Ben Cameron at Arts Learning Xchange


Uploaded by artsmidwest on 18.12.2012

Transcript:
- Thank you.
Thank you all very much, and good afternoon.
Actually, you referenced-- which is totally off my script,
but I'm gonna tell it anyway--
you referenced the Minneapolis to Chicago ride
that I did twice,
which totally changed my life, I have to say.
When I lived here in the mid-'90s,
I rode on behalf of AIDS agencies and HIV
to raise money for AIDS relief,
and the one thing that I often tell arts groups
that I will share with you
only because this was raised was,
my second year, pedaling along in Wisconsin
beside an 18-year-old who was struggling to keep up...
[laughter]
I always say that.
You know, there were two things about the ride
that you had to do.
You had to be 18 years old to go,
for liability purposes.
You had to raise $2,500.
You raised $2,499;
you weren't allowed to pedal out.
And I was next to this kid, and I looked down,
and his front wheels were a blur of, like, yellow.
And I said, "So what is that? What gives?"
And he said, "Well, they're Post-it Notes."
Now, when I grew up,
we put playing cards on our spokes with clothespins
so our bicycles would go...
[spluttering]
You know, and make noise like motorcycles.
But these were Post-it Notes, not playing cards.
And I said, "So what is that?"
And this kid said,
"You know, I wanted to do this ride.
It was really important to me."
And he said, "I'd never raised a dime in my life,
"and I didn't know how I was gonna raise $2,500,
"and I got this idea that if you gave me $150--
"which I thought most of my friends could do
"if they really dug deep-- if you gave me $150,
I would make you a spokesperson."
[laughter]
And he said, "Each one of those yellow Post-its
is the name of a different donor that gave me $150."
He said-- I love it.
And he said, "I'm taking my donors on my ride with me,"
which I thought was powerful.
And he said, "When I get to Chicago,
"I'm gonna take the wheels apart,
and I'm gonna mail each donor their own individual spoke."
That kid raised $17,000.
[audience murmurs]
And I always say-- God.
Okay, I'm verklemmt.
No, and I would say-- what I want to say is,
if a kid who has never raised a dime in his life
can raise $17,000
for something he cares passionately about,
there is nothing in this world that a properly motivated
group of arts supporters and activists
thinking creatively and holistically
can't accomplish for any community.
So that's my bicycle story.
Okay.
So back to the script proper.
Thank you so much.
You know, it is a great pleasure to be back here,
especially now, in a time when you have defeated
the prohibition of gay marriage...
[cheers and applause]
When you, as a state,
have turned your back on mindless demonization--
Michele Bachmann not withstanding.
[laughter]
And when you have reaffirmed a political agenda
that is around inclusion and optimism
and diversity and collective action.
I do--I say this in all sincerity--
I miss it here every single day,
and I'm especially honored to be back with you
as you close out this important initiative.
You know, you're closing it out after four great years
of meetings after extraordinary seminars
and workshops,
after deeply inspiring speeches today,
starting with Sharon DeMark's contextualization
of how the world is different now than at the beginning,
followed by Nina Simon, rock star extraordinaire,
who I thought just blew me out of the water,
and I thought, "Oh, dear God.
"Why do I have to follow her?
Please kill me now."
And by your own stories,
your own stories throughout the day,
which have been about successes and breakthroughs
and what you have learned in the four years
that have transpired since we all began,
questions of openness and curiosity and learning
that I hope you'll allow me to explore in turn
as I, too, come full circle,
having, as already mentioned,
opened the first Learning Xchange
and now being charged with closing the last one out.
You know, frankly, when I came here
and spoke to you all in 2009,
we were reeling.
Yes, it is true--
we had just gotten $50 million
in the federal bailout for the arts.
Yes, it is true-- the arts and culture--
or the Cultural Legacy Fund
had recently passed in Minnesota.
But a lot of us, me included,
we were dazed; we were confused.
We were cutting budgets massively.
We were laying people off.
We were eliminating health care for benefits.
We were holding fire sales, and we were watching
many of our most cherished colleagues
potentially close and shutter their doors forever.
And, you know, if truth really be told,
behind closed doors, a lot of us were saying,
in all honesty,
"Are the discussions and the meetings we're having
"tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs
"on the 'Titanic'?
"And are we part of an industry whose day has come
"and we should just really be grateful
"we were a part of it
"but the world has moved on
and our chapter may be drawing to a close?"
You know, for me,
frames are really useful to think about
and give me a sort of clarity as I think about issues
and not long after I was with you all,
I was with--at a thing called the ISPA Conference
in New York, and I was astounded
when somebody in the audience raised their hand
and said, "What if the moment we are facing in the arts
"is the equivalent of the religious reformation
"of the 15th century?
What if we are in the arts reformation?"
And I thought, "God, that's a great question."
You know, if you know your history,
you know that the religious reformation
was facilitated in large part by technological reinvention.
The printing press was invented.
Suddenly anybody could have a Bible.
You said something
and nailed it on the door in Germany;
it could be reproduced en masse
and up on doors in France within 48 hours.
