Bonjours mes amis. C’est un grand plaisir pour moi d’etre ici—and je vous dit merci mille fois. Thank you so much for your kindnesses in inviting me here, and especial thanks to Johann Zeitsman for his role in bringing me back to Montreal. Since I attended this Summit in 2007, many of you brokered opportunities for me to meet with your colleagues in your respective cities, and I have loved my trips to Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Bamff, among others—adventures I have loved and which I hope to repay whenever you are in New York City. I have been a Canadian wannabe, ever since I spent time at St. Mike’s in Toronto as a sophomore in college before many of you were born. Teresa Stratas, Jon Vickers, Robert la Page, Marti Maraden, William Hutt, Nicholas Pennell, Joni Mitchell, Robin Phillips, James Kudelka, —even SLINGS AND ARROWS—are but a few of the many Canadian artists I admire so deeply and treasure—and I thank you all for your work in nurturing and developing not only these artists but the thousands of fantastic artists whose work I have yet to meet.
I hope in our time together we will pursue the path to creativity as described by Angeles Arrien as four steps: showing up—really showing up, senses vibrating; listening deeply; speaking the truth; and letting go of predetermined results.
I last stood before this group in this very hotel in this very city in 2007. As an outsider who didn’t know any of you apart from Howard Jang—and really, who in North America DOESN’T know Howard Jang?— I was impressed, not only by the expansive nature of the agenda but by the healthy representation of board members who attended—a level of representation that we in the US typically do not see at these kinds of meetings.
Coming to you at a moment when we in the US were openly and volubly struggling with shifting patterns of audience behavior; changing demographics; an imminent generational transfer of leadership; and especially the impact of emerging technologies on the live performing arts, I was struck by the confidence and general sense of well being that I saw in your group. I heard enormous waves of laughter, felt a palpable sense of pride, of communal achievement, a realistic sense that times were challenging, but an optimistic conviction that you had the power to make them better.
This was, however, not entirely a meeting of celebration free of concerns: in particular, in a world of changing demographics and a generation gap characterized less by age than by the digital divide separating young digital natives from the digital immigrants—who almost every attendee was– you and your counterparts worried about your overwhelmingly homogenous racial composition, your average age, and a striking stagnation of your aggregate audiences, with especial concern about the young.
The specific session I remember most strongly was a debate with a member of your Parliament, who characterized government arts funding as “coercion” and who argued that avocational arts practice trumped the need for professional arts practice at all, that the extent of avocational singing and painting, the rise of choirs and community theatre groups meant that professional artists could disappear without his constituents even noticing the difference—a session that struck a hot nerve and that raised concerns about your collective failure to find an effective, common advocacy strategy to position the arts more optimally in the public sector.
And then, roughly 18 months later, the global fiscal crisis hit.
Clearly, the impact of the crisis has been felt in differing degrees and at different schedules in our two nations, and you, far more than I, are able to articulate the challenges you’ve experienced. On my travels through your country, however, I have repeatedly heard about the increasing risk-aversion of the corporate funding sector, the increased effort required to attract new audiences, the drive to box office/market friendly work, the fracturing of ticket buyers into subscribers, single ticket buyers and walk-ups, and the increased financial instability of even the largest of organizations—all of which we have also experienced south of the border but frankly that were trends thrown into bold relief by economic pressures but that were in evidence before the economy turned.
In the United States, at least, arts groups have recovered to a degree but profitability is down (e.g. surpluses are smaller, deficits are larger), liquidity (as measured by the ratio of reserves to operating expenses) is down, and the percentage incurring a deficit is expected to rise this year. Dependence on earned revenue is up, and within the charitable sector, dependence on individual contributions is up—all of which leads back to those conversations about market-driven work. Even museums, the one nonprofit arts field that has shown consistent attendance growth through it all, finds itself increasingly driven by the “blockbuster exhibit,” is seeing declining family attendance—surely not a good sign—and is struggling with the degree to which paid admissions can be instituted or existing admission prices increased.
While the natural tendency is to see the economic as the source of our woes, what if the economic is not causative but feedback? What it these pressures are our audience’s way of saying, in hard time, you’re not a priority, you don’t matter? What if they are the manifestation of larger and more pressing trends at work?
In these anxious and confusing times, the most useful frame for me these days was posed at the ISPA conference at 2010 when a member of the audience asked, “What if this moment is the equivalent of the Religious Reformation of the 15th Century? What if we are in the Arts Reformation?”
