Observing Where We Are, How We Got Here, & What is Next

Posted by Jennifer Bransom On March - 15 - 2012

Jennifer Bransom

Bringing people together to partner on a hot-button issue such as quality is tricky. And that, my friends, is an understatement, wouldn’t you agree?

When navigating these waters it’s important to chart where you’ve been and how you arrived where you are.

Over the past two years Big Thought, with the support of The Wallace Foundation, has digitally documented our community’s quality teaching and learning work at Creating Quality. We hope this site will serve as a place for community dialogue and sharing, both locally and nationally.

All of the material in the Tools and Resource Library (e.g., letters, reports, templates) that were created in Dallas can be downloaded and edited per your needs. This is because we don’t imagine that quality looks the same in any two places.

Ownership of quality is essential. And, ownership only comes when you, as a fully engaged partner, have defined quality in terms that you are prepared to support. Then, and only then, can you assess and make investments to advance quality.

This is how the Dallas arts community embraced and folded-in district and community educators from the other four disciplines: English/language arts, math, science, and social studies. Read the rest of this entry »

The Parallels of Quality Dining and Quality Arts Education

Posted by Jennifer Bransom On March - 12 - 2012

Jennifer Bransom

First, let me confess that I’m trapped on a plane and hungry. I’m dreaming of a great dinner and hoping I can get a recommendation when my plane touches down.

What does this have to do with quality arts education? Well, I’m hoping for a quality dining experience and here is how I imagine I’ll find it.

I’ll ask someone for a recommendation, and she’ll say, “Oh you should try (insert name of restaurant).” This begins a conversation that will teach me why this particular restaurant is being recommended. Is it because of the food, maybe even a particular menu item, or did my friend/cabbie also factor in service, ambiance, speed, cost, etc.?

A quality dining experience means different things to different people. Why should it be any different when we discuss quality arts education?

As I mentioned, and you’ve no doubt experienced, the question, “Can you recommend a restaurant?” is the beginning of a conversation. By listening and asking questions about what is being recommended and why it is better than some other restaurant, I get to know the person offering the suggestion and what she values.

Often (though not always) I feel that we, as arts educators, shy away from similar conversations about quality within our field. If you came to Dallas and asked me to recommend a restaurant, I’d definitely share some of my favorite places. And, it wouldn’t scar me for life if you disagreed with or didn’t visit any of my offerings. I know not everyone has the same tastes. Read the rest of this entry »

Wallace Studies Offer 21st Century Answers for Audience Engagement

Posted by Tim Mikulski On February - 15 - 2012

Tim Mikulski

Late last year, the Wallace Foundation released a series of studies under the banner “Wallace Studies in Building Arts Audiences.”

The series includes four case studies highlighting examples of audience engagement with new and younger audiences without alienating loyal and long-time constituencies.

The four case studies run the arts discipline gamut from the San Francisco Girls Chorus to the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Boston Lyric Opera, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Each study is available for downloading and three of the four include online extras that help further illustrate the organizations’ work.

Here’s a quick rundown on the case studies:

More Than Just a Party – “Senior management gave a team of young middle managers the authority to plan and run an evening event aimed at both attracting more 18-34-year-olds and encourage them to engage with the art. Through a series of inventive steps, from hosting games that enabled exploration of the artworks to using hip, young volunteers, the team created a program that exceeded expectations.”

Cultivating the Next Generation of Art Lovers — “[Boston Lyric Opera] would take its abridged operas used in school programs, and turn them into high-quality productions for families…the family performances would feature not only professionals singers, but also an orchestra and new costumes, props, and sets…Post-show surveys revealed the majority of adult attendees were opera fans who wanted to introduce their children to the art form, thus meeting two of [their] goals—providing children with their first experience of opera and creating opportunities for their busy parents to attend performances.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Post-Jerk Era

Posted by Lex Leifheit On November - 8 - 2011

Lex Leifheit

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about jerks.

Steve Jobs Was A Jerk. Good For Him. writes Forbes contributor Gene Marks.

Al Davis, all-time great a**hole, was Slate editor Jeremy Stahl’s take on the passing of the infamous owner of the Oakland Raiders.

Marks wonders if embracing his inner jerk would make him more successful. Stahl asks, “What do we do when a legendary figure who was also kind of a jerk dies?”

As an arts worker, I frequently fantasize about a Post-Jerk Era. One only needs to read a newspaper or favorite blog to see that a “jerk” model of leadership and programming is still embraced in the arts.


  • Jerks are dictatorial…and so is a lot of our programming. Seasons and exhibitions are decided by one curator or artistic director. Community initiatives are sidelined rather than central to marketing, programming and education.
  • Jerks are narcissistic. They put their name and image on everything and emphasize the importance of their vision. This is true for many of our most influential arts leaders.
  • Jerks sensationalize whatever they are selling you with words like “premier,” “best,” and “new.” In the arts, we are experiencing a moment where some funders are putting innovation (new!) and physical expansion ahead of community impact. Read the rest of this entry »