And God knows, we are in the midst
of a technological revolution
and a redistribution of knowledge.
Secondarily, the religious reformation
upended and decimated old business models.
If you know Russell Willis Taylor
of National Arts Strategies,
she has said, "The reformation
"was a great time to be a land buyer
and a rotten time to be a monastery."
And on some level, especially in this city right now,
I think a lot of people are asking,
"Is the orchestra model, for example,
the monastery of today?"
But probably third and most profoundly,
the reformation, at its very heart,
challenged the necessity of intermediation
in a divine spiritual experience.
Why do I need a priest to intercede to God for me?
A question that's finding a direct corollary
as people challenge
the necessity of a professional artist
to have a creative experience.
And just as I think the religious reformation
reconceived and broadened the universe
of how religion would operate, where religion would operate,
with whom it would operate,
who would be empowered to act,
which gave new possibilities
for laypeople to assume responsibility
for their own spiritual destinies
and new roles for clergy to play as well,
we are watching right now
an explosion of new practices and assumptions
in the arts movement.
We are acknowledging today the blurring
of the traditional lines that have separated
the professional from the amateur,
the emergence on one hand
of what we've called the "pro-ams"--
I talked about it last time--
avocational citizens
doing work at a professional level.
You see their work on YouTube and film festivals,
dance competitions and more.
And at the other extreme: hybrid artists--
vocational trained artists
who are choosing to work no longer
in symphony halls or opera houses or museums
not out of economic necessity
but because they believe the work they are called to do
cannot be accomplished
in the traditional hermetic arts environment.
We are seeing the explosion of artists and managers
inventing new practices where none have existed before,
and they are expanding our sense of the aesthetic possibility
even while they are challenging the presumed ability
of traditional organizations to set the cultural agenda.
Now, on the one hand, if you think I'm saying
this means that all the big institutions are over,
I want to be totally clear about this.
The religious reformation
did not mean the end of the Catholic Church,
a church that continues to be deeply meaningful
as it provides spiritual experience
to millions worldwide.
And whatever else we do,
I think we have to collectively be thoughtful
about nurturing, preserving, and protecting
the best of our institutions.
They give us our best shot of lives of economic dignity--
not even opulence--
of dignity for artists and arts professionals.
And they're the logical place
where artists who need a certain work of a scale
can work and exist.
But at the same time,
I think those institutions
are likely to be fewer in number,
and I think they're less likely to command the lion's share
of the philanthropic resources
as they may have done in the past.
And so whichever kind of organization you sit in,
I think it's worth entertaining
at least three questions for the future.
What if our role
is no longer to produce artistic work
but our role is social orchestration?
Orchestration in which the performance or the exhibit
is a piece but only a piece
of what we're called to do.
What if our job
is not merely to create products to be consumed
but to provide experiences that serve as springboards
to our audience's own creativity?
What if we no longer think of ourselves
as self-contained organizations and institutions
but as platforms designed to aggregate creative energy?
You know, I think without phrasing them in quite that way,
this morning, you heard Nina Simon talk very strongly
about what the possibilities are when an organization
can organically, holistically, deeply take those questions
into the fiber of its being and act upon those questions.
And recognizing that the world of objects
and the world of performers is different,
just to complement that, I want to tell you the story
of a performing arts organization
who has inspired me in a similar way.
The Trey McIntyre Project, for those of you who don't know,
is a dance company begun by Trey McIntyre,
a choreographer who had worked at Houston Ballet,
Seattle Ballet, Boston Ballet, and others,
and who, just five years ago, decided,
"I want a full-time company of my own."
When he announced that decision,
donors in all of those communities said,
"Trey, come here. We will write the check.
And we're gonna make it happen for you."
And instead, he deliberately decided
to settle the company in Boise, Idaho,
a town of fewer than 200,000 people,
a five-hour drive by car from the nearest--
next major urban area,
an organization with no vested interest
in contemporary dance
and no particular funding stream for the arts at all.
Once in Boise, to get people's attention,
Trey began not by sending billboards or flyers
or newspaper articles.
He began to get people's attention
by what he called "SpUrbans,"
for "spontaneous urban events."
If you were downtown during the workday in Boise,
suddenly dancers would appear from seven different directions,
go...
For three minutes
and then disappear the way they'd come,
leaving the startled public going,
"What the hell was that?"
[laughter]
They launched their first performance not at a theater
but at a drive-in movie theater,
where the audience was encouraged to tailgate.
And that performance opened with a documentary film,
a documentary film they'd shot that was not about Trey,
that was not about the dancers,
that was not about modern dance.
It was a documentary film in which each dancer
gave a personal testimonial of, "This is why I love Boise."
A different distinction
of the reversal of the traditional pipeline
that had that community
eating out of the palm of their hands
before the dancers took the first step.
When it came time for their first fund-raiser,
they actually united the whole visual arts community
by inviting any visual artist to create work
dealing with the themes of the upcoming season,
work that was then showcased at a public auction,
giving the visual artists massive exposure and visibility
and with which they split the gate.
They've worked with the Basque community,
a previously overlooked immigrant community,
to create work with and for them,
and they teach avocational classes
and programs in schools and more.