This image has been a rich one for me to ponder.
The religious reformation was spurred in large part by technology–the invention of the printing press made possible the wide spread direct public access not only to scripture but to religious tract—and we too now are caught in a technological revolution and a massive redistribution of knowledge.
The religious reformations obliterated old business structures. As National Arts Strategies CEO Russell Willis Taylor has wryly noted, “The Reformation was a great time to be a land buyer and a rotten time to be a monastery”—and at some level we might ask whether the traditional orchestral model is the monastery of today.
But perhaps most profoundly, the reformation at its very heart challenged the notion of the necessity of intermediation in a spiritual relationship—why do I need a priest to have a relationship with God?–a question paralleled by today’s fundamental challenge of the necessity of a professional artist to have a creative artistic experience.
Just as the religious Reformation reconceived and broadened the universe of how religion would operate, when and where it would operate, who would be empowered to act, giving rise to new denominations, new religious rituals, new opportunities both for clergy to practice in radically new ways and for the common lay person to assume responsibility for her own spiritual experience, we are witnessing an explosion of new practices and challenges to old assumptions. Even as arts attendance falls, we are seeing an explosion in arts participation—avocational citizens writing their own poetry, playing their own music, making their own films. We are seeing the blurring of the formerly rigid professional/amateur divide—the emergence of the “Pro Ams”—avocational artists doing work at a professional level, flooding YouTube and dance competitions and film festivals and more at one end—and the rise in “hybrid artists” at the other–professional, vocational artists who work with nonprofessionals outside of the traditionally hermetic arts environment, not from economic necessity but because they believe the work they are called to do cannot be accomplished in the concert hall, the dance studio or the theatre– at the other—a shift articulated ironically by that antagonistic legislator at this conference six years ago—and that shakes the very foundations on which many of our organizations were built. These new artists are radically expanding our aesthetic vocabulary, even as they are challenging the presumed ability of traditional institutions to set the cultural agenda.
In the midst of these changes, this morning’s sessions invite us to turn inward reflectively and ask, “How do we know we matter to communities?” Indeed, at almost every field gathering I attend, the fear that we don’t matter is palpable, the prospects for the future seen as dubious, and at some point the conversation driven by how we must increase public appreciation for the arts if we wish to survive.
This morning is an opportunity to engage in this conversation about meaning and relevance more deeply. We’ll begin this morning with a Pecha Kucha, a pronunciation I learned in Calgary in a way involving the Muppets. For those of you unfamiliar with the format, Pecha Kucha was developed in Japan in the architecture community to inspire succinct presentations of complex ideas. The format is simple: each speaker (except one) has arrived with 20 slides that are set on a timer to change every twenty seconds. At the end of this 400 seconds—or 6 minutes and 40 seconds to be precise—a blank slide will appear, signaling the end of the speaker’s time. We will all join in applause to thank the speaker before bringing her or his successor forward.
At the end of all of these presentations, we will take a 20 minutes break, reconvene for me to yap at you for another 20-25 minutes or so, and then spend the rest of the morning in a conversation together about what we have heard, where we struggle and what we know.
While the fuller bios of our 7 presenters have been given you as part of your packets, I will do a quick highlight of each, starting with our first presenter.
A native of Limoges, France, Alain Dancyger is the Executive Director, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal—a position he has held since 1996–but is a musician by training, having studied violin at Guildhall School of Music and Drama and completing his Master’s Degree in Music with Maestros Ivan Galamian and Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard. He subsequently obtained a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from École Supérieure des Sciences Économiques et Commerciales (E.S.S.E.C) in Paris. Since 1998, he has sat on, among others, the Regroupement Québécois de la Danse board and the Canadian Dance Assembly (CDA) Advocacy Committee, where he served as Chair of the CDA Ballet Companies Standing Council from 2009-2012. Ladies and gentlemen, Mesdames et messieurs, Alain Dancyger.
Johann Zietsman is President & CEO of the EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts in Calgary, the most recent post in a 20-year career in various executive arts management positions, including a music school, two orchestras, an opera and music theatre company, a community arts centre, a large multi-theatre performing arts company, and a commercial communications company. A native South African, his career has been guided by a dedication to undoing apartheid and racism, efforts recognized by Nelson Mandela’s government. He moved to the United States in 2002 to lead International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA); to Mesa AZ June 2007 to lead the Mesa Arts Center, and to Calgary and his present post in 2009.
