Scaling Out Like a Saguaro Cactus

Posted by Roberto Bedoya On December - 6 - 2012

Roberto Bedoya

I don’t have a great talent to align easily with authority…one could say I have an allergic response to it…so when I was asked to write about “scaling up”, my head began to ache and I started to sneeze.

Maybe my responses are triggered by the “authoritarian” tone associated with scaling up, it’s hierarchical connotations that projects images of success, as a bigger and better operation that makes me wonder about the assumptions at work here or maybe it is the management chants of “scale up, scale up” that makes me nervous.

I do not oppose the work of scaling up, but I am not a skilled manger in that arena and the process of scaling up is mercurial to me. My experiences in the arena of community cultural development practices, has produce a understanding of scaling that is focused on scaling “out” as opposed to scaling “up”

A desert story: The most beautiful aspects of the Sonoran desert are the Saguaro cacti. Their majesty is how they dot the landscape as these tall and eloquent plants that reach upward. And in their long life span it takes up to 75 years to develop a side arm that stand out against the vivid blue of the desert sky. In the heat of this desert they thrive and their success lies in their root systems—a system that is linear, moves outward across the land and grows and proposer.

The Saguaro is a model of development that we can learn from—how to scale out and thrive. I find that the language of scaling up is inadequate when ones charge, as an art leader is to foster cultural vitality and support an equitable society. To do this work over time one must know to build relations, know how to scale-out these relationships that results in healthy communities and a robust democracy.

One of the reasons that the term scaling up bothers me is how it resonates as an individualized form of growth. An organization scales up as if to say it grows up and becomes a model of success because their programs rock, their finances are in order, their space enviable and I applaud that success and those are managers that got them there.

Yet individual growth is not the same as the growth of the many, the numerous, a community growth that results in a variety of organizations, operations, and strategies that advances an understanding of place grounded in the ethos of belonging.

Saguaro Cactus located in Arizona. The man in the photo is 5’11. (Image from Wikipedia user Sullynyflhi)

Scaling out is a relation system. Relation and relationship is the product and it in-turn produces community, place, engagements, vitality. The skills need to partake in the work of scaling out is knowing how to be an intermediary versed in deliberative democracy practices.

Let me riff here for a moment the importance of being a intermediary.

A general understanding of an intermediary is someone who takes resources, understood broadly as money, knowledge or connections, and strategically deploys them in other sphere of practices. An intermediary provides connections, language, and translation; the intermediary also identifies intersections where the interests of parties cross.

Intermediaries operate in the work of scaling out as the go-between, between artists and audiences, artists and arts organizations, various stakeholder communities that enliven the aesthetic contract between these entities. To have success in scaling out you need to be mindful of one’s responsibilities as an intermediary who animates networks and relationships.

It is ethical work that requires that one has an understanding of equity and justice in action that facilitates a democratic process of analysis, decision-making, and agenda setting. This not easy work, yet an important outcome of scaling out is social capital.

I’ve avoided commenting on the business of scaling up because of health reasons.

All kidding aside, the policy agendas that supports scaling up and scaling out practices need to be examined. The bias in these two forms of practices put under a lens and studied. The dialogue between then encouraged and the resulting narratives about growth, prosperity, and capital—of being in relation better understood.

The narrative of potentiality that moves like a linear root system along the networks of relation is what feeds and supports scaling out as a process that advances the plural in all its aesthetics and complexities.

6 Responses to “Scaling Out Like a Saguaro Cactus”

  1. michael rohd says:

    Much for me to think about in here, Roberto.
    Especially how you frame the notion of intermediary.
    I think I am working to become an ethical intermediary in a way that i haven’t named before.
    Thank you for helping me do that naming.

  2. Roberto Bedoya says:

    Michael,

    I wrote a response but it appears that it wasn’t posted. So again thanks for your comment. I look forward to you wise words/stories on being an ethical intermediary.

    Best

    Roberto

  3. Pam Korza says:

    I find this notion of scaling “out” useful and sometimes a more apt way to think about operating and viewing impact for organizations wanting to foster civic engagement and community change through arts and culture. I particularly value this notion, knowing how the Tucson Pima Arts Council sees itself as a “node” among many entities in an ecosystem working to expand and deepen relationships. Local arts agencies play a critical role as intermediaries and TPAC—as well as others like those in St. Louis, L.A., Providence–offers an inspiring model for advancing the role of the arts in positive social and civic change. Thanks for bringing the role of intermediary into this picture of scaling out. I’m curious how other local arts agencies and intermediaries respond to these ideas!

    • Roberto Bedoya says:

      Thanks Pam,

      My colleagues in the LAA world are reflecting on the their role as intermediaries to various degrees- all mindful of their context, which is central to how they do their work. Michael Killoren at the NEA has a good and nuanced understanding of how community cultural development and scaling out practices are working in the field. The field of artist-centered and ethnic specific art service organizations also has some good insight on this. Onward and outward

      Best
      R

      R

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