WolfBrown: On Our Minds

2010 in Review

January 10th, 2011
The statement “no one can read everything” is actually a colossal understatement.  Even when describing the literature from a narrow field of interest like arts policy and research, no simple informed search from a few selected sources will suffice.   That is why, each year at about this time, I ask a few colleagues, “what did you read this past year that you found especially interesting and insightful?”  Here are three interesting pieces from a much larger array sent to me by my friend and colleague Aimée Petrin, Executive Director of Portland Ovations (Aimée was reviewing material as background for her organization’s strategic planning process).  In each of the selected items, I found many nuggets to savor, each of which is important to consider in maintaining a thriving arts organization.

In “The Performing Arts in Lean Times,” as I looked at the list of participants, I was reminded that the challenges we face today in the arts are truly global in scope and that the solutions may come from unlikely places and from new colleagues around the world.  Diane Ragsdale’s “Surviving the Culture Change” notes a lovely quote by Susan Sontag  about “the precarious attainment of relevance.” Ragsdale applies it to the idea of strategic adaptation as a prerequisite of artistic vibrancy in the 21st century.  Finally, there is the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s “Research into Action: Pathways to New Opportunities” (which includes, among many other things, work by Alan and colleagues in WolfBrown’s San Francisco office).  It is a reminder that strong data-based community assessment work is often the soundest way to map a strong future.

We invite you to share your favorite readings from 2010.  What will be most relevant in 2011 and beyond?  Join the discussion here.


Creative Collaboration

January 10th, 2011

My recent work on a grant application and a series of stories on National Public Radio have me thinking about creative collaborations.  Why do we enter into such arrangements, when we know that in so doing we sacrifice a degree of control over the final product?  Certainly, as in the case of Apple CEO Steve Jobs and his chief designer, Jonathan Ive, there is the promise of bringing complementary skill sets to bear.  And while the exchange of ideas that takes place in creative collaborations may weed out bad ideas- apparently the title of the film Star Wars was initially Adventures of Luke Starkiller, as taken from the Journal of the Whills, Saga I: The Star Wars – its greatest potential value may be its tendency to encourage the collaborator to take risks he may have otherwise eschewed.

I can personally attest to the squeamishness that accompanies sitting through the premiere of your own creative work, knowing that every bit of the audience’s skepticism and displeasure is yours and yours alone.  At such times, the prospect of someone – anyone – sharing the blame is appealing.  Of course, the diffusion of responsibility for the end creative product of collaboration is not necessarily a good thing (witness many recent films that look like they were conceived around a boardroom table).  But I have often thought that when he was conducting the premiere of “The Marriage of Figaro,” which thoroughly thumbed its nose at the aristocracy in the audience, Mozart must have taken some solace in the fact that the libretto was written by someone else (Lorenzo Da Ponte)- perhaps, he thought, at least the Emperor Josef II would let the two of them share a dungeon cell.


Changing Spaces

January 10th, 2011

This past Friday at the annual conference of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters in New York City, I was thrilled to participate in a forward-looking discussion about the pivotal role that venues and settings play in performing arts experiences.  All else being equal, why will some people attend programs in one setting, but not another?  What will artists require in terms of performance spaces in 10 or 20 years?  While most arts presenters are hardwired to offer programs in conventional venues with good acoustics and technical capabilities, the public is increasingly drawn to nontraditional, unusual, multi-use and temporary spaces that add a unique dimension to the live experience.  An increasingly impatient audience, with a shorter attention span and a higher threshold for pleasure, wants spaces where they can move around, be comfortable, eat, drink, socialize, be creative, and participate more actively in the experience.  What does this portend for the future of arts facilities?

I worry that cinemas will become the venue of choice for a large segment of the arts-going public, where they can sit in really comfortable seats and watch high quality digital broadcasts of the best art in the world for a fraction of the cost.  In fact, this train has already left the station.  While multiplexes might be the new frontier of arts participation, and a boost to overall levels of public participation in the arts, conventional spaces might be left in the dark.

I’ll be researching this topic over the coming months and plan to publish a white paper later in the year.  If you have an opinion to share, or if you would like to pass along examples of how arts groups have used non-traditional settings to reach new audiences, I would love to hear about it.  You may submit your comments here or via email.


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