Lorraine Pintal is the Artistic and General Director of Théâtre du Nouveau Monde in Montreal since 1992. Interested by all aspects of the cultural sphere, from acting and radio hosting to movie and television directing, she has directed over 100 classical and contemporary plays including works by Brecht, Molière, and Ibsen as well as Dubé, Tremblay and Gauvreau. She received the 2001 Gascon-Thomas’Prize, many Critic’s and Masques prizes, and two Gémeaux/Geminy Prizes for her television work. She was appointed member of the Order of Canada in 2002.
David Lemon is the founder of Health Arts Societies and the Executive Director of Health Arts Society in BC and Health Arts Society of Ontario, providing first class professional music to elders in residential care across Canada. His earlier career paths include an insurance career Lloyd’s and co-founding of Harlock Williams Lemon Ltd; ownership of The Magic Flute CD store; service on the board of the Roofing Contractors Indemnity Company, and on the Vancouver Opera, Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Vancouver New Music, Ballet BC and the Vancouver Bach Choir. David Lemon.
Alexandre Taillefer is Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Museum of Contemporary Art of Montréal, a member of the steering committee of Montreal Culture Metropolis and president of the Public Art Committee of Montreal. In his spare time, he is managing partner at XPND, a private equity fund investing in media, entertainment and technology; the co-founder and former CEO of Stingray Digital, a media company that owns and operates Galaxie, the leading broadcast radio stations available on TV in Canada, as well as The Karaoke Channel. Alexandre Taillefer.
Marcus Youssef is Artistic Director of Neworld Theatre and Co-Chair of Vancouver’s Arts and Culture Advisory Committee. His plays, many of which were written or created with friends and colleagues, include: Winners and Losers, Jabber, How Has My Love Affected You?, the war-on-terror satires Ali and Ali and the aXes of Evil and Ali & Ali: The Deportation Hearings, and have been presented at theatres and festivals across North America, Australia and Europe, translated into three languages. In 2009, he co-founded Progress Lab 1422, a collaboratively managed 6,000 sq. foot rehearsal and production centre in East Vancouver. Dedicated to community practice and deep community collaboration, he is a graduate of the National Theatre School and holds an MFA from UBC.
And last but certainly not least, Graham Beal has been the director, president and CEO of the Detroit Institute of Arts since 1999, overseeing two major capital campaigns, the reinstallation of the museum’s world-renowned collection, and the museum’s renovation and expansion. Under Beal’s leadership the DIA has co-organized outstanding exhibitions centered in Van Gogh, Renaissance Florentine art, Degas and Whistler, among others. Prior to his tenure at the DIA, Beal served as director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, and served as chief curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Graham Beal.
Fantastic. Many many thanks to you all.
And with that, we take a 20 minute break to do emails, phone calls, catch up with colleagues and grab some coffee. When we return, we will move into an interactive conversation before I close out the morning with another 20-25 minutes of remarks. See you in 20 minutes.
And we’re back. You’ve shown up, you’ve listened deeply. Now is the time to speak the truth and let go of predetermined results.
Frankly, I hope you loved this morning’s presenters as much as I did—loved them for their passion, their insight, the expansive ways in which they are measuring audience allegiance and relevance. I’m sure you will have many questions for them, and that the conversation ahead will be a rich one.
I would like to suggest three rules for the next phase of our time together. First, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, as the ad campaign says—i.e. that if we wish to benefit fully from one another’s experience, that we understand that we must share our failures—failures that can be sensitive, that could be damaging, and must be treated as confidential. Nothing anyone says will be attributed or described in specific detail outside this room.
Second, while I will kick us off, this will be an interactive conversation in which we all share responsibility for making the time as fruitful as possible.
And third and finally, you use the mikes when you speak, even if you have a booming voice like mine: without the mikes, the interpreters—who have been fantastic and who deserve a hand by the way—cannot hear, and a significant number of us will be deprived of the full conversation.
PANEL DISCUSSION WITH AUDIENCE
I want now to expand our conversation beyond how do we know if we and the arts matter to audiences? What if we take as a given that the arts matter—that indeed our audiences are deeply, passionately, obsessively in love with the arts already—an obsession evident in their addiction to iPods, YouTube, television and more? What if they love the arts but they simply don’t love the way we deliver them? And—beyond being the source of income and filling our facilities—do and how do they know they matter to us?
