This article was originally posted on the Cleveland Foundation Website on March 9, 2011

My first issues of Arts Journal for the year arrived, and the two top articles in the “Ideas” section dealt with the role of jargon in the field of arts and arts grantmaking. Judith Dobrzynski (yes, she’s related to our own Marsha Dobrzynski of Young Audiences) talks about “Inventional Wisdom,” a term coined at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to demonstrate its commitment to forward thinking as it celebrates its 150th anniversary. Ms. Dobrzynski posits that this is a term and a way of thinking that the arts would do well to use in replacing the “conventional wisdom” thinking of the past.

One key point she makes is that too often a bright new way of attracting audiences to the arts piloted by an organization (crowd-sourced exhibits, for example) is too easily copied by others expecting the same easy results. Thus, invention becomes convention and the copycats are distracted from finding their own unique inventional wisdom for attracting audiences.

And then there’s Diane Ragsdale’s blog post, which once again decries the jargon game between arts organization and funder that has for so long characterized the relationship between these two dependent entities.

Dependent, you say? How can a funder be dependent on a nonprofit arts organization? Well, if the funder cares a whit about the community, the vitality of its people, or about culture itself, it recognizes the value of the arts as a bedrock function of society. And unless it is willing to establish and operate an orchestra or dance company or theater or museum itself, the foundation needs the arts to function well in order to fulfill this part of its own mission of advancing society.

Yet we all play the game. Funders demand “innovation” and “new ideas” and “projects” that meet their passion du jour of “entrepreneurship,” “impact,” “systemic change,” etc. Clever grant writers use the magic jargon to twist core needs and programs into something that sounds like a sparkly new idea or a project that meets the funder’s needs. And the game goes on.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that funders should just hand out checks for business as usual – especially not for business as usual with the world changing and the arts needing to adapt. But I do think that funders should exercise substantial flexibility in supporting the core needs of the arts and in providing opportunities for trying those new ideas that may or may not work but that can provide learning and create the inventional wisdom needed by the arts to engage the future and assure that the foundation can keep fulfilling its own mission in society.

I think we’ve done a pretty good job of this here at the Cleveland Foundation. For more than 20 years, we have provided very flexible support for core infrastructure needs for the arts at the same time that we have crafted special programs to provide extra support for the arts and tackle critical challenges facing their sector.

In the late 1990s, our BASICs program provided millions above and beyond core support to build management capacity, technology, and strategic planning skills. Our 2004-07 Arts Advancement Program provided the risk capital needed by a group of organizations to take a leap into their futures at a critical and scary moment in time. Currently, our Sustaining Excellence initiative is helping to “stay the course” during a dramatic economic downturn at the same time we are supporting individual strategic agendas for moving ahead.

And for the past year we have been increasingly interested in the need for both the arts and the larger community to attract, engage, and retain the next generation of participants in Cleveland’s future. Our opinion piece last year in the Plain Dealerbegan this dialogue inside the foundation, and we are currently exploring how we can help the arts tackle this critical current challenge in the years ahead. Stay tuned.

Cleveland’s Arts Sector: Bucking the Trends

This article was originally posted on the Cleveland Foundation Website on March 9, 2011

The Grantmakers in the Arts READER: Ideas and Information on Arts and Culture is a much anticipated, thrice-yearly journal for professional arts grantmakers. The fall 2010 issue offered a compilation of research across the field that is chock full of interesting, useful, and sometimes scary data. Often scary data.

Helicon Collaborative’s report on research among foundations nationwide chronicles a number of trends among arts funders and arts organizations that makes an incontrovertible case for the fact that the world of the arts has changed.

“A year ago we found there were still people – funders and arts leaders alike – who wanted to believe that the recession would be short-lived and its effects temporary,” the report states. ”Now everyone realizes that we’re never going back to the world we knew before December 2007.”

