Blog Salon Recap: So, Does Size Matter?

Posted by Joanna Chin On December - 7 - 2012

Joanna Chin

As the newest staff member on the Animating Democracy team, reflecting on how our past has informed present work has been illuminating.

By placing individual artists and organizations such as those that made up our original Animating Democracy Lab cohort into a national or field-wide context, we hope we have helped to magnify their impact over time and on a national scale.

Although the initial Animating Democracy grant cohort was a relatively small group (36 organizations), we continue to see the connections and ripples from relationships formed through many deep learning exchanges. As time progresses, the connections made within a small group of artists and arts organizations continues to “scale out” (a phrase borrowed from Roberto Bedoya’s post) in the form of collaborations and cross sector work such as that of Sojourn Theatre.

We have always been a national initiative; but, we accomplish our goals by creating opportunities to capture and translate the practitioner’s voice to a broader field and across sectors. This is still essentially true in our current work exploring the social impact of the arts as well as mapping art and social change trends.

We are national in scope, but scale has been achieved primarily through promoting human connections and ripples over time. In this vein, I’d like to take a crack at summarizing and connecting our bloggers under some major themes/approaches that emerged during the Salon:

Defining & Framing: Breadth v. Depth

Scaling Out Like a Saguaro Cactus – Roberto Bedoya writes about his experiences in community cultural development which have produced an understanding of scaling that is focused on scaling “out” as opposed to scaling “up” and the “growth of many” versus “individual [organization] growth.” He emphasizes the important role of intermediaries who have the difficult, but important, task of animating networks and relationships.

Small Enough to Succeed – Doug Borwick provides a great overview of the challenges of relationship-based programming when attempting to scale and shares multiple examples of a “small group” approach to scaling successfully.

Collective Impact and the Wisdom of Slow Culture – Bill Cleveland provides some wisdom for those looking to expand their collective impact by letting it grow from community ownership, holding community members as core, utilizing community knowledge, avoiding (false) shortcuts, and being open to non-traditional relationships with funders.

Defining & Framing: Movement Building v. Replication

Welcome to the Argument in My Head – Laura Zabel makes the case for increasing the impact of the work (movement building), without building an institution (replication). She also provides some great how-tos (my favorite paraphrased: steal!).

Examples in Action

Go Deep to Go Wide – Jeanette Lee and Mike Medow share 15 years of experiences working to achieve broad engagement while also prioritizing deep relationships with the Allied Media Conference. For event-based groups, they provide excellent tips for keeping relationships key, making it more participatory, and the importance of evaluating impact as the conference continues to scale up.

Scaling Up Participation: The Expansion of FIGMENT – Katherine Gressel gives great detail about the aspects of FIGMENT that allow it to grow and spread to other cities while maintaining its core identity.

Structuring Scale & Scope

Defining, and Scaling, Our Terms – Andrew Taylor discusses the economics of scale and breaks down efforts to scale into three major types: single organization, replication, and (hybrid) franchise with concrete examples for each.

The Baltimore Art + Justice Project: A Question of Scope, Not Scale – Karen Stults and Kalima Young explain how the scope of their project has changed from its early conception to its current stages of execution and the structure and frameworks that they’ve built to allow for continued evolution.

To Scale or Not to Scale, There Are Many Questions – Kathie de Nobriga draws from Margaret Wheatley’s book, Leadership and the New Science, to support her perspective that change can happen in ways more complex and mysterious than cause = direct effect. She challenges organizations to first answer many questions about the relationship between their scale and social impact before pushing to be bigger.

When Scale Meets Technology

Idea Sharing and Project Scaling: Tools to Survive – Laura Belcher offers her lessons learned about the factors that contribute to un-scalable versus successfully scaled projects.

Creating, Collaborating, Connecting with Art, Activism, and the Internet – Xavier Cortada talks about using the internet as a supplement, not substitute, for physical interaction and movement building aspects of several of his environmental art projects.

Artist/Individuals as Core

There is No Such Thing as ‘McArt’ – MK Wegmann considers the role of the individual artist(s) in the spread of art/work and suggests that finding mechanisms for greater resource-sharing is the bigger challenge/opportunity.

Hope is Vital…But Is It Scalable? – Michael Rohd uses his early trial and error experience scaling up his program to illuminate several significant pieces of advice: just do it; re-envision gatekeepers; and embrace necessary loss of control.

Creative Change: Grow with the Flow! – Betsy Theobald Richards offers the human lens on growth and makes the case for nurturing the stewards of the work: artists and cultural producers.

An Artist Reflects on Growth through the Eyes of His Community – Regin Igloria shares revelations from his community-oriented work about how to maintain integrity while growing; do this by creating space for reciprocity and paying attention to community builders as individuals.

The Potential of Big Institutions & Funders

Economies and Diseconomies of Scale in the Arts – Ian David Moss reflects on scale, offering multiple insights such as differentiate between the concerns about scale for organizations solving systematic (widespread) problems versus those of arts producers and presenters.

Shared Outcomes and Collective Impact for Scaling Up – Victor Kuo focuses on collective impact as a way that the philanthropic sector can think about scale. He gives good perspective on the merits of shared outcomes and evaluation that recognizes shifts in purpose over time.

Questions to Ask Before Addressing Scale – Judi Jennings gives insights as a place-based grantmaker and brings attention to some holes in our current understanding of how scale relates to equity in arts and cultural funding.

Eugene O’Neill’s Grant Writer Walks Into A Bar… – Bill O’Brien tackles the challenge facing big institutions that want to support and show the impact of good work without burdening the original purpose of art-making.

Thanks to everyone who was following, sharing, and commenting on the posts all week. You can view all of the Blog Salon posts on one page with this easy link: http://bit.ly/DecemberSalon!

And, a HUGE thanks to our incredible, thoughtful, and articulate bloggers for contributing your stories, perspectives, and questions to this bigger discussion of the challenges and opportunities to increase social impact through scale.

To borrow Regin’s words, you are the first tiers of this field. You are the ones that allow for this crucial conversation to begin!

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