Given the presentations by our panelists this morning and the conversation we have just had, I will depart from my planned remarks for moment. I’d like to share an exercise that was used at Target Stores when I worked there to teach leaders how to lead and manage change.
Target uses a simple exercise to help create a first-hand “sense memory” experience around change—an exercise that, if we had time, I’d lead you through, but given time constraints that I will describe to you instead.
The exercise begins with finding a partner. “Look deeply at your partner in silence for 60 seconds,” this starts. Tension in the room escalates instantly: there’s a smattering of giggling, usually, some under the breath comments, a real sense of embarrassment and self-consciousness as well. “Now turn your back to your partner and change five things about your appearance.” Typically, men loosen their ties, women remove an earring, people move wristwatches to different arms or remove shoes. “Now turn back and find the five things your partner changed.” Most folks are pretty successful on finding at least three or four, and a few astute folks spot all five.
“Now turn your backs again and change 10 more” (and you can’t undo a change from before and count it a new change). A sense of alarm in the room, some more laughter, inevitably someone saying, “I didn’t dress for this; do you want me to strip?” Not everyone even finds 10 things, but once again, you’re instructed to turn back to your partner and identify the changes—with a lower success rate over all.
“Now turn your backs and change 20 more.” Instantly the room revolts: we can’t do this, there aren’t 20, you’re kidding me, etc. (and this happens in EVERY room that I’ve ever seen the exercise conducted in.) “OK, OK,” the facilitator says. “Let’s return to our seats and talk about why this is a metaphor for change.” Men put ties back on, women put those spike heels back on, and once we’ve comfortably restored ourselves and the room stills, the facilitator says:
1) First of all, when I told you to look deeply at your partner or didn’t tell you why or what was coming next, the anxiety in the room went up. Change always provokes anxiety: in fact, if you’re not anxious, you’re not really confronting change. Anxiety is not necessarily a sign that something is wrong or that you need to shift direction; anxiety simply needs to be managed.
2) Second, change is every accelerating. We went from 5 to 10 to 20, and the next would have been 40. In this world especially, change is operating in exponential, rather than incremental, scales.
3) Third, time works differently for different people. For some, the initial 60 seconds flew by; for others, it seemed endless. So often a senior staff will announce a major decision—a decision to terminate a new play program, for example, after months of planning. Some staff members will instantly celebrate the decision; others will be plunged into grief. Part of leadership is coordinating the very different rhythms and “time signatures” that change invites.
4) Fourth,when confronted with change, people tend to react in a competitive, rather than a cooperative mode. No one in the room typically in making those first five changes said, “What are the five most obvious changes I can make that my partner will most easily find?” No one put a shoe on top of her head. Instead, everyone instantly tried to make the five smallest, subtlest changes (which may also be worth noting) that her partner would not find. People caught in change default instantly to competition, not cooperation.
5) Fifth, in a time of change, people typically focus on what they must give up. People started taking things off; remember that “I didn’t dress for this; do you want me to strip?” Few go back to their chairs and put things back on—hats, jackets, etc.
6) The next two for me are perhaps the most powerful of all. Lesson Six: during change, people typically only focus on what is already theirs. If this woman in the front row and I had been partners, and had I then turned to the gentleman beside her and said, “Sir, take my tie; can you let me have your shoe?”—essentially if I had been able to turn my focus from what was mine to what was ours—we could have done 20, 40, 80, we could have gone on for hours.
7) And finally, when the pressure to change is removed, people revert to old behavior, even if it is a less comfortable place to be. Participants are much more comfortable at the end of the exercise at the end than they had been at the beginning, but as soon as the official exercise was over, those ties go back on, those spike heels back on, etc.— in essence reverted to old behavior because of its familiarity, even when the end result was a far more comfortable place to be.
Especially if you lead an organization or a marketing staff, let me urge you to consider these lessons—and especially to free yourself of the burden of the solution by enlisting the partnership of a broader sphere of employees and board members in deriving the solutions that will help you move forward.
