Reflections on recent arts industry conferences

FROM TC: Summer (June especially) is when many major arts industry conferences occur -- a chance to gain new insights, refuel our imaginations and ask ourselves some Big Questions:


Commentary: How do we get to arts 'paradise' within the next 10 years?

Greg Sandow on his blog, 6/25/13

Last week I was at the League of American Orchestras' conference, where I led a conversation about a specific dream -- that 10 years from now, orchestras have a lively young audience and vibrant community buzz. Plus all the funding they need, with no artistic compromise. When I asked why we weren't living in my imagined paradise already, the participants were quick to blame their own orchestras, for not doing enough to make themselves welcoming, to open themselves to the world outside. I had great sympathy for this. What to do about an unknown future is a huge question to face, once you realize (as so many in the orchestra world now seem to) that the older classical music culture has been fading, and now isn't strong enough to support what orchestras have done in the past.  But at the same time, I thought bewilderment might not quite be necessary. Our wider culture knows a lot about itself. So if, for instance, you wanted to know about what kind of music your future audience likes, there's endless information available. At the very least, we know that younger people like widely varied kinds of music; that many of them function within these many choices like true artistic connoisseurs. And that their tastes are adventurous, that they're curious about new kinds of music. And that there's no reason they shouldn't respond to classical concerts, in varied forms -- as many, of course, have already done.


Commentary: Can the arts finally embrace cultural diversity?

Doug Borwick, blog Engaging Matters, 6/26/13

My most significant "takeaway" [from the 2013 Americans for the Arts Convention] was that there seemed to be more serious discussion and concern about cultural diversity and funding equity than I had heard before. [However,] while much good was spoken, I came away depressed. The legacy of power, privilege, and money in the arts industry mitigates against much change. But what actually depressed me was a new insight. The focus on serving art rather than people creates an additional mission-based ("moral") argument for the status quo. Art-centricity forms an even deeper foundation for opposition to change in funding strategies than the "mere" interests of established power. This is why many communities see the arts as the poster child for white privilege. No wonder we have difficulties connecting with new communities. At the final session, the featured performing ensemble was the Balafon West African Dance Ensemble. I thought: why is it that we view them as a brilliant once-a-year moment of exoticism and not as a "go to" group to be supported and attended like the symphony, the ballet, or the opera? The question, while for now a rhetorical one, bears within it paths to many important conversations. The seed of discussions of funding equity sprouted rapidly for me that morning. At the same time, the openness of conversations around these issues was a bit of a breath of fresh air. The acknowledgement that work must be done, that demands must be made, that change must happen (if for no other reason than the realities of demographic shifts) was heartening.


Commentary: Is personal growth more important than institutional growth?

Karyn D. Collins, Dance/USA's blog From The Green Room, 6/23/13

Dance/USA's 2013 Annual Conference reflected the wide spectrum of interests and issues confronting the organization's members. A particular focus this year was racial and ethnic equity and awareness, whether onstage, in administrative offices, or in the studio. [But] diversity wasn't the only key issue at the conference. Several sessions prompted discussions about their role in the dance world. Technologist/choreographer Sydney Skybetter noted a lot of colleagues seemed to be asking, "Are we in the business of sustaining dance or sustaining dance organizations?" Certainly, there were a number of workshops on organizations staying afloat in tough times. The session "What To Do When the $*&% Hits the Fan?" for example, was one of two that dealt with insurance issues. Other sustaining-the-organization-themed workshops included sessions on developing residency programs, creating dance-based community centers, establishing innovative community outreach initiatives, pooling resources with other dance organizations, and the importance of networking. There were even "un-conference" sessions, where participants could contribute ideas and issues they felt were not included in the main conference programming. Among the questions raised were:

  • How can young artists think like entrepreneurs?
  • How do we not just sustain a group, but a career in the field?
  • Can an individual be passionate about supporting and participating in dance, perhaps with different companies and in different roles over a lifetime?
  • If one wants to have a family and a house, must she depend on an institutional job?
  • As we're working towards careers, how are we keeping studio practice at the center: is artistic work still the goal?
  • When does one's need for personal sustainability surpass the need to create?
  • So many are resisting institutional models and they want mobility in the field. How? Can we expand the dance workforce census to be a wider group of age and location?

Commentary: What can we do to garner mass support for the arts?

Shoshana Fanizza, Audience Development Specialists blog, 6/24/13


I am still processing my Americans for the Arts Conference notes, but I do feel ready to talk about one of the points I made in my wrap-up blog.   I do feel that arts advocacy needs to be a main focus.  Right now, we have a little bit of momentum in terms of selling the arts as good for education and for the economy.  The main idea I am trying to get out into the universe is it would be best if we were more "in your face" as a reminder of the arts in our everyday lives instead of "excuse me, this is why the arts matter." Today I came across the article How music creeps in our lives without notice.  Why is this happening?  Every day we have the arts surrounding us, supporting us, entertaining us, expanding us, etc., but are we (our general populace) really relating and connecting these moments back to arts awareness? This is why I feel we need to implement a campaign with all hands on deck to be a wake-up call to the general public.  A campaign that is everywhere, done in a down-to-earth manner that people can understand, take notice, and be a part of. If we can come up with a simple, focused idea that is easy and fun to share, an idea that also has an artistic, creative flair, I think we can grab the attention to put focus back onto the arts in our everyday life. Creeping into our lives without notice?  Well, this simply needs to stop!  The arts are too important to be considered ignorable.  Isn't it time to give the arts the mass attention and support it deserves?


Commentary: What's more powerful than a shared vision?

Matthew Fluharty, NEA Art Works blog, 6/12/13

Often when we talk about the interconnectedness of the arts, culture, and economy, we invoke the metaphor of an ecosystem. We understand an ecosystem not only as an abstract and connective network, but also a system of existence under constant threat, a gorgeous and complex design that we can only understand (and protect) by acting responsibly within it. After my time at the Rural Arts and Culture Summit, I realize I've used the word perhaps too freely, as that more complex rendering of the word's potential has been in action, and around us, every day in rural communities. Throughout the summit, I was struck by the degree to which cross-sector and interdisciplinary partnerships not only animated the event, but also created challenging and unexpected new connections. Between sessions, it was not unusual to have a conversation with someone like Scott Tedrick, a journalist interested in building networks for rural newspapers. Only after we had talked through issues of digital media and storytelling would I learn that Scott is also a lead actor in a series of community-created plays. Upon reflection, such encounters take me back to one of the elements of creative problem-solving that John Davis wove into his keynote on arts and design in rural communities: "What's more powerful than a vision? A shared vision." There is beautiful symmetry in reflecting on the Summit as news of the 2013 Citizens Institute on Rural Design workshops are announced. John also encouraged attendees to think about how to "redefine risk as an investment in your community," and the notion of the workshop itself approaches that sense -- folks from across sectors and [skill sets] gathering together and admitting the possibility of failure and miscommunication as the necessary precondition toward a new, shared vision of a deeply important place.

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