrepreneurial action to generate the material resources they need to make their work happen.

ESSAY NINE: Selling up, not selling out
When an artist follows mission rather than money, they can “sell up” instead of “sell out.” In this essay, examples are drawn from community development (for example in Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row district), arts service organizations (such as Springboard for the Arts), and individual artists’ practice, tying together three levels of analysis: system, organization, and individual.

ESSAY TEN: A future imaginary: Eating your tail
This concluding essay connects the tail (money) back to the head (art) within the context of the arts and culture economy as it exists today and how it can be imagined for a sustainable and sustaining creative future.

        An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action is written for both a practitioner and interested lay audiences. The latter are well-educated adults with an interest in arts and culture, economics, and/or public policy. The former are artists and educators interested in cultural economics.

        There are several books on artist sustainability recently published or currently in development. Most of these business-of-art books are “how-to” guides rather than analysis, so the proposed book will add significant new material to that domain. The most direct competition for this book is a slim book of essays published in 2010 by the International Futures Forum, Bill Sharpe’s Economies of Life: Patterns of Health and Wealth. Sharon Louden’s Living and Sustaining a Creative Life (Intellect Books) and its sequel are comprised of artist interviews on the topics the proposed book addresses, but do not contain any analysis; instead they become some of the data that I analyze in An Ouroboros.

Readers of An Ouroboros may have also read:
Timberg, Culture Crash (Yale U Press)
Graw, Creative Enterprise (Sternberg Press)
Thornton, Seven Days in the Art World (WW Norton)
Bonin-Rodriguez, Performing Policy (Palgrave McMillan)
David, 9.5 Theses on Art and Class (Haymarket)

About the Author
        Linda Essig is Director of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Programs in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, which, as Pave Program in Arts Entrepreneurship, helped over 3 dozen student teams develop arts-based ventures for Arizona and beyond since its inception in 2006 and publishes the only research journal in the field, Artivate: A Journal of Entrepreneurship in the Arts.  She was the first director of the ASU School of Theatre and Film, now the School of Film, Dance and Theatre, where she also served as Artistic Director of the school’s MainStage Season from 2004–2010. Her research interests include value creation by and evaluation of arts incubators; the relationship between art, money, and entrepreneurial action; and factors affecting individual artist success. She is the author of three books: Lighting and the Design Idea (now in its 3rd edition), The Speed of Light: Dialogues on Lighting Design and Technological Change, and The Arizona Arts Entrepreneur Toolkit as well as articles and book chapters on both arts entrepreneurship and lighting design. Her work has been funded by the Kauffman Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the City of Tempe, the Arizona Commission on the Arts, The Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Prior to joining ASU, she was on the faculty of University of Wisconsin-Madison for sixteen years.

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Mass-produced Not-art

I continue to share bits and pieces of An Ouroboros: Art, Money, and Entrepreneurial Action as I develop several of the essays in the collection. This small bit is from Essay Four, on novelty and uniqueness, the introduction to which, since revised, I posted earlier. 

I moved into a new office several years ago in a re-purposed dormitory building. The previous occupant had painted the office battleship gray; I painted it tangerine. The office I was moving out of was weighted down with the “stuff” of academic administration: book cases, file cabinets, a large L-shaped desk, a small conference table with chairs; my new office needed little of that, save for a surface on which to place a small notebook computer. The spare, brightly colored office was just what I needed to transition my work from administration back to teaching and research, but its very simplicity created a problem: it was very live in terms of sound. A simple conversation would echo off the masonry walls disturbingly. Knowing I needed to deaden the sound, I went to Pier One, the suburban mall mainstay of inexpensive decoration. There I found what I needed: mass-produced multi-media (paint + collage) representations of birds on canvas panels. The canvas panels would deaden the sound in my office and the colors complemented the tangerine of the walls. I paid $15 per panel and never thought of these as “art.” Nevertheless, several colleagues, many of them artists themselves, have walked into my office, complimented the artwork, and even asked about the artist and provenance. I hadn’t considered these canvas panels as anything more than what they are: mass-produced decorative objects. Hand-painted, yes, but hand-painted on an assembly line halfway across the world. They have a certain aesthetic appeal that masks their practical purpose as sound baffles, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are not “art;” neither their creator nor their audience considers them as such.