Had I done a Pucha Kucha of my own this morning, I very likely would have told you all the story of the remarkable Trey McIntyre Project, a dance company begun by Trey McIntyre in 2008, just as the economy collapsed. Trey is a choreographer who has choreographed for San Francisco Ballet, Houston Ballet and others—cities that when Trey announced his intention to begin his own company, beckoned him to settle there. Instead Trey deliberately settled in Boise ID—a town of under 200,000 more than 550 miles from a truly major urban center, with no particular dance community or funding community to support the arts. The company initially attracted local attention by launching “spurbans”—spontaneous urban events—seizing the logic of the flash mob to create short dance interactions on public streets for startled pedestrians—and performed at inning changeovers at Little League baseball games, half time at college basketball games, in community centers and more, rejecting old assumptions around curtain times, venues and concert formats. They opened their first concert—a concert performed at a drive-in movie theatre where the audience was encouraged to tailgate– with a documentary film—not about dance or Trey or the dancers but with every dancer giving a personal testimony about what she or he loved about Boise—a reversal of the traditional pipeline, establishing a core connection to community that had the audience eating out of the palms of their hands before they took the first step. They have created work specifically with the Basque community—a previously overlooked population—and launched a new sense of cooperation with the surrounding arts community, hosting an arts auction where local visual artists are invited to create work that reflects local or dance themes, and where the company and the artist split the gate—a huge event binding the arts community together. In perhaps my favorite strategy, they have made a link to the local high-end bar where the mixologist, not bartender, has created a different signature drink for each member of the company, bearing her or his name—a strategy that gives people a personal connection to the often all-too-anonymous ranks of dancers, that becomes an event to drink your way through the company, and which supports the company through an arrangement giving them half the proceeds of every named drink sold. Most significantly, they have positioned themselves in harmony, not with an arts agenda but with a civic strategy for Boise, one emphasizing innovation—an effort led by a monthly working group called the Gang, comprised of the football coach of the state university, the sheriff, the CEO of an internet dot com company and John Michael Shert, Trey’s managing director—and have convinced the city to use economic cultural development money to support their tours outside of Boise. They are irreverent and entrepreneurial and fearless and generous—and having arrived to a community indifferent to dance, they arrived last year at the airport to begin their tour to find a banner over the entrance saying, “Good Luck Trey McIntyre Project, Boise’s economic Cultural Ambassadors to the world.”
As an artist, Trey works diligently and tirelessly to bring craft and expression to its highest potential, but reframes how, where, with whom, under what circumstances, with what support and why the work is made. He—as well as artists like Diane Paulus of American Repertory Theatre or the Wooster Group or any of a number of leading organizations who are engaged in significant recalibration of their work—hold several things in common:
1) First, an expanded sense of what community interaction can mean. Alan Brown, in his study “Getting in on the Act” for the Irvine Study, identifies a five-band spectrum of what audience interaction can mean:
- He begins with the performance or exhibition—the essentially artists transmit/audience receives dynamic that is at the heart of all of our work. It is the essential reason many of us went into our respective fields and spend so much of our time, energy and resources supporting artists.
- One step to the right is the adorned performance or exhibition, i.e. the traditional encounter supplemented by audience talk backs, meet the artist sessions, program notes and study guides, etc. In essence, the addition of materials to contextualize and enhance the encounter while still retaining the traditional dynamics of authority and active vs. passive remain largely unchanged.
- A further step to the right crosses a bright line of sorts, sharing those roles of authority and responsibility. In co-curated events, the audience/community plays an active role in the selection of the work or the artist to be presented, whether through online surveys of voting for favorite plays or soloists, or submitting images, as in Denver at the First Person’s Museum where in an online space anyone can post an image meaningful to him or her—a space that is leading to new discussions about visual arts.
- A further step to the right invites co-creation, where the audience/community plays an active role in the creation and delivery of the artistic event itself. Eric Whitacre’s online choir of Lux Arumque; Liz Lerman’s long standing collaborations with her multi-generational dance company working with electricians or scientists or fishermen, not to teach them a dance but to help them unlock the personal histories and vocabularies they already hold and create a new work with professional guidance together; the Baltimore Symphony’s Rusty Musicians Program, where formerly trained musicians now turned bankers or realtors or doctors play Mahler along side their professional counterparts—a program initially resisted by the musicians themselves but who have subsequently been deeply inspired and renewed by the dedication, the seriousness, the passion that the non-professionals bring to this work; and more are all thrilling examples of co-creation.
- And finally, at the last step, the surrender of space and resources to nonprofessionals, capitalizing on existing energies and flash mobs, recognizing that sometimes providing an environment where things can unfold with a lightly facilitated touch can bring the most remarkable results of all.