More importantly for me is,
they've aligned themselves not with an arts agenda
but with a civic agenda,
a civic agenda that's defined as,
"Boise will be the future home of world innovation,"
an agenda that is led by a group called the "Gang,"
which is composed of the mayor,
the head of the University of Idaho,
the sheriff,
the head of the chamber of commerce,
and John Michael Schert,
Trey McIntyre's managing director
and one of his lead dancers.
In one of my favorite examples of entrepreneurialism,
they have reached a new relationship
with a local high-end bar.
If you're ever there,
it's in an old restored hotel-- motel.
It's the place you go where you order a martini
that's made with muddled cucumber
and basil-infused vodka made by the mixologist,
not the bartender.
You know, it's that place.
[laughter]
And they've created an arrangement
where there's a different signature drink
named for each member of the company,
helping the community know the identities
of the dancers, which, in that field,
is all too anonymous.
If you ever go to visit them, they will try to get you
to drink your way through the company,
which you cannot do.
[laughter]
I will tell you personally,
I got through a John Michael and a Trey,
and I was on the floor.
But through a special arrangement
that supports the company,
half of the price of every drink sold
goes back to the company.
They are fearless.
They are entrepreneurial.
They are irreverent.
They are unbelievably generous.
When I was moderating a session with John Michael
at the Arts Presenters Conference,
somebody in the audience stood up and said,
"Let me tell you what it's like to present them.
"I brought them to San Francisco.
"Within an hour of their load-in,
"their managing director walked into my office
"and said, 'We have a six-figure donor
"'who lives in San Francisco.
"'I need to set up a dinner between the two of you,
so he's gonna write you a check after we're gone.'"
She said, "In 30 years,
"no one had ever given me the name of a donor,
much less a six-figure donor."
And within-- and less than five years
after they arrived in Boise,
when they left on their most recent world tour,
they arrived-- remembering,
at a city with no dedicated arts funding,
indifferent to contemporary dance, et cetera--
to find that the city had hung a banner
over the airport, saying,
"Good luck on your world tour,
"Trey McIntyre Project and Company,
"Boise's economic cultural ambassadors
to the world."
They are, no mistake--
Trey McIntyre is a world-class artist.
He works diligently and tirelessly
to bring craft and expression with professional dancers
to its highest levels.
He works in concert formats. He tours.
He does a lot of things other groups do.
But he has reframed assumptions
of how, where, with whom, for whom,
under what circumstances, with what support,
and why the work is made in the first place.
You know, I think if you really listen
to what both Trey and Nina have taught us today,
at the heart, I think, what we begin to see
is the real necessity
in the next chapter of the nonprofessional arts
to place audiences
genuinely, wholly, sincerely, organically,
at the center of our organizations.
At the risk of being heretical,
our nonprofit movement was not founded for artists.
It was founded for artists-- yes--
and the art form-- yes--
and audiences-- yes--
and we do ourselves and our communities
a profound disservice anytime we focus exclusively
on one of these to the neglect of the other two.
I would suggest to you, in all honesty,
that there is a world of difference
between a mission statement
of, "To produce the great plays,"
and a mission statement of,
"To connect audiences to great plays."
A difference that, if you take seriously,
will change how you spend every dollar,
how you structure every program,
how you conceive every event,
how you make every hire, that and more,
if you own it organically.
As Nina suggested to you this morning,
there is so much more we have to do
to fill the potential of what we can do
in our communities.
And indeed, like Nina and like Trey,
I think forward organizations are increasingly recognizing
that our historic obsession--
the performance, the exhibit, whatever that product is--
is only one piece in a much richer spectrum
of how we might think for the future.
Alan Brown, who I know was here dealing with--
or working with you all on his "Counting New Beans" book,
has also written a really good study,
which many of you may know, called "Getting in on the Act,"
which you can find on the Irvine Foundation site,
where he actually says, "You know, audience relationship
is actually a five-band spectrum."
He says, "Number one, yes,
there is the traditional performance or the exhibit."
You get up, and you do the play.
You sing the concert.
You do "Il Trovatore" or whatever you do.
Second is what he calls the elaborated exhibit,
concert, or performance,
meaning, you have the performance,
but you've given program notes;
you have audience talk-backs;
you've hung things in the lobby.
You're contextualizing
and lending a kind of scholarly patina
to what you're gonna do.
And many--maybe all of you do at least that.
But then we begin to cross a line
where we get into a new kind of audience relationship,
beginning first with the co-curated arts event,
where the audience has an active voice
in the identification and the selection
of the work that's even being produced in the first place.
You see it at the Denver Art Museum,
where they have the Denver First Person's Museum online
where any person in Denver can post an image
meaningful to him or her,
which is totally changing
how people talk about visual arts.
You see it in groups like "Demand Now,"
where you can-- if you know this website--
you can go on and say, "We demand to see
Bruce Springsteen in Minneapolis,"
and with a certain number of people,
programmers will then respond,
or people now in Shakespeare theaters
begin to vote and say,
"We're ready to see 'Coriolanus' again," or whatever.
