Category Archives: travel

APAP Recap: Curating Place, Building Community (Part 2 of 2)

I’m a few months behind on my blogging, but, it’s spring break! So, back to APAP 2012. I left off with the Saturday morning session on leadership, where that shifty buzzword “community” came up again and again. Well, it was back on Saturday afternoon, but perhaps in its clearest articulation yet:

Pecha Kucha: What Great Acts Have Happened in Our Communities? -Ben Cameron (Doris Duke Charitable Foundation)

APAP Pecha Kucha

Pecha Kucha session at APAP|NYC. Credit: Jacob Belcher/APAP

The Saturday afternoon plenary was likely the highlight for most administrators at APAP. In addition to learning what exactly pecha kucha is and how to say it, we were told 7 inspirational, often brilliant stories from leaders in the field, hosted by the ebullient Ben Cameron. These stories all touched on the idea that art makes community and community makes art. Here’s a tidy list of the speakers and some key ideas from their presentations; most important are the links to discover the work they are doing.

  1. Linda Nelson (Opera House Arts, Stonington, ME): In a tiny fishing community on an island off the coast of Maine, Linda Nelson, the executive director for Opera House Arts, is living by the motto “Incite Art, Create Community.” By embracing the power of place, she has transformed the town’s old opera house into a community development center with art at its core.
  2. Josephine Ramirez (The James Irvine Foundation): The James Irvine Foundation is putting money where their mouth is, providing risk capital to organizations and spreading the gospel of community engagement with hardcore research.
  3. John Fetterman (Mayor of Braddock, PA): Once a city of 20,000, home to the first Carnegie library and a flourishing downtown, Braddock, PA was just a few years ago home to only 2,500 residents, crumbling buildings, and a skyrocketing crime rate. John Fetterman became mayor by one vote in 2005 and has since undertaken a nationally recognized revitalization effort. His work demonstrates the power of “baby steps” and the profound change that can follow the fostering of pride in place.
  4. John Michael Schert (Trey McIntyre Project, Boise, ID): When the contemporary dance company The Trey McIntyre Project needed a permanent home in 2008, they chose Boise, Idaho. The city of Boise has since become the company’s greatest cheerleader and inspiration. Executive director and principal dancer John Michael Schert has led the charge in creating a company uniquely engrained in its community, from promotional photography that works just as well for the tourism board to drinks at the local watering hole named after each dancer in the company.
  5. Diane Paulus (American Repertory Theater, Cambridge, MA): Everyone knows Diane Paulus as the Broadway director of the revivals of Hair and now The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. But as the artistic director at A.R.T., she has also specialized in unique collaborations that seek to realize the potential of the world-renowned intellectual community in which her company resides.
  6. Marc Bamuthi Joseph (Living Word Project / LIFEisLIVING, San Francisco, CA): Spoken word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph delivered a stunning performance for his pecha kucha offering. Over 20 slides he rapped and rhymed the story of framing the eco-equity movement in terms of “life” instead of “green”, of speaking with communities instead of at them. His words “art is not object but process” have deep and diverse implications for anyone in the field.
  7. Retha Cilliers (The Field Band Foundation, Johannesburg, South Africa): Transforming lives and teaching life skills in the shantytowns of Johannesburg through the “discipline and creativity of music and movement”. Sort of says it all.

One last note: the pecha kucha format is fantastic. This was my first live encounter with it. Seems to force presenters to prepare in advance and more importantly to be clear, concise, and creative.

Power, Influence, and the Performing ArtsStudents from the Bolz Center for Arts Administration (Laura Blegen, Danielle Boyke, Andrew Maxfield, Joanna Simpson, Marcella Dover, and Me), moderated by Andrew Taylor (Bolz Center Director)

Our Sunday morning session attempted to offer different frameworks for answering the following questions: How do I get from point A to point B if I don’t have the power necessary to do so? How do I get a seat at the proverbial table in my community? How do we affect change in our community or workplace?