Little orange room

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Educating the Demos

The following was written as a comment on the NY Times website in reaction to an essay by columnist David Brooks:

In an otherwise politically neutral salutation to John McCain, columnist David Brooks couldn’t seem to resist getting a wrong-headed and divisive dig in against educated progressives. “Donald Trump and the campus multiculturalists want to organize people by ethnic tribe,” he wrote. He is grossly mistaken. Mr. Trump wants to organize people by an ethnic hierarchy in which white people of western European descent are considered somehow better, safer, or more deserving than brown people of Mexican or Middle Eastern descent; public statements during the campaign and policy initiatives attempted since (but so far blocked) support my claim. Faculty, staff and students on college campuses exist to welcome and educate students of all ethnic backgrounds; they do so to be inclusive, not exclusive; they do so to be equitable; and they do so to implement the very paideia – the education of the polis – that Brooks calls for. I will proudly wear the label “campus multiculturalist” as I welcome the traditions of Greek democracy (of which paideia is a part) alongside and equal to the traditions brought to my campus by Native students and faculty, Asian students and faculty, African students and faculty, and students descended from the European colonists of three hundred years ago. Brooks cannot equate the perspective of an individual who supports (or at least does not decry) white supremacists with the collective perspectives of thousands of thoughtful academics, whose mission is to educate the demos equitably.

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Time out

Creative Infrastructure is going on a short hiatus while I take some time to breath, see a lot of art, and focus. In other words, I’ll be doing some care and feeding of my “personal infrastructure.” Look for new posts in late October. More soon…

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Safe Places = Sanctuaries

News-Gates-of-Heaven-Vandalism_crDylanBrogan09202017On the eve of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, hate-mongering vandals desecrated the monument that marks the entrance to Gates of Heaven, one of the oldest synagogue buildings in the country. For over a decade, I would walk the 2 miles around Monona Bay from my house to attend lay-led High Holy Days services in this building, restored and conserved in a public park. As a public park space, I felt more sense of community there than in a traditional congregation-owned building. Each fall, the tiny space would be packed, mostly with people I knew, some sitting outside the open windows listening because there was no more space inside. I felt safe.

Synagogues, like churches and mosques, are sanctuaries, literally “places of refuge or safety,” which is why violence against them and the people in them, such as the bombing of churches in the 1960s and the massacre of bible students in Charleston, is particularly egregious. There is a wide difference between the cowardly act of vandalism last week and the terrorism of Birmingham and Charleston, but they are on the same spectrum of violence against innocent people who are hated simply for being different than the perpetrator. Having worshipped at Gates of Heaven for years, I feel this act of violence against me personally. That it was perpetrated in the name of the man who currently occupies the White House makes it not just a hate crime, but a political act as well, and one he is unlikely to disavow.

With this, I wade into the stormy waters of “safe places” and “safe spaces” on college campuses. A firm believer in free speech and that education should involve “lighting a fire, not filling a bucket,” while also wanting to make all students feel valued, the “safe spaces” issue is a complicated one for me. But something crystalized when I read the story of the vandalism this morning because it is personal, because I feel personally violated; sometimes, even for a progressive thinker, it takes that shock to the system to achieve necessary clarity. If I were a Jewish student or faculty member at UW-Madison [although the synagogue building is in a city park and not on campus, Madison is very much a college town], I would be looking this week for a literal sanctuary, a safe place where I can be with other Jews, knowing that we would not be attacked. Although I knew it intellectually before, I now know that such places are necessary in my very bones; I feel it, beyond just knowing it.

I have intentionally been using the word “places” instead of “spaces.” “Place is a space imbued with meaning,” Walter Benjamin wrote. It is not enough to have a “space” where people – on campuses, online, and elsewhere – can aggregate safely. People need “places,” dedicated physical locations, where they can worship, speak, and think without fear of attack; places that are “sanctuaries”. Those places, however, do not include my classroom, where students are encouraged to look at multiple viewpoints, question their assumptions, and argue their opinions respectfully. My classroom is safe in a different way; it is a space where all ideological viewpoints are valued, even if they may not be shared.

Gates_of_Heaven_Synagogue_2013There is a phrase from the liturgy we read inside Gates of Heaven and elsewhere: “Hold your dear ones near to you and your near ones dear to you.” Sometimes, we all need a place to hold those dear ones near and without fear so that when we leave the sanctuary to enter the wider world, we are ready to resist the hate that appears bent on making our safest places feel endangered.

Shanah tovah to you all.

[top photo by Dylan Brogan, Isthmus newspaper; bottom photo by James Steakley, CC 3.0]

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