But it's co-curated; the audience has a say.
One step further to the right is the cocreated arts event,
with the audience playing an active role
in the creation and execution of the work itself.
Liz Lerman's Dance Exchange,
a dance company ranging in age from 18 to 82,
has done this for years,
working with community people to develop a vocabulary.
You see this as well in the Elevator Repair Service
or in the Illusion Theater's recent piece
"Love and Marriage."
Bonnie, did I get that right?
"Love and Marriage"?
Where the stories are solicited from the audience,
that become the substance of the work itself.
Or you see it in Eric Whitacre's online choir.
If you haven't seen this, you have missed--
"Lux Aurumque" online--
where he auditioned thousands of singers
from dozens of country around the world,
picked a few of those singers--
150 of the singers,
that's not a few but a small proportion--
sent them a link to a site
where he would talk about pronunciation and dynamics.
Each individual laid down their own particular track,
and it's blended together
in a choir of his new composition online.
You can see it on YouTube.
Not only has that had a profound interest
in generating excitement about contemporary choral music;
Eric Whitacre is the number one best-selling living composer
in the world, based on CD sales,
in the wake of this kind of movement forward.
So that's number four.
And number five-- fifth and finally--
the flash mob or the total surrender of space,
the kind of thing about, "We give it over;
we're gonna leave it up to you,"
recognizing that a light touch in facilitation--
facilitating an environment
may be more important than a lot of control.
Now, if you listen to this five-band spectrum,
I think at the very least what we're learning is that
there are new possibilities
in going deeper within every single band.
And for me, the most inspiring in this very basic way--
or among the most inspiring--
has been Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, D.C.,
which now talks about designing their audience
just like they talk about designing the set
or designing the costumes or designing the lights.
They begin every production by sitting the playwright down--
and they do living playwrights--
they sit the playwright down and say,
"Who has to be in the room for this play to combust?"
Not, "Who might buy a ticket?"
Who has to be here for the play to go...
[imitates explosion]
A kind of dynamic question
that gives the audience an active role
in fulfilling the artwork to its highest potential,
and I have to say,
has led to some of the most electric encounters
that I have ever seen in a live theater in my life.
I saw a production there of "Clybourne Park,"
which was a play about gentrification of neighborhoods
for Washington, D.C., which, that has a lot of issues.
Their campaign was largely around the city,
saying, "Is your neighborhood Clybourne Park?"
The night I was there, it was among
the most diverse audiences I have ever seen in a theater.
That performance was shockingly vibrant,
and at the end of the play, they said,
"Okay, we're gonna sit down and talk about this."
Every single person in the theater sat back down.
Now, I usually go to audience discussion.
They say, "We're gonna have an audience discussion."
And people stampede for the bar
and leave 15 or 20 well-wishers behind.
This was a very different experience
because the audience had an active role--
and they knew it--
in bringing the play to its highest potential.
But at the other end, I also recognize,
the spectrum is really threatening,
because every time you go further to the right,
you are basically saying,
the artist has to let go of control.
You're more in control when you've got the performance.
You're less in control when you let a critic contextualize it.
You let them help make your play selection, you're less--
Every time you step further over,
you are giving up a degree of control.
And yet as Nina reminded us this morning,
arts attendance is plummeting
while arts participation is skyrocketing.
We know that within the philanthropic mix,
individual contributions are more and more important.
We know that now Kickstarter
gives away more money to the arts
than the National Endowment for the Arts gives away,
which is sort of shocking on a lot of levels.
And we know that making this bond with audiences
is the critical component
that has to guide us going forward.
And when we struggle to say, "How do we do that?"
As you yourselves have shown today
through your focus groups,
through the return like Alan Brown--
you know, those people come at me
with those white sheets and those little golf pencils,
and I think, "Oh, please. Kill me now."
But people fill those things out in record numbers
because audiences want to talk to us
about what matters.
In the dance field, the thing we found out
that audiences said we crave
that we don't have when we go to see dance
is conversation with each other.
They said, "It's great you bring Bill T. Jones into town.
"We drop him into the conversation.
"We learn a lot from Bill. He goes away.
"Conversation is over.
"How do we have this conversation?
We don't know how to do that."
And whereas, when we first unveiled--
that group said, "Oh, well, we can start blogs,
and we'll start this film series and blah-blah-blah."
A woman from Arkansas stood up and said,
"Well, I'll tell you how we do it in Arkansas."
And you saw every jaded New Yorker eyeball
roll back in their head, like...
And she said, "We put a Post-it Note
"on the outside of every program that says, 'Tell us about it.'
"We have a big glass wall at intermission;
"everybody goes and puts their Post-its up
"about what they think about the performance.
"Everybody crowds around
"to see what other people are thinking.
"The dancers come out to look and see what--
"We keep the building open late 'cause people won't leave.
"And it really costs us the price of the Post-it Notes.
"And then we ask a staff member to synthesize it
for the website, so it's an hour of staff time."
And you saw every New Yorker's jaw go...
[laughter]
"Oh, my God!"
And yet, that's just the beginning.
