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 »

Boise: “The Athens of the Desert” Continues to Prosper

Posted by Terri Schorzman On July - 11 - 2012

Terri Schorzman

Boise is the most geographically isolated urban area in the lower 48. Despite this remote location, Boise residents have built a cultural infrastructure through forming community, regional, and national alliances. In turn, this infrastructure has helped shape Boise.

From Boise’s earliest days, the logistics of the city’s geographic isolation made it difficult to travel elsewhere for cultural amenities, which encouraged residents to develop local opera, ballet, orchestra, theater, and dance companies. By 1907, the city’s cultural life inspired attorney Clarence Darrow, here for a trial, to name Boise the “Athens of the Desert.”

In the past decade city leaders have encouraged Boise to “become the most livable city in the country” and in 2008 formed the Department of Arts & History from its predecessor the Boise City Arts Commission. This initiative illustrates that Boise’s leaders recognize the relationship between culture, economy, and livability.

Boise is fortunate that city leaders include arts and culture in discussion of the local economy, acknowledging that a robust creative economy is essential to the economic health of Boise. The city participated in Arts & Economic Prosperity II, III, and IV. The data from the earlier studies (II and III) provided the basis for the mayor and city council to award the Mayor’s Cultural Economic Development grants to several organizations in 2010 and 2011, a significant effort given the economic recession nationwide.

City leaders identified funding—generated by the rental of city rail property for two years—to cultural organizations that have an on-going positive impact on Boise’s economy. The funds made a big difference to these organizations, and helped at least two of them meet their budget for the year. In addition, one organization was designated the city’s first-ever Cultural Ambassador. Read the rest of this entry »

The Subversive Tack: Arts + Sustainability

Posted by Tara Aesquivel On April - 4 - 2012

Tara Aesquivel

Sometimes it feels like I lead a double life. Okay, pretty much every day.

Persona A: I’ve been a performing musician for most of my life; I have degrees in music and arts management; I devote what other people call “free time” to EAL/LA and Inner-City Arts, and; most of my social outings at arts events.

Persona B: I grew up in rural Missouri, where my grandpa was a farmer; I’m really concerned about the purity of our food supply; I try to buy clothes only made from natural fibers, and; my full-time job is with the Urban Sustainability program at Antioch University Los Angeles.

Deeply and intuitively, I know these two personas are not dissonant and they must have developed from the same place within me.

I have yet to eloquently describe how and why, but being around sustainability folks has given me some big clues. (Guess what? They’re mostly into the arts, too.)

One of these folks is Jenny Price. Whatever brief glimpse into Jenny’s bio I could share would be an under-representation of her awesomeness, so I’ll encourage you to read some of her work instead. Read the rest of this entry »

Kansas Makes a Fashion Statement

Posted by Harlan Brownlee On June - 7 - 2011

Harlan Brownlee

Once again, Kansas has distinguished itself as a “trendsetter.”

Yes, those are the words of Kansas Governor Brownback when he refers to his action to eliminate the Kansas Arts Commission and put in place a private foundation to fund the arts in Kansas.

Sorry to break the news governor, but those of us who live and breathe the arts on a daily basis, those of us who are in the trenches and have witnessed firsthand the economic and community building benefits of the arts, particularly in rural Kansas, think your approach is misguided.

Both the Kansas House and Senate understood why your plan was not in the best interest of Kansas citizens. In fact, both unilaterally approved funding for the arts and a Republican-led effort in the Senate overrode your executive order to eliminate the Kansas Arts Commission. Read the rest of this entry »

Mary Kennedy McCabe

For those of us who call Kansas home we have one more opportunity to suffer Thomas Frank’s oft-quoted book, What’s the Matter with Kansas?.

Mid-America Arts Alliance (M-AAA), my organization, has been struggling for months with how to handle the elimination of the Kansas Arts Commission (KAC) since this situation is unprecedented in the 47-year history of state arts agencies in America. We are an alliance of six states (Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas), serving a part of the country with tremendous arts participation but minimal political capital for the arts.

We are deeply concerned for the artists, arts organizations, arts educators, and arts participants and audiences, who will undoubtedly be affected by the loss of the KAC support and leadership. There is no doubt that individuals will lose their jobs and organizations will go out of business as a result of Governor Brownback’s action. Read the rest of this entry »