The good news is that, with the exception of corporate, community, and public funders, other arts funders have pretty much stayed the course in their level and kind of support for the arts. The bad news is that corporate, community, and public funders (and that’s a lot of funders) are finding it increasingly hard to argue for the arts in the face of social and human needs. Thirty-three percent of the arts funders surveyed have reduced their arts funding – some by as much as 30 percent. And public funding agencies have cut arts funding by 25 percent since 2008, with most eliminating any support for individual artists. Except in Cleveland.

Cuyahoga County and the state of Minnesota are alone in enacting new legislation in recent years to increase support for the arts. And in Cleveland a lot of that support goes to individual artist fellowships – among the largest such fellowship awards anywhere, through the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture’s Creative Workforce Fellowships, funded by Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.

For as long as I have been at the Cleveland Foundation (20 years next month!), the funding community locally and nationally has been urging collaboration among the arts – for impact, for efficiency, for quality. And as long as I have been here, the national conversation about collaboration in the arts has been one of frustration. The Helicon report states that while there is some programmatic partnership taking place, true collaboration and mergers are still mightily resisted in the arts.
But not quite so much in Cleveland. A few examples:

  • Ideastream: the brilliant PlayhouseSquare/Public Television/Public Radio collaboration and shared facility venture of just a few years ago
  • The Hanna Theater: the brilliantly innovative and collaborative theater renovation by Great Lakes Theater and PlayhouseSquare
  • The upcoming merger of Cleveland Public Art and ParkWorks
  • The Natural History Museum’s embrace of the Heath Museum at its closure and the merger of David Beach’s environmental organization into the Museum’s GreenCityBlueLake Institute
  • The current three-part collaboration among PlayhouseSquare, the Cleveland Play House and Cleveland State University on renovated facilities and shared educational programs

A recent report commissioned by the Columbus Foundation on the health and sustainability of the arts in 15 mid-sized American cities shows that Cleveland’s is among a very few arts sectors that can be judged as ‘vital’ as opposed to simply viable – or worse.

So, I’m looking at the glass as half full these days and bucking the trend of the doom-sayers. Yes, things have changed. But with every turn in the road there are new vistas and new opportunities. We just need to step up to them with courage and enthusiasm.

Noise is in the Ears of the Listener

This article was originally posted on the Cleveland Foundation Website on March 17, 2011

So what do you know about “Noise Music?” Not much? Or maybe a lot? Depends on your age maybe, or what your musical interests are. I fancy myself a music lover and I like all kinds – classical, Broadway musicals, Cole Porter, Steven Sondheim, Hoagy Carmichael, Phil Collins, blues, jazz, folk, a little country, new age, hard rock, heavy metal, some grunge… you get the idea. But I had no idea what noise music was when I first encountered the term at a meeting of a focus group for Cuyahoga Arts and Culture a month ago.

So imagine my surprise when Ari Maron, partner in MRN Ltd., the local construction and development company (and a trained musician), and Tom Welsh, associate director of music for the Cleveland Museum of Art, mentioned that Cleveland is one of the national centers for noise music and that we have a number of famous noise music bands working here.

Although I’ve lived here all my life and I THINK I am pretty tuned in to what’s going on in the arts scene here, I am still surprised sometimes that I don’t know what I don’t know about this place.

The Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC) has begun to take a really deep dive into the whole ecosystem of different art forms here – starting with music. They have commissioned research from Cleveland State University that will look at the music subsector: nonprofit/professional, for-profit/commercial, amateur/avocational, classical to noise. The purpose is to really get a handle on the full range of assets we have in the arts, to better understand their critical interrelationships, and to demonstrate how the arts are deeply integrated into the region’s economy, its workforce, the quality of life here, and Cleveland’s attractiveness to outsiders. I can’t wait to see what the whole music landscape looks like.

I am grateful to Tom for forwarding the video–2 that introduced me to EMERALDS, a local noise music group that seems to have captured national attention and who have many wonderful things to say about Cleveland and why they make music here.

So refreshing to hear a group of young people who have an intrinsic understanding of and value for what makes this part of the planet special. Give a look/listen. Per Tom – no earplugs needed.