We are just at the beginning of thinking
how creatively we can engage their response,
not through feedbacks, not through mechanisms
like we've done with focus groups.
But my own favorite example being the New York Philharmonic,
which, several years ago, held a photo-essay contest
for the best picture of the most meaningful experience--
you know, so what did you like best about the concert--
taken on a cell phone
at the outdoor Central Park concerts.
When you hear them talk about this,
there were two things that happened.
Number one: they had between 80,000 and 90,000 entries,
and they said-- totally self-servingly--
"Which then gave us 80,000 or 90,000 email addresses
for our own purposes that we did not have,"
which is a good thing.
But they said, "Frankly, maybe 2% of the pictures
"were of musicians and the conductor,
"and the other 98% of pictures were blankets
"and stars at night and people playing
"and the wine bottles they brought,
"and we realized, 'Boy, we have never really understood
what matters to the audience about this performance at all.'"
And it's really changed
how they think about that entire interaction
and what may be going forward.
Now, how is it,
if we invest more and more in audiences,
that they can-- we can solicit this?
And indeed, for me, the most provocative question
I would hope you would ask yourselves--
and please-- as heretical as this is--
we spend a lot of time in the arts community saying,
"People don't understand how important the arts are.
"People don't get us.
"People don't value the arts where I live.
People don't respect the arts."
Let's ask the question differently.
Let's ask: what if people are passionately,
overwhelmingly, irreplaceably
in love with the arts?
We can't wean them from their YouTube
and their iPads and their iPods
and their films and going to movies
and renting movies and more.
What if we took for granted that they love the arts?
They just don't love our delivery mechanisms of them.
And if that's the case,
what might we do differently to meet them
where their love may be?
Rather than trying to herald them
to a place that they are indifferent to visiting.
You know, more than rethinking all of this,
I think that this really requires organizations
to think profoundly differently.
And when we met in 2009,
we, at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation,
had just given our first round of grants
to support innovation as a kind of precursor
to helping organizations think differently,
and this is gonna be my confessional moment.
You know, for those of you
who haven't heard me talk about this,
we defined innovation in a threefold way,
courtesy of Richard Evans, who is the chair of EMC Arts,
where he said, "Innovation
is new pathways to value delivery."
Now, I'm gonna stop there for a second,
because the original statement was,
"New pathways to mission fulfillment."
And they've changed it to,
"New pathways to value delivery."
And I think there's something there
about how often the rigidity with which we see our missions
can actually inhibit our thinking
at a time when we need to be expansive,
and so they talk about,
"How do we deliver value to our community?"
Not, "How do we adhere to our mission?"
Okay, so new pathways.
Second thing: it's discontinuous from previous practice.
In Richard's driving terms, he means,
you took a hard left;
you didn't take a gradual right.
And then the third piece is,
it springs from changes
in underlying organizational assumptions.
The classic example is--
many of you are marketing directors-
if you're a marketing director
and you've said, "Oh, oh, oh, oh,
"there's a new thing called the internet.
"We've got to get online,
"and we're gonna just send out all those email brochures,
"and we're gonna send out the eblasts about the performance,
and we're gonna send out ticket offers and whatever,"
Richard would say, "With all due respect,
you're not an innovator; you're an adapter."
If, however, you've set this up and said,
"We're gonna send all that out,
"but actually what's the possibility here is,
"what we're gonna hear back
is more important than what we send out,"
if you're changing the assumption, under marketing,
from broadcast to conversation,
you are changing the assumption under the old behavior,
and that's where the doorway to new behavior may--
to innovation may open.
You know, if I'm gonna be totally confessional,
I think when we did this at first at the foundation,
we were hoping that we would support
some breakthrough ideas,
that we would sort of find organizational penicillin,
for lack of a better sort of metaphor.
And if I look back now
on five years of that investment,
I would say the emphasis on unpacking old assumptions
has been worth its weight in gold.
I mean, that's a kind of brilliant methodology about--
what are the assumptions we have made historically
that we need to look back at
that we might not even know we've made
before we can move forward?
That's been fantastic.
And there are some great projects we've supported
that I would urge you to study.
If you don't know, for example, the Wooster Group's dailies...
The Wooster Group, an avant-garde theater group,
now has a videographer who films every day just--
he's around the office; he's around the rehearsal hall,
filming, filming, filming, filming.
The cast and the company-- knowing this is so important--
have elected to give up
an hour of rehearsal time every day
to come together and do a group edit of that footage,
and they post a new two- to three-minute clip
online every day.
Sometimes it's a rehearsal.
Sometimes it's a piece of work from an old documentary.
Sometimes it's their lead actress, Kate Valk,
banging on the bathroom door, saying,
"Get the hell out of the bathroom."
Or whatever it is.
I mean, it's like,
what's life backstage at the Wooster Group?
They have an audience of more than 25,000 people
who visit the site at least 25 times a month.
And when they used this
to launch their most recent piece,
what they found was, it drove their earned income up 40%
and dropped their marketing expenses 20%
at the same time.
I mean, it's a fantastically useful kind of mechanism
for them to think about,
and this ongoing footage in a kind of rough cut format
about life behind the scenes
is something that many of you might want to think about.
