Ecosystems at Risk

Posted by Alex Sarian On July - 9 - 2013
Alex Sarian

Alex Sarian

Two very scary, and seemingly unrelated, things happened in 2008:   1) 100,000 nonprofits around the US (many of them arts, education, & culture based) began the slow and painful process of going out of business, and 2) the Holdridge’s toad, one of Costa Rica’s most prevalent species, was declared extinct.

Let’s talk toads first:

There are two schools of thought that explain why a species might become extinct. The first holds the environment responsible, stating that the Holdridge’s toad became extinct because of “chytridiomycosis” (look it up), a disease caused by effects of climate change. In this case, the toads were not able to evolve fast enough to adapt to the fast-changing environment around them. The second option, ironically, holds the species responsible. This popular evolutionary theory called the “Red Queen hypothesis” – named after Lewis Carroll’s character who described her country as a nation in which “it takes all the running YOU can do, to keep in the same place” – argues that species biologically increase in numbers until they reach the ‘carrying capacity’ of their environment, by which point the environment is too consumed (deteriorated) to sustain such diversity. Extinction. Scientists predict that by 2050, as a result of one of the two theories mentioned above, a full quarter of the species known to us today will be extinct. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Should Arts Organizations Focus on Social Bridging?

Posted by Karina Mangu Ward On April - 15 - 2013
Karina Mangu Ward

Karina Mangu Ward

I live in New York City, a place with seemingly endless cultural opportunities. The problem is that the majority of these cultural experiences are designed to bring me closer to people I showed up with—an activity sociologists call “social bonding.”

That’s all well and good for me, but it’s not going to make my city more livable, more humane, and more just.

Inspired by Nina Simon’s TED Talk, I would argue that what my community needs, and what communities across this divided country need, is more opportunities to connect with people across difference—what sociologists call “social bridging.”

Moreover, I would argue that arts and culture organizations are uniquely poised to become a platform for social bridging in our communities, and that it’s essential that they do so or risk irrelevancy.

Why is social bridging so important? 

Our country is more politically, economically, and generationally divided than ever. Culture has been parsed into endless niches—with the rise of Facebook and Twitter, we’ve all become Creative Directors of our own brand, with our own set of followers.

In this new era of divisiveness and splintered identity, it’s essential that we create spaces where people can connect with others whose experiences are substantially different from our own. Read the rest of this entry »

Collective Impact and the Wisdom of Slow Culture

Posted by Bill Cleveland On December - 7 - 2012

Pomegranate Center works with communities to imagine, plan, and create shared public spaces designed to encourage social integration and build local identity.

In the world of commerce scaling up has a long history. In the eighteenth and ninetieth centuries, mass production spawned the industrial revolution. In the twentieth century, scaling applied to retail businesses like fast food and electronics manifested as chain stores and franchising.

The intention with these enterprises is to maximize profit by providing reliable and affordable products and services through economies of scale. In terms of profitability, mass production, chains, and franchising have been stupendously successful.

On the nonprofit side, given the significant gap between community needs and resources it is understandable that policymakers and funders are going to eager to find ways to extend the benefits of what they see as effective ideas and practice. Slow Food USA, Link TV, and KIPP charter schools are good examples of how innovative nonprofits have shared and spread the wealth.

The downside, of course is that one-size-fits-all predictability and sameness can have a sterilizing effect on the delicate strains of quirk and diversity upon which vital culture depends to multiply and thrive. For people like me who are concerned with community cultural development, or in the current vernacular, creative placemaking, this is no small thing. Read the rest of this entry »

Small Enough to Succeed

Posted by Doug Borwick On December - 6 - 2012

Doug Borwick

I have, for most of my life, been suspicious of the “growth is good” assumption that we often make in this country or did as I was growing up. (Sometimes when I replay in my mind the famous Gordon Gecko speech from Wall Street, it’s not greed I hear him praise but growth.)

At the risk of appearing to trivialize something that is incredibly serious, cancer is a demonstration (an extreme one to be sure) that not all growth is beneficial. Less hyperbolically, the quest for resources to support program growth as well as the need for expanding infrastructure to sustain it often creates a situation in which the mission out of which the program sprang gets left in the dust. The attention required to amass funding and personnel gets in the way of focusing on the reason the program was created. But that is a systemic (and management theory) issue that I am sure others participating in this Blog Salon will address.