Drawing on research from sociology, political science, and business, the specific frameworks we talked about were social network analysis, social movement theory, political power structures, and organizational behavior. With each, we tried to boil down some essential takeaways applicable to any individual or organization in the arts:

My sense was that most found plenty of food for thought in our presentation, but as tends to happen, the conversation that followed was likely more interesting. We were lucky enough to have comments from Bob Lynch (President and CEO of Americans for the Arts), Jonathan Katz (CEO of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies), and Mark Nerenhausen (Director of the Janklow Arts Leadership Program at Syracuse University). One comment that really stuck with me came from Bob Lynch, who pointed out that in the arts, we tend to want power, but without a clear idea of what for. Setting a goal and establishing the context for what you hope to achieve is necessary before scrambling for the power and influence to do it.

The Village Beat: Taking Action - John Hearn (SYPartners)

The Sunday plenary session, my last at the conference, was a hands on affair led by John Hearn, a consultant who works with major corporations on organizational transformation. I had the pleasure of meeting with John along with other Bolz Center students the day before to discuss what we were observing at the conference. More so than the “official” themes, we tried to relay some of the concerns we were hearing in the questions asked by participants at prior sessions.

What John came up with was sort of brilliant, if a bit abstract: physical objects (a map, a coffee cup with change in it, etc.) and stories (about JFK’s decision to go to the moon, about building the Empire State Building) meant to inspire participants to reflect on the real change needed in their communities. The fascinating thing to observe here was that people didn’t get it. John kept trying to bring the conversation back to how arts presenters can better serve the world in which they exist, but the arts presenters could only come up with arts-based solutions (the idea was to identify any effective solutions and then see what role the arts could play in them). Sorry, but, more art in and of itself isn’t a solution to a community’s economic woes.

Okay, so this post was more to clear my “drafts” box than anything else at this point, but hopefully there is still some useful insight here. APAP was a strange and wonderful experience. It’s a working conference, people are making deals and booking acts in real time, so the professional development elements can get lost. Still, administrators’ concerns for the future and their confusion about how to genuinely connect with one’s “place” were all palpable and very much real. The world is changing, rapidly. Arts orgs want to keep up but are still figuring out how. Perhaps trying to “figure it out” is the real problem here. It may be time to stop thinking and start doing.


APAP Recap: Curating Place, Building Community (Part 1 of 2)

I had the good fortune of attending APAP|NYC 2012 two weeks ago, from Friday, January 6th to Sunday the 8th. I traveled with colleagues from the Bolz Center to present a session on power and influence in the performing arts. Our little posse of grad students was also charged with spotting the key trends and themes emerging at the conference in order to help John Hearn craft a fully integrated and relevant plenary session on Sunday morning.

The buzzword of the conference was, far and away, “community.” There were many acknowledgements that this is an incredibly mushy word and vague concept, but there was also consensus that it must be at the core of the mission and operations of performing arts presenters. As I’ll get to in a minute, though, perhaps a prerequisite for “community” is a sense of place. And this is where things get interesting, where the physical space of a performing arts center meets the curatorial decisions its administrators make.With that in mind, here are some highlights from the sessions I attended:

Trends in Curatorial Practice in the Performing ArtsPamela Tatge (Weslyean University), Sam Miller (Lower Manhattan Cultural Council), Judy Hussie-Taylor (Danspace Project), Kristy Edmunds (UCLA Live), Philip Bither (Walker Art Center)

ICPP Panel

Kristy Edmunds, Sam Miller, Philip Bither and Judy Hussie-Taylor. (Credit: ICPP)

This was a fascinating panel of creative thinkers and leaders who all also happen to be instructors at Weslyean’s Institute for Curatorial Practice in Performance. Less about trends, the panel was more a discussion of what curation actually means. So here we go, “curation in the performing arts is ___________”:

  • Bither: “more than just a season”, “a point of view”, “about balance”
  • Hussie-Taylor: “a platform for something to happen”, “artist-centric”
  • Edmunds: “protecting the soul of a given something”, ensuring “the completeness of experience”

Edmunds also emphasized the need for administrators to be “awake”, both to the art itself and to the world outside. Having never worked for a presenting organization, I took much of this to mean that curation is higher-level presenting, something that requires resources and institutional support but also a certain willingness to be creative, bold, and thorough in planning. It was a great lens to bring to the rest of the conference.