And yet at the same time,
I think we have to acknowledge
what I heard at a TED conference last year,
where a speaker stood up and said--
this will be your most depressing thought for the day--
"The speed at which we live
"now outstrips the speed at which we can learn,
"meaning that we increasingly spend time
rationally contemplating a world which no longer exists."
Okay, well, let's just open a vein right now.
[laughter]
But if that is true, as I think it is,
what this means, I think, for us is,
our potential to find a long-term innovation
that will serve us in the same way
that the subscription model
transformed the performing arts 50 years ago--
and that's the biggest innovation we ever had
in the performing arts--
I think our potential to discover a long-term solution
is probably minimal.
You know, frequently already,
I'm hearing from a lot of groups when we talk,
"We had a breakthrough thing last year.
"We did this breakthrough event.
"We did--we thought we cracked it open,
"and this year, nobody cares.
"The thing we did last year that worked so well
"isn't working this year at all.
What the hell does that mean, and what do we do?"
For me, I think what this means is,
while the field needs to embrace innovation,
more importantly is that we think about
what Mark Robinson, a U.K. consultant,
calls "adaptive resilience,"
the ability to respond to and influence
a rapidly changing external world
and to bounce back from the unforeseen
or from failure.
You know, Adrian Ellis, for those of you that know him,
always used to say this.
He said, "Frankly, when it comes to innovation,
"I am much happier to be number two
"than number one out the door,
"especially when it comes to technology.
"I watched people go through millions of dollars
"on things that don't work.
"I am more than happy-- to use an inelegant metaphor--
"to be a settler rather than a pioneer
"and let somebody else go out and do the dangerous work
"and then for me to come in after the fact
and populate the land that works."
And on some level, I think we have minimized
the emphasis we place on adaptive resilience.
Now, adaptive resilience begins, of course,
with the will to change.
And even Robinson admits,
not everybody is gonna want to change,
and maybe they shouldn't.
You know, there are a lot of groups that you see, saying,
"If we just play the music better,
they will come."
"If the marketing doesn't work,
"we've just hired the wrong person.
"We don't need to change.
It's just the wrong person."
"If the books don't balance,
we just hired the wrong person."
And a lot of those discussions around personnel
or elevating artistic quality
reveal a fundamental dedication to the way things have been,
and maybe those people are right.
Maybe like the Catholic Church,
they are gonna be able to withstand, largely,
this reformation moment,
making very few changes in behavior.
Although I would observe
that the Catholic Church was able to do that
because they had massive assets at their disposal, frankly,
and massive resources,
and groups impervious to change
in a time when numbers are declining
and without those assets
may be extremely vulnerable and unlikely to survive.
But organizations who want to change,
who see the handwriting on the wall,
who are deeply attuned to the external environment,
who--they're rigorously self-aware and open to risk--
have a number of characteristics that are worth thinking about.
They have a deeply shared culture
of shared purpose and value
rooted in strong organizational memory,
values and memories that permeate the organization
and are not restricted to the board
and the executive director.
They are constantly evolving,
testing ideas, experimenting
on a scale that can be survived.
They're not betting the farm
on this innovation or adaptation
but on a scale that can be survived.
And they're doing it while 80% to 90%
of what they continue to do is ongoing practice
and not new at all.
They have a strong awareness of their environment
and their performance,
and they're gathering information
and seeking input from their audiences and more.
This is heretical.
They don't worry about sustainability and stability.
They worry, instead, about viability
and scale of risk.
And, you know, we've talked for years.
We used to have National Arts Stabilization.
For all of that value, time after time after time,
we watched groups slam the door
on potential breakthrough ideas
that really could lead to longer term health
because of fear that it may not be sustainable.
Groups think more about viability
and resilience and adaptation
than around sustainability and stability.
If they're serious about changing--
and Nina and I had this discussion on it;
I bet she's done it--
there are three levers internally that they press
and are conscious of how they work:
how we share information,
who and how decisions are reached,
and how we manage conflict.
At the TED conference, again,
Margaret Heffernan, a consultant, said,
"Organizations don't think
"because the people inside of them
are too afraid of conflict,"
which I thought was sort of profound.
Adaptive resilient organizations
nurture and promote divergent thinking
rather than seeking to insist on mindless conformity.
They prize professional development and learning,
and they devote significant time to reflection and analysis.
And I think they begin a lot of this quest
by not saying, "What are we gonna do next?"
They begin by saying, "What are we gonna stop doing
"to give ourselves the time and the energy and the resources
to do this work that lies ahead?"
A question you've heard answered--
or you would hear answered today at Trey McIntyre,
as they recently decided to stop all SpUrbans
regardless of the meaningful impact
it's has in the past.
Of course, now it's the "Jerry Maguire" question--
how do we pay for all this?
How do we monetize this?
And again, my thinking in terms of what I've learned
in the four years before is--
when I stood before you before, I was like,
"We need to find new business models,"
and I have now been convinced that there are not
and will not be any new business models.
You know, as Clara Miller has said,
"There is only one business model:
revenue in excess of expenses."