The implications of this spectrum for professional artists is the topic of hot debate—and it often provokes alarm, requiring as it does with each additional step that the arts professionals relinquish an additional degree of control. Many assume that the more we step to the right, the more the art will suffer—an assumption I am happy to challenge and refute later this morning if need be. But this spectrum may be the Arts Reformation equivalent of the new practices, the new denominations, the new roles for clergy and for lay people to assume responsibility for her own creative destiny. That said, just as the Reformation did not mean the Catholic Church—a church which continues to be deeply meaningful to millions world wide as it continues to provide spiritual solace and guidance–you may decide that you too wish to be the metaphoric Catholic church, continuing your practices with relatively little change, preserving and protecting the things you treasure. You have a strategic choice to make—and the most thoughtful groups I encounter are clear about what they protect, what they are willing to discard, and are willing to think more expansively about where in this spectrum they can find and offer value, rather than defaulting to performance and exhibition as the sole role of the professional. They see every step to the right is a new opportunity to say to a community, “You matter to us. We are willing to share what we know about the arts. We are willing to share authority. We are willing to share responsibility. We are willing to surrender and listen and to let you lead.” For those of you committed to maintaining a more limited focus, I would only observe that the Catholic Church was been able to persevere largely because of the massive resource it controls, and that organizations already pressed financially will have a hard, if not impossible challenge to go forward unchanged; and
2) Second, a strategic vision about how and why we want to be with these people—motives that infuse the mission by placing the audience at the center of the work, rather than at the periphery. Lisa Adler of the Horizon Theatre once said that changing the mission from “to produce great plays” to “to connect audiences to great plays” not only changed every decision about where dollars were spent, how departments were structured, how hires were made, but was the beginning a new chapter of expanded relevance to the community. The most exciting audience connection program I’ve seen of late comes from Woolly Mammoth theatre in Washington DC, whose Connectivity program places the playwright at the center to ask, “Who MUST be in the room for this play to combust?”—a question that gives a specificity to audience development plans but an active role to the audience, even in the traditional performance mode. Their stories are fantastic, but I’ll simply reference two: the launch of BOOTY CANDY, a play about African American drag queens, where the playwright said, “I want African American clergymen here”—and Clybourne Park, where the targets were people who lived in gentrifying neighborhoods. Those performances were ELECTRIC, and the night I attended, the audience discussion that followed the show, was one where easily 95% of the audience stayed. These organizations are asking, “What if our role is not to produce plays, but to orchestrate social interaction—interaction in which the performance is a piece but only a piece of what we are called to do? What if we see our roles, not as presenting products to be consumed but as offering experiences that serve as springboards to our audience’s own creativity? What if we were to stop thinking of our organizations as self-contained institutions and as platforms designed to aggregate creative energy?”
3) Third, these groups think, not only about how to convince audiences to join us for programming we care about, but how we can join them for causes, events and activities that they care about. During my years in Minneapolis, the gay community was fiercely loyal to the Guthrie Theatre, and not because they did a gay play—they didn’t, to the best of my recollection. But the Guthrie Theatre—and I mean senior leaders and board members, not just junior staffers– attended every gay pride parade as the Guthrie, participated in every AIDS Walk as the Guthrie, showed up en masse at every event that was significant to the gay community, not to sell tickets, but as a signal that the community mattered to them. Today, a presenter called On the Boards in Seattle has launched a program called Studio Suppers—a celebrity chef cooking dinner for 50 attendees who pay what they can between $25 and $100, with the total gate going to the chef to donate to the charity of her or his choice—a new slant on community development and the role of the arts in knitting community—the repositioning of the arts away from an arts agenda and in to a civic agenda.
And finally, these groups operate openy as active members in a largely cultural community, not just in individual ways. Barry Nailbuff of the Yale School of Organization and Management has posed the issue quite starkly: you can either compete for a piece of a fixed or shinking pie, or you can “coopetate”—cooperate to grow the pie for everyone, even as it is inevitable you will compete for a piece of it. The great value driven initiatives of late have been cooperative—the referendum in Portland OR that, in a context of a shrinking budget, added $35 per citizen to support arts education, the culmination of an effort that had begun modestly with organizational leaders appearing at each other’s venues to do supportive curtain speeches—the conductor of the symphony appearing at the theatre to testify about his love for the theatre, even while issuing an invitation to his musical home; the choreographer appearing at the opera to praise Puccini, and more;–the legacy amendment in Minnesota that has produced a sales tax dedicate to protecting Minnesota’s great legacies—clean water, wildlife and the arts—endangered treasures that together have formed an unlikely alliance; the 20/20 Project in Philadelphia where the entire cultural community has joined in research, benchmarking and have established a collective goal of doubling cultural participation by the year 2020; or Trey McIntyre, not only with his invitation to the visual arts community to produce art, but with the conscious decision to relinquish the role of economic cultural ambassador to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, saying “This can’t be about us. This has to be about ALL of us”—an act of generosity that it truly inspirational.