Some in the for-profit world have been questioning the merits of “bigness” for years. Right-sizing, just-in-time production, and Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept (for focus on a core) and “Stop Doing List” (one of my favorites) all address the issue that big is not necessarily better, even in financial terms. In the not-for-profit arts world, the recent University of Chicago study, Set in Stone arrives at a similar conclusion about the dangers of facilities creep.

My principal interest is in effective community engagement in the service of creating healthier communities. This work is relationship driven and relationships cannot be mass-produced. However, as I discussed in a blog post some time ago–The Magic of Small Groups–megachurches, in creating and nurturing small subsets of the whole, have discovered a volunteer-labor-intensive path around that problem. Read the rest of this entry »

PAN-OUT — A Broad View of the 2012 Public Art Network Preconference

Posted by Liesel Fenner On June - 14 - 2012

Liesel Fenner

2012 marks my tenth Americans for the Arts Public Art Preconference, six of which I have planned and orchestrated over the years with the help of Public Art Network (PAN) Council members and local hosts.

This year proved to be another shining star, aptly-hosted in the Lone Star state of Texas and San Antonio, a sparkling gem of creative community that rolled out the red carpet for us.

Held at Pearl, Preconference attendees were greeted to hearty breakfast tacos (localvore favorite) and iced coffee, in preparation for the 90 degree-plus predicted temperatures. Newcomers were welcomed to an orientation in Pearl’s Center for Architecture, the American Institute of Architects local chapter office with crisp-geometric interiors offering flexible meeting space (everything on casters) for PAN’s breakout sessions throughout the day.

Attendees trekked across the Pearl campus to the nearby historic Stable, an oval-shaped plan once housing up to 70 horses, today hosting 270 Preconference attendees! Texas hosts, Martha Peters of the Ft. Worth Public Art Program and PAN Council member and Jimmy LeFlore of Public Art San Antonio, led everyone in a rousing welcome.

Representatives of the PAN Council presented a state-of-the-field report highlighting critical issues the Council is addressing including: public art and quality of life, evaluation, and social practices and community engagement. Read the rest of this entry »

Michael DeLong

Michael DeLong

With topics such as creative placemaking taking center stage in discussions around the arts, the question of how artists engage as citizens offers a dynamic opportunity for exploration.

On April 24, 2012, Emerging Arts Professionals/San Francisco Bay Area (EAP) convened a panel in San Francisco at Intersection for the Arts around the topic of artistic citizenship. Joining the panel were a healthy mix of artists, curators, teachers, architects, and administrators that included Julio Cesar Morales, Jennifer Parker, Randy Rollison, and Lizzie Wallack, with moderator Sanjit Sethi.

Born out of a series of discussions by EAP’s Public Programs fellowship, the event tackled a range of questions related to the role of the artist in the community.

You can listen to the audio recording (courtesy of Stacy Bond) below and read on for highlights:

Invoking the Public

The engaged crowd warmed up with small group discussions, covering a number of key inquiries. Creative problem-solving and knowledge-sharing featured among these sessions, although pointed questions also sparked healthy debate. Read the rest of this entry »

Marty Pottenger

Art At Work

Recently, I found myself sitting in a circle in Portland, ME, leading a group that includes the city manager, police chief, a leader in the Occupy Maine movement, one of the founders of Portland’s NAACP, leaders from the Sudanese and Congolese refugee communities, the president of a city union (CEBA), and a doctor active in public health, among others. The members of this group are impressive and diverse, but what we are sharing is more so.

In only seven minutes, 20 city and community leaders composed poems that draw upon their personal histories, the history of Portland, and those things they have witnessed in this place we all call home.

Increasing the Odds

All of Art At Work’s projects are designed to increase the odds that Portland and their partner cities (Holyoke, Northampton, and Providence in 2012), launch their own Art At Work will be better able to turn anticipated social and economic crises into opportunities by integrating creative engagement in their ‘way of doing business.’

This workshop was a part of Portland Works, another one of our experiments in figuring out how to harness the transformative power of art to achieve concrete community-based outcomes. These workshops bring together community and city leaders to create a dialogue and increase understanding between individuals and groups that often see one another as obstacles as opposed to allies. “It’s just brilliant,” says Mike Miles, the City of Portland’s director of human resources, “using art to break conceptions about who people are and what people do.”

