Betsy Theobald Richards

In the arts & social justice world, a plan for expanding impact is more than good business, it’s our roadmap for changing the world.

Infrastructure and funding for arts-for-change projects may be nascent, but as Jeff Chang and Brian Komar remind us in Culture Before Politics, creativity is the “most renewable, sustainable, and boundless of resources” with which we can capture the American imagination and plant seeds of social transformation.

Artists and cultural producers are the stewards of that renewable resource and we need to look out for and nurture their development as we plan for growth and impact.

On one level, growth can imply physical and financial increase for projects over time (bigger! more money!) but many of our leaders find themselves sleeping on couches, wearing multiple hats, under valuing their worth and staying up all night (you know who you are…) and thus, facing burn out while scaling up.

The other side of scaling up means that we can find ourselves prioritizing meetings, chasing operating support, and losing track of the nimbleness and creativity that is needed in the face of an election, a disaster, or an injustice.

The late Wilma Mankiller, a hero and mentor of mine once said, “Growth is a painful process. If we’re ever going to begin to grapple with the problems that we have collectively, we’re going to have to move back the veil and deal with each other on a more human level.”

Her words remind me that there is another, more abstract understanding of growth that takes into account the human element: maturation, clarification, deepening.

Finding the time to reflect, learn together, and plan is hard when you’re working in your studio, making ends meet, planning your social media strategy, and all the while seeking to capture the American imagination and speak truth to power.

by Nina Montenegro, Occuprint

That’s one reason why our signature event, Creative Change, is a retreat and not a conference. We’ve found that bringing together a cross-section of artists (from grassroots to galleries to Hollywood) with advocates, activists, and funders creates a space where we can begin to lift back the veil and go a bit deeper. We have placed value on time for planning, incubation, illumination, as well as creation and amplification—all elements of the creative process itself.

When creativity sparks it’s exciting and we once again become aware that art and creativity can change the world. We find ourselves in a race to share, grow, link, tweet, and build funding partnerships.

These are all effective, but I’d like to put forward that the very thing that created that spark (time for immersion, reflection, and incubation) often gets left out of our discussions about growth.

Let’s bring in the rigors of the creative process back to our efforts to scale up. Let’s take time for thoughtful program design: clarifying our intentions, creating a roadmap for change, and learning from it as we go.

Let’s place value on immersing ourselves with each other and growing together in order to strategize effectively. Let’s take the time to incubate models that allow for both growth and retraction.

Let’s hold up artists and their process to, as James Baldwin said in his 1962 essay The Creative Process, “illuminate that darkness, blaze roads through the vast forest, so that we will not, in all our doing, lose sight of its purpose, which is, after all, to make the world a more human dwelling place.”

2 Responses to “Creative Change: Grow with the Flow!”

  1. Pam Korza says:

    Betsy,

    You spark several things for me. First, I appreciate your point about the dangers of scaling up if such efforts are not fully resourcing artists who are at the core of the work. I’m intrigued by Michael Rohd’s blog which portrays how artist driven work (his and Sojourn Theatre’s) achieves scale over time with tremendous hard work, vision, and with human relations at the core. His story supports your point about “prioritizing the more human lens on growth.” Second, having participated in two Creative Change retreats, one of the critical things Opportunity Agenda is enabling is repeat connection over time. This really does serve to build human relationships and allow for a dialogue to build and connections to manifest in something real. The ripple effects that Creative Change could have may bear out the kind of “scaling out” that Roberto Bedoya’s blog is about (stay tuned later this week for his!).

  2. Ed Carroll says:

    Your take on the need for space to pause, time to think and exchange has a lot of significance for what I see outside our small window. Most especially, the task of moving our fragile home-based community arts players with their own natures and abilities into a new armature, a new harmony around the pedagogy of culture, of rights, of dignity…

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Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.