Setting the Stage for Owning the Road Ahead - Carol Coletta (ArtPlace)

Carol Coletta

Carol Coletta of ArtPlace

Carol Colleta got right down to it and expressed very clearly her belief that arts organizations need to be adding “vibrancy” to communities. Vibrant communities attract and retain talent, which is good for business growth and increases the median salary in a region. And this is what local governments want.

Carol laid out this cause and effect chain to demonstrate how arts organizations can justify what they do to funders and governmental entities, because the old justifications (educational benefits, etc.) are not working. In her words, “people don’t want to hear your story, they want to hear their own story.”

Thinking of an arts organization in terms of the vibrancy it adds to a community is also a valuable metric internally, one that goes beyond butts in seats or students reached. Vibrancy is the sum of everything an organization does, and if your community is not coalescing around your organization in a palpable way, perhaps you need to re-think the fundamentals of your model. As was surely the goal of the conference planners, this first plenary session provided the base for the next morning’s discussions, which again kept coming back to community.

Us: How do we lead? - Steve Wolff (AMS Planning and Research), Liz Lerman (Dance Exchange), Joseph R. Bankoff (Woodruff Arts Center)

The Saturday morning professional development sessions were divided into “We”, “They”, and “Us”. I attended “Us”, which was theoretically the combination of we, the presenters, and they, the audiences and communities. Steve Wolff, who led the session, started off with an ode to the necessity of change. As most would agree, Wolff stated that we have to “do more better”, and move away from just being “viable” to being “vital” (a wording a really like and may steal!). He cited there key reasons for the urgency of change:

  1. Economic conditions demand innovation
  2. Community demographics call for inclusivity
  3. Customer interactions are changing with technology, need for more involvement

While performing arts organizations currently focus on “excellence and efficiency”, they should be focusing on “effectiveness and entanglement”.  Similar to Coletta’s concept of vibrancy, entanglement is the notion of becoming essential to one’s community. Mr. Wolff came armed with helpful frameworks and useful definitions for innovation and community, but the session really took off once Liz Lerman jumped in.

Lerman said a few things broadly applicable to leadership and change that I found fascinating, paraphrased here:

  • Don’t rank the different voices in your head “live horizontally”
  • In the arts, its not just about being a good leader but being a good follower
  • Leadership is sharing ownership and being open
  • When implementing change, remember that “change always brings loss” of some kind
  • Creating structure around the new helps facilitate its adaptation

Joseph Bankoff of the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta was also insightful, and expressed his belief in the importance of Wolff’s notion of entanglement. Specifically, he talked about the “so what?” test he does with every program and initiative. If there isn’t a clear answer to the “so what?” question, than there likely isn’t enough community impact. Yup, there’s that word again…

More to come in Part 2 of my APAP 2012 recap.

Upcoming: Tom Wopat Awards, Opera America, LA Ring

I’m looking forward presenting at the first annual Tommy Awards in Madison this weekend, having been a reviewer (albeit not the most prolific one) for the initiative this past year. I’m also excited to be off to LA next week for the Opera America National Conference. Expect more on that shortly, including reaction to the Achim Freyer designed Die Walküre at LA Opera, with Placido Domingo as Siegmund. Funny, my first Walküre was at the Met 5 years ago, also with Domingo. Some thought that was his last, but he’s still kicking (and singing). Here’s a preview of the production:

…a little wacky, but I’m liking it. We’ll see how it holds up live.

Now and then

Connecticut, September 2008

Ratchaburi Province, Thailand, June 2008
Most days it feels like Thailand was a dream. I’m writing an article now on orchestra life in Bangkok which is helping to keep some of the memories and tastes and sounds fresh, and seeing Thai politics in Western papers as of late has encouraged me to keep up old contacts and read Thai-based media more regularly. Still, everything about what I am doing right now feels so incredibly removed from what I was doing less than three months ago that seeing these pictures in the same upload batch today was almost shocking.