These organizations see attendance as a sign of generosity from audiences—a deliberate sacrifice of time and energy that must be honored and embraced. They increasingly emphasize radical hospitality—the role of every single person from the janitor to the CEO to provide a live experience and solicit a rave—and recognize that these are guests to be treasured, not subscribers to be endured.
Organizations that stampeded city hall to preserve their funding when the economy crashed were a very different universe than those who instantly advertised free performances for those who had lost their jobs and command a very different allegiance. Every time we invite an audience member to take an active role—not a passive role—in our organizations, we say you matter to us. Every time we surrender resources to others, we say You matter to us. Every time we invite audiences to post their reactions on our walls or surrender our spaces to community groups, every time we listen and share—truly listen and truly share—we say you matter to us.
Every time we shame an audience member who claps between symphonic movements, every time our ushers swoop down on audiences to scold them for taking pictures before the curtain has even gone up, every time we keep the house closed and pack them uncomfortably in lobbies until the last minute, we undo that work.
In short, the more communities matter to us—truly matter, not merely serve us as a point of sale, the more we are vested in their issues and not merely in our art form, the more we tell them why and how they matter to us by our words and by our actions—the more we will matter to them.
I truly believe that opening ourselves to a new chapter of engagement with our communities not only will lead to our own renewal—financial and artistic—in unexpected ways, it will move us from a Reformation to a Renaissance—a renegotiation of old ideas to reach a new consensual reality.
And this renegotiation must reach and embrace both sides of the proscenium. I have been pondering Peter Coleman’s THE FIVE PERCENT, a book about how we find ourselves stuck in tough problems, whether the impasse in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine, or here closer to home the abortion rights debate, or perhaps even redefining tax codes and economic structures. Coleman suggests that these seemingly intractable problems share three common qualities: the emphasis placed on a win/lose/winner take all dynamic, the oversimplification of issues especially in a sound bite age, and the tendency of participants to surround themselves with self-reinforcing feedback loops, reinforcing their perspectives–as apt a description of the Congress of the United States as any I have heard.
The arts offer us an alternative to intractability. Instead of competition, we promote cooperation; in the face of over simplification, we promote nuance, shades of meaning and substance; and in the face face of reinforcing feedback loops, we assemble audiences to gather with people unlike themselves, to listen deeply, to consider their fellow human being, not with hostility or suspicion, but with generosity and curiosity. God knows if we have ever needed that capacity, we need it now.
Our ability to change will be crucial—not only to change technically, i.e. to change in the face of problems for which we know the solution, but to change adaptively—to launch new behaviors in the face of challenges for which the solution is unknown. We must recognize that such change may be relatively minor in degree—only 1 gene separates bird from reptile, apparently—but change we must. The larger our questions, the greater our reach. And the urgency of the times requires us to act now: we cannot wait.
In that spirit, I want to leave you with a benediction from theatre director Anne Bogart, who in A Director Prepares, wrote the following:
Do not assume that you have to have some prescribed conditions to do your best work.
Do not wait.
Do not wait for enough time or money to accomplish what you think you have in mind.
Work with what you have right now.
Work with the people around you right now.
Work with the architecture you see around you right now.
Do not wait for what you assume is the appropriate, stress-free environment in which to generate expression.
Do not wait for maturity or insight or wisdom.
Do not wait until you are sure that you know what you are doing.
Do not wait until you have enough technique.
What you do now, what you make of your present circumstances will determine the quality and scope of your future endeavors.
And at the same time, she writes, be patient.
I want to thank you for your work as civic activists, wherever you serve the arts, pledged implicitly as you are to a world of tolerance, compassion, empathy and hope.
I promise you the hand of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the community of United States arts organizations are outstretched in friendship, both now and for years to come.
And I want to thank you for your kindness and patience in listening to me this morning. God bless and God speed.