The (In)Efficiencies of Scale (Part Two)

Posted by Michael Hickey On January - 25 - 2013

Michael Hickey

(Editor’s Note: Michael continues his response to our Animating Democracy Blog Salon from December 2012 in this post. It was originally published on his Man-About-Town.org site January 13, 2013.)

The Means of Production

When you “produce” something, that’s a very different process from “creating” something. Production is about assembly, and scaled production means you can bring all the pieces together in an orderly, timely fashion. Again, this works best when both inputs and outputs are standardized.

Automobiles, microfinance, and high school educations all share this in common. In my comments to Ian’s blog post, I noted that the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with it’s $300 million annual budget, “produces” quite a bit of art: that is, it has assembled a stunning diversity of work created by others. But the process it uses to produce this art is highly standardized, as is the way that we consume it.

When it comes right down to it, the Metropolitan Museum of Art actually creates very little art itself. The same is true for the other captains of the NYC cultural sector (Lincoln Center, MoMA, the Guggenheim, Carnegie Hall), and the rule holds true in other sectors as well.

Therefore: Greater scale = Greater standardization. Read the rest of this entry »

The (In)Efficiencies of Scale (Part One)

Posted by Michael Hickey On January - 22 - 2013

Michael Hickey

ARTSBlog recently hosted a [Blog Salon] called: “Scaling Up: Does Size Matter?” The short answer is hell yes it does, but I disagree with a few of the writers about why.

I found the best piece in the series was penned by the whip-smart Ian David Moss (“Economies and Diseconomies of Scale in the Arts – Take Two”), and it was his post that inspired both me to both write an initial comment, and then to take on the subject more fully below.

You see, dear reader, like many of my fellow funders and financiers I’ve often touted the benefits of moving toward greater scale: improved operational efficiencies, greater programmatic reach, increased access to resources, heavier political punch. But I’ve also struggled with the oft recognized but seldom addressed reality that scale is not an answer in and of itself, and that sometimes scaled solutions leave even larger problems in their wake. Thanks to Ian, I think I got the mental kick in the epiphany I needed.

I hope you’ll enjoy this two-part miniseries on why I think scale sometimes, well, stinks up the joint.

The Mechanics of Moving Capital

I don’t care how you’re doing it, when it comes to getting money out the door it’s always easier to do it in big chunks. Whether you’re making a grant, extending a loan, or placing private equity, cost per transaction is lower if you make fewer, larger transactions. This is axiomatic. Read the rest of this entry »

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: Read the rest of this entry »

An Artist Reflects on Growth through the Eyes of His Community

Posted by Regin Igloria On December - 6 - 2012

Regin Igloria

Staying small sounds a bit counter-intuitive to creative types, especially artists.

Take into consideration the many years of art school where teachers keep telling students to “work bigger” so that they can “see that piece done on a much larger scale.” Sometimes it speaks beyond the formal issues of a piece: understanding that the effectiveness of its meaning and concept can be directly related to the size of the audience it has reached.

I’ve been thinking about this topic of scale my entire career, not just as a studio artist, but as a teacher and arts administrator who constantly has to create opportunities for others in the field while maintaining some sense of respect for my own creative ambitions.

My full-time paying gig is serving as the Director of Artists-In-Residence at The Ragdale Foundation, where artists, writers, and composers are offered time and space to get important work done.

As administrators, we are constantly balancing the working conditions of the artists, especially when it comes time to “gather round the dinner table.” Yes, sometimes the space where we consume our food is more important than the size of the studio where we make work.

We’ve kept the number of residents to about a dozen residents per session, so everyone can sit family-style at one large table rather than in separate clique-y style cafeteria tables. This is just one example of how to keep the residents engaged with appropriate peers (Author’s Note: You can read about the various types of programs through the Alliance of Artist Communities.) Read the rest of this entry »

Creating, Collaborating, Connecting with Art, Activism, and the Internet

Posted by Xavier Cortada On December - 5 - 2012

Xavier Cortada

At the end of the last millennium, when the internet was young, I installed two webcams in my studio and invited people watching me out in cyberspace to share their ideas in a chat room. I would incorporate their views into the murals I was creating in my “webstudio.”