[laughter]
And as Adrian Ellis has said,
"The only business model is mission-congruent black ink."
And they're right. They're really right.
The one thing that can change, I think,
is our understanding and mastery of it
and our ability to embrace and expand
through new behaviors, new perspectives,
new capacities about how we manage
the model that we have.
And again, just like as I said
sustainability and stability have limited our thinking,
I would urge us-- again, and I've said it--
to let go of our own myth of undercapitalization.
You know, and I say this because basically I believe
every arts organization can and should be undercapitalized.
If you are not undercapitalized,
that's a danger sign,
and I say this because every artist worth her salt
dreams bigger than the resources she has to command.
I don't care if you're the Metropolitan Opera.
If there is artistic energy and imagination there,
you will be undercapitalized
to do those things you dream of doing.
The real question isn't whether we are undercapitalized--
which, for me, invites victim mentality--
the real question is whether we are miscapitalized.
Do we have the money set up in the structures
to be able to access it when we need it,
where we need it, and why we need it?
This, I think, invites us to think differently
about revenue, which is funds that feed ongoing operations,
versus capital, which are funds which come in periodically
that build new platforms that let you move forward.
It lets us ask questions about saying--
earned versus contributed is no longer nuanced enough.
There's a difference between working capital
and change capital and risk capital and endowments,
and those are strategic nuances that,
if we understand them and position them correctly,
not only give us an adaptability;
they're gonna have appeal for donors,
who may see the value of helping you with risk
or a kind of a change capital
and who are totally uninterested
in a kind of mindless contribution
into general operating support.
These things, I think,
ask us to look at our audits as a periodic snapshot
and maybe even invite us to do what Steppenwolf does--
to plan all finances in three-year--
not one-year-- rhythms.
It will ask us to devote our attention
not to the statement of activities--
for those of you in the balance world--
but to the balance sheet
and for one reason and one reason only:
a stronger balance sheet means more artistic freedom.
You cannot do the play with 20 characters
if your balance sheet is in the red.
You cannot do the risky play
if your balance sheet is in the red.
A stronger balance sheet means more artistic freedom,
and within that light, we have work to do.
Now, you know, I want to be really clear.
I'd be disingenuous if I said this was gonna be easy.
This is gonna be hard work.
And the reformation had a lot of martyrs
and a lot of bloodshed
and a lot of people left dead among the ashes
before it was all over.
But it will require for us new modes of leadership
and organizational dynamics.
It's gonna provoke enormous anxiety.
Enormous anxiety.
Remember last time I was here,
when we did that target exercise,
for those of you that were here.
We said, "If you're not anxious,
you're not really changing at all."
Anxiety is an inevitable part of change.
But the people that are gonna be most anxious
are your existing staff, your existing artists,
and your existing board.
And rather than seeing that as intransigence on their part,
I think what we have to recognize is,
those people have given you their lives.
They've given you their lives
because the work you have done to date
has been so deeply meaningful to them.
No one will ever be closer to their work--
to this work in the past than they will be.
Of course, they will be the most threatened.
And the real question is,
how do we help leverage new conversations
about the value we wish to have and bring them along?
Rather than dismissing them
because of their perceived anxiety
about the direction we're undertaking.
I think it asks us
to be both deeply attuned to the current moment--
so we can turn on a dime--
but to have a long-term vision of what we value
and what we want to achieve
even if we don't know how we're gonna do it.
You know, I think now is the time.
We've got to ask ourselves here:
what will Minneapolis look like in ten years
if we succeed in filling our artistic ambitions?
And what do we have to start doing now
to make those dreams come true?
How do we articulate the hard questions?
How do we structure
and look at the disconfirming data,
not the data structures
that will tell us how good we are?
How do we ask the hard questions?
And how do we come up with the courage to change
if we don't get the answers we're looking for?
You know, rest assured, too,
this will require us to be patient,
and we will fail.
We're gonna get this wrong
more times than we're gonna get it right.
You know, Clay Shirky,
if you know his book "Here Comes Everyone,"
talks about, when the printing press was invented,
everyone assumed, "Boy, for the first time,
"everybody in the world will have a homogenous culture.
"Everybody will have a Bible.
"Everybody will have 'The Aeneid.'
"Everybody will have Ovid.
"Everybody will have the same ten books,
"and we will all be on the same page
for the first time in human history."
No one imagined that the value of the printing press
would be to unleash hundreds of thousands
of new voices to be given a platform,
and we would actually
disaggregate than aggregate the canon.
And in the same way, we can't possibly yet know
what the ultimate impact of this moment is.
We're gonna get it wrong.
But we have to find ways to come together like this one,
and if we have an opportunity to come together,
the next time that we all look,
I hope what we'll all do
with some of your questions asked periodically is,
now we're gonna have ten-minute presentations
from every group about,
"This was the worst thing we ever did
and the biggest failure we ever had,"
because if we can be open about our failures,
we will all leap forward in our expertise.
And finally, I think it's gonna require each of us to dig deep.
We got to find in us-- in us, in us--
the spiritual and emotional resonances to keep going
at a time, especially, when there's not gonna be
a lot of positive reinforcement from a lot of--
a lot of quarters about what we do.