Art At Work, of which Portland Works is just one part, is designed to improve municipal government through strategic arts projects involving city employees, elected officials, community leaders, and local artists. Read the rest of this entry »

Public Art Engagement Creating Neighborhood Reporters

Posted by Rachel Engh On May - 1 - 2012

Rachel Engh

Last week, I heard local artist Kinji Akagawa’s joyful chuckle as I stood still, swept up in his world while viewing his public art piece, Enjoyment of Nature, in Minneapolis. And he wasn’t even next to me. Instead, I was listening to a recording done by Akagawa for Sound Point, a collaboration by Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and the City of Minneapolis.

Sound Point is a technologically innovative way for people in Minneapolis to connect with art, artists, and public space. After the (optional) recorded welcome by Mayor R.T. Rybak, the listener/viewer can experience 13 pieces of art, all within a two-mile radius. In these short recordings, artists explain the significance of the pieces’ spatial contexts and what they hope visitors will experience while viewing their work.

I stood, phone to my ear, for a whole three minutes, as I listened to Akagawa talk about his piece. He communicated his wish of creating a gathering place for people, either waiting for the bus or sitting in the sun sipping coffee, and even birds who can visit the bird bath.

One aspect of Akagawa’s built environment is a moonscape, depicting the moon’s movement over a month-long period. Akagawa notes that it honors the people who clean the city at night, many of whom are people of color and immigrants.

Next, I walked to the City’s Public Service Center where I found another Sound Point, Wing Young Huie’s Lake St., USA. A community photography project, it was originally a set of hundreds of black and white photos that was publicly displayed along six miles of Lake Street in Minneapolis. Now, some of them hang on the walls where the city planners pass every day. In his recording, Huie notes the importance of showing his photos in public spaces because they “reflect realities of so many different people.” Read the rest of this entry »

Hannah Jacobson

Quick — point to Dublin, OH on a map.

How about Clinton County, MI; Douglasville, GA; or Missoula, MT? (Zero points if one of those cities is your hometown).

For those of us with a few years between elementary school geography and the present, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise if these seemingly arbitrary locations elude us.

Some residents of Taiwan, however, might find Dublin as easily as they would their own hometowns. It’s a similar story for students in Shiga, Japan with Clinton County; Denmark with Douglasville; and Neckargemün, Germany with Missoula.

In Americans for the Arts’ December webinar, produced in tandem with the special report entitled Backyard Diplomacy, we found out that cultural exchange—taking various forms of art that are from, inspired by, or headed to a distinctly foreign locale—is happening every day, in cities small and large, through local arts agencies (LAAs).

The major lesson? LAAs of any size and shape can and should feel empowered to take a field trip around the world. Read the rest of this entry »

Lessons from Public Funders

Posted by Barbara Schaffer Bacon On December - 13 - 2011

Barbara Schaffer Bacon

Grantmakers in the Arts asks, “What can private foundations learn from public funders who are working with marginalized communities?”

I think public support programs, some old, and some more current have a few lessons to offer. Though neither was without problems or controversy, both Roosevelt’s Federal Arts Projects in the 1930s and The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) in the 1970s suggest that light structure can produce great results.

They provide evidence that talented artists will answer the call and can produce great works that are relevant to and reflective of the communities for which they are created. While the Federal Art Project was more prescriptive, artists had a very public platform and some latitude to create their work. The public works created and the artist’s interaction with the public is credited with stimulating national interest in American art and laying the groundwork for the National Endowment for the Arts to be established.

As a jobs (not an arts) program, CETA had a looser structure. Artists and creative administrators were deployed, often creating their own job descriptions as they went to work in neighborhoods and community centers around the country; but they found their way and many of the programs created had staying power. Read the rest of this entry »

Expanding Community Participation

Posted by Libby Maynard On December - 9 - 2011

Libby Maynard

Continuing the focus on community engagement and participation in arts and culture, I’d like to share with you how we at The Ink People in Humboldt County, CA, have been practicing these principles for the last 25 years.

Our DreamMaker Program invites community members who have a vision for an arts and culture project or see a need in their community that can be addressed through such a project, to partner with us.

Sometimes I think of us as the center of a broad web, supporting and nurturing community-initiated visions. We are not a fiscal receiver. The board of directors decides whether or not to adopt each project as a full-fledged part of The Ink People, with full nonprofit benefits and stakes our reputation on each one.