Back then, I was painting collaborative message murals to address important social concerns in different locations around the world (AIDS in Africa, child welfare in Bolivia, peace in Northern Ireland gangs in Philadelphia).

The collaborative murals mattered because I wanted to amplify people’s voices, share their concerns. I wanted to expand the circle of participants beyond those I could reach in person. The webcams and the webstudio were my way of trying to expand beyond geographic boundaries. Back then, I think the farthest I got from my Miami studio was Atlanta.

Since then, technology has developed to a level where online and human interaction has revolutionized communication to an extent unimaginable when I first created that early project. Art making can have exclusively online manifestation, reaching millions in space and time. It is indisputable that one can also build a sense of community online—ask Facebook.

We have even created realms where we can have second lives fully inhabit a completely virtual reality. And that is good: I find participatory art projects that engage individuals locally across communities to be address global concerns very powerful. Read the rest of this entry »

The Baltimore Art + Justice Project: A Question of Scope, Not Scale

Posted by Karen Stults and Kalima Young On December - 5 - 2012

Karen Stults

At the Baltimore Art + Justice Project, we generally do not debate the merits of scale. We are a citywide project based in Baltimore. Our scale is fixed. What we have wrestled with, adapted to, and been challenged by is the question of scope.

Scale is about numbers. Scope is about variety.

A project designed by Director of the Office of Community Engagement at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) Karen Stults, the Baltimore Art + Justice Project was originally designed as an asset inventory for the newly-minted office. In building the office, there was a distinct and urgent need to more fully understand MICA’s impact and role as a community-engaged campus in Baltimore City.

The asset inventory was to identify where, how, and with whom MICA was engaged in arts-based social change in the city, as a framework for the creation of new programs that avoid duplication, build on strengths, and increase impact.

When presented with the opportunity to receive national funding from the Open Society Foundations in New York, and to use the data collection process as a means to also contributing to a larger dialogue about the role of socially-engaged art and design, the MICA-specific inventory expanded to a citywide initiative. Read the rest of this entry »

Economies and Diseconomies of Scale in the Arts

Posted by Ian David Moss On December - 4 - 2012

Ian David Moss

How does scale influence impact in the arts?

In 2007, back when I was a fresh-faced grad student, I actually addressed this question head on in the eighth post ever published on Createquity. I argued pretty strongly that scale in the arts was a myth, or at least not salient to the same extent as in other fields:

“It’s not that I don’t think large arts organizations do good work, or that they don’t deserve to be supported. What I’m going to argue instead is that there is a tendency among many institutional givers to direct their resources toward organizations that have well-developed support infrastructure, long histories, and vast budgets, and in a lot of ways it’s a tendency that doesn’t make much sense (or at the very least, could use some balance).

For one thing, those well-developed support infrastructures don’t come cheap. Consider the case of Carnegie Hall… [snip]

In contrast, small arts organizations are extraordinarily frugal with their resources, precisely because they have no resources of which to speak. It’s frankly amazing to me what largely unheralded art galleries, musical ensembles, theater companies, dance troupes, and performance art collectives are able accomplish with essentially nothing but passion on their side.

A $5,000 contribution that would barely get you into the sixth-highest donor category at Carnegie might radically transform the livelihood of an organization like this. Suddenly, they might be able to buy some time in the recording studio, or hire an accompanist for rehearsals, or redo that floor in the lobby, or even (gasp) PAY their artists! All of which previously had seemed inconceivable because of the poverty that these organizations grapple with.” Read the rest of this entry »

ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Teaching Artists

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Charting the Future of the Arts

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices

Evaluation

Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

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.