You know, on the one level,
MIT, when they talk about their work,
they say, "Useful knowledge for solving problems."
That's their mission.
And for many of us,
if we think the arts are a way of knowing,
which is what I think they are,
what's the useful knowledge we have?
What's the problem we're trying to solve?
For me, living in a time of fraying social discourse
and an especially nasty and virulent campaign season,
I really was motivated
when I read a book by a guy named Steve Coleman,
who talks about intractable problems.
He looks at the Middle East.
He looks at the abortion rights divide.
He looks at gun control.
He looks at those situations
where people get so mired in the fight
that we get stuck.
And the book's called "The Five Percent,"
because he believes roughly 5% of problems
descend to that level.
And when he looks at them and he says,
"What do those issues have in common?
Where do we get stuck at?"
And he said, "There are three things going on."
He said, "Number one:
"there's an oversimplification of issues.
"Number two: there is a reinforcing
"feedback mechanism
"that continually reinforces the preexisting mind-set
"while filtering out other points of view.
"And number three is, there's a simplistic
win-lose dynamic."
All of which, when I finished the book,
made me think, "This is as apt a description
"of the Congress of the United States
as anything I have ever read."
I think, especially now,
we have to embrace the arts in our country
as the antidote to intractability.
In the face of competition, we invite cooperation.
In the face of simplification, we invite complexity and nuance.
In the face of self-reinforcement,
we invite community.
Remembering that, in this time of reality TV
with its humiliation dynamic, of media
and thinly veiled invectives against opposition,
even the announcement in the airport
to report suspicious behavior to authorities nearest you,
all of which asks us to look at our fellow human being
with fear and hostility and suspicion.
No matter what we do
or what aesthetic we believe
or what discipline we serve,
we ask people to come together with people not like themselves
to look at their fellow human being
with generosity and curiosity.
God knows, if we have ever, ever in this world needed that,
we need it now.
You know, I'm gonna close with a personal story
that really reinforces, I think, what Alan Brown told you
about audiences' desires for inspiration and delight.
And for those of you that know me,
you know this has been the worst year
I have ever lived through, you know?
I watched my partner flatline in front of me,
but we got him back.
My mother died. His mother died.
We put our dog down. We had the hurricane.
I mean, you just run the list,
and it's been a nasty year.
And especially when I look back at old notes,
I found a story that I had written to myself
told to me by Fred Adams,
who is the longtime artistic director
of the Utah Shakespeare Festival,
who told me once about when he worked in Scandinavia.
You know, Fred's a Mormon,
and so he spent the two years--
not like in "Book of Mormon,"
even though I'd love to see Fred in "Book of Mormon."
If you know Fred, Fred owns a bugle bead tuxedo,
so that just tells you how good he'd be
in "Book of Mormon."
Anyway, he spent two years in Norway,
ministering to others
the story of the Latter-day Saints,
and he was assigned to rural Norway,
where, if you've ever been in that part of the world,
it can get dark before 3:00 p.m.,
and it can be cold and wet and dark,
all of which can make the experience dispiriting.
He said there were a lot of days
where he would knock on the door.
He would get unfailingly polite invitations to step inside.
He'd get blank looks when he talked about the Mormons,
and then he would sit through hours of Norwegian folk songs
accompanied by mysteriously prepared fish
and odd alcohol.
[laughter]
He said, you know-- one time of this was bad enough,
but there were months of this and months of this
and months of this.
"And one time," he said,
"We were leaving, and we basically"--
He said, "It was the worst day of my life.
"I had never been colder. I had never been wetter.
"The snow was particularly deep.
"I was struggling to get up the fjord.
"Never had this seemed more futile or senseless
in my life."
And he said, "As we're climbing up the fjord,
somebody grabbed-- my companion"--
'cause you do it in twos--
"Grabbed my arm and pulled it and said, 'Look up.'"
And he said, "And I looked up,
"and there was the aurora borealis
"in all of its splendor,
"shimmering, exploding with color,
"violent, almost, in terms of the offshoots it was giving,
"reminding us of how meaningless we are
"in a larger scheme of things.
"You know, that," Fred said,
"Is what we do in the arts."
He said, "We tell people to look up."
He says, "Yeah, the times are historically hard."
Yes, we can despair.
Yes, we can yield to anger in these times.
But we have a choice,
and we can work, as we must, to change lives,
one kid at a time, one audience at a time,
one community at a time.
In a world where we are drowning in information
and starved for wisdom,
in which we crave inspiration and community,
in which we struggle
to rise above the torpor of the day-to-day
and search for inspiration and delight,
every single one of you, every time you move forward
says to your children, to your audiences,
to your community, "Look up.
Look up. Look up."
I want to thank you for your part
in being both social activists and arts activists,
pledged as you are to a Minneapolis and a Minnesota
characterized by empathy and inclusion
and tolerance and hope.
I'd like to promise you
the hand of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
is extended to you both now and for years to come.
And I'd like to thank you
for the honor of this opportunity
and for listening to me this afternoon.
Thank you and Godspeed.