In addition to this, we give administrative support and intensive mentoring to each project, as well as offering a series of Mini Nonprofit “MBA” classes. The classes are designed only to give project leaders an idea of what they don’t know, so they can ask the right questions to have the best chance at success.

Generally, a project follows one of four paths. It may be short term, with limited and well defined goals and outcomes, such as the publication of a book about Japanese Senryu poetry by the artist’s grandmother, with illustrations by the artist, and a series of workshops on writing Senryu poetry. Read the rest of this entry »

Active Engagement for More Excellence

Posted by Libby Maynard On December - 8 - 2011

Libby Maynard

There is a movement afoot for which I’ve been waiting for a long time.

Here in California in the last several years, the James Irvine Foundation conducted several studies and issued reports about arts ecology in California and engagement in the arts by diverse audiences, including folk and traditional arts.

The data was so powerful that Irvine is refocusing its grantmaking efforts “to promote engagement in the arts for all Californians, the kind that embraces and advances the diverse ways that we experience the arts, and that strengthens our ability to thrive together in a dynamic and complex social environment.”

The most exciting report is Getting In On the Act: How Arts Groups are Creating Opportunities for Active Participation, by WolfBrown.

They are specifically talking about active engagement, not passive, such as attending a concert. By no means is the Irvine Foundation abandoning the concept of excellence in the arts, but recognizing that there is a broad range of accomplishment that is equally relevant, perhaps more so to community vitality. Read the rest of this entry »

The Collaboration Question (Do You Have Some Answers?)

Posted by Jill McGuire On December - 7 - 2011

Jill McGuire

Choosing what to write about is as hard for me as choosing what I should be working on — which new opportunity(s) should I pursue this week, which projects can I put on the back burner and even what phone calls do I have to return.

I don’t think I have ever been busier or more energized about the new exciting opportunities, the level of community engagement possibilities, the new partnership offers, and the vast array of community processes that the arts are now being asked to be involved with.

And, everyone I talk to feels the same way which, for me, confirms what we always knew and what we have been working for — the arts are HOT…the arts are in demand…the arts offer real and creative solutions….the arts produce results! (And, they can even be entertaining and fun.)

So, now what?

We are still working with diminished resources but we want to do it all — I do! And yet I know that it’s probably not possible to do it all and do it well! Read the rest of this entry »

Radio Lessons

Posted by María Muñoz-Blanco On December - 6 - 2011

María Muñoz-Blanco

Almost a century ago, a gentleman by the name of Henry Garrett (then superintendent of the Dallas Police & Fire Signal System) installed a 50-watt radio transmitter in the central fire station to transmit fire alarms to the other Dallas fire stations.

Between fire alarms, Garrett connected the transmitter to a phonograph and played his collection of classical music recordings. Thus began the life of WRR, which 90 years later (and with a much, much stronger signal) is one of the divisions of the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs.

WRR 101.1 FM is a 24/7 classical music station, operating under an FCC commercial radio license. Because of this commercial license, WRR is what we call in the city an enterprise fund: the station sells advertising to generate revenues to cover its operating expenses, pay for capital upgrades, and keep an operating cash reserve.

The station plays an important role as the voice of the arts in North Texas, providing a venue for call-to-action advertising for arts organizations. I never expected to be in the radio business, but I find that many of the strategies used by the station to meet its bottom line can be successfully applied elsewhere in the agency and by our local arts organizations. Read the rest of this entry »

Speaking My Language

Posted by Tom Borrup On November - 11 - 2011

Tom Borrup (center) and friends

Here’s someone who speaks my language!

In Creativity Will Change the Model, Bill Roper calls for new ways to engage people in re-imaging their communities, specifically to engage creative practices in how community planning gets done!

Just as quickly as we have young people – and people of all ages – paint images or make collages representing their vision (and I’ve done it many times), we also need Facebook, and other social media tools to spark discussions and the exchange of images representing spaces and activities that are important to people. These tools can get more people to engage in face-to-face community engagement, and enrich it, not replace it.

Until we have more experience with these tools, we won’t fully know all they can do for us, but we need to experiment.

I’m presently leading a major cultural corridor planning project in Minneapolis where one of the deliverables expected by the city is a pedestrian study. While they may balk at something other than a report from the same pedestrian consultant they’ve hired 20 times before, we’re crowdsourcing the study using Facebook. Read the rest of this entry »