Cool Grand Rapids

This article was originally posted on the Cleveland Foundation Website on June 3, 2011

About the title of the blog – later. First …

Last week the Global Cleveland Summit provided a terrific forum for brainstorming ideas about how Cleveland can create an environment and message of welcome and opportunity to the world, and a culture of optimism among locals. I did not get a chance to sample all the sessions offered throughout the day, but did sit in on one that I thought spoke very interestingly to the cloud of self doubt and “it won’t happen here” attitude that seems so pervasive in Cleveland.

The session discussed the SOMO Movement – social and emotional learning – and provided research on something called “learned helplessness.” It seems that the majority of people (and animals, according to some icky scientific research) who experience a series of negative reactions to efforts they make, “learn” that nothing will change and, in fact, end up choosing failure even when options for success are presented to them.

I think Cleveland has been “learning” to choose failure for a very long time, but the cycle is hard to break. We are stuck in what’s familiar and, as Shakespeare said, we’d “rather keep those ills we have than fly to others we know not of.” A perfect description of learned helplessness.

Silly, isn’t it? And stupid. Which one of us has not learned and gotten better as a result of past failures? Why are we so reluctant to try something we haven’t done before – or let others try new things? Have we believed in failure so long that we are paralyzed by the unfounded certainty that whatever we try will automatically fail? Are there just too many people here who have never been anywhere else and so have no basis for comparison?

I did hear some sane and forward-thinking comments from some of the community’s older leaders while at the Global Cleveland Summit:

“The only thing wrong with Cleveland is February and March.
But then there’s one bad season everywhere. No mud slides,
hurricanes, floods, forest fires here.”

“We (the old guard) should put out the hors d’oeuvres, pour
the drinks and let the young people get on with it.”

Last week I toured the city with a Brit who has worked all over the world. She was agog at Cleveland’s beauty, culture accessibility, and livability. She said no one in Europe, Asia, or Africa has a bad opinion of Cleveland; they just have no opinion because they don’t know about it. She thinks Cleveland should market itself as “the lifestyle city.”

Now for that title. For one example of a town that seems to have no problem putting itself and lots of its young and unconventional faces out there on its own behalf, right along with the Mayor singing “American Pie,” check out this fun, sweet and very engaging YouTube video. Talk about a welcoming community.


Losing Sight of the Shore*

This article was originally posted on the Cleveland Foundation Website on June 8, 2011

No, this isn’t about lakefront preservation. It’s about the arts. It’s about how Cleveland’s cultural community must venture into uncharted waters to find the new and next generation of individuals needed to maintain our remarkable cultural sector’s strength and excellence.

On June 6, the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture (CPAC) hosted a remarkable symposium, “Audience Matters,” at IdeaCenter. More than 100 members of the cultural community, including people from Akron and Lorain County, heard speakers talk about the way the arts must change in order to attract and serve a broader constituency – one that is younger, more diverse, and representative of people who have lived their lives without seeing the arts as an important part of what makes those lives worth living.

These people have an unprecedented wealth of entertainment options vying for their time, attention, and dollars. These people have been immersed in technology that has given them opportunities to create work themselves – in their own time, and at low or no cost. These people want to be part of the picture – not just someone looking at a picture.

The Cleveland Foundation has been talking about the huge demographic shift facing the arts for some time now (read my op-ed on this topic from the Plain Dealer), so we were very pleased to see CPAC offer this rich experience for the sector.

In taking up the challenge ahead, the symposium’s keynote speaker, Richard Evans, declared that the arts faced “a shock wave of both enormous potential and organizational disruption.” He chronicled the shifts that have already taken place, from the traditional model of professional artistic excellence and limited/elite availability to a new framework for creative work that recognized the professional amateur and the vast abundance of work these individuals produce outside of the institutional framework.

He suggested the arts sector needed to move from being a provider of services to an enabler of participation and direct experience. And the arts must become more porous — open and responsive to its community. He called this a capacity for “dynamic adaptability” and said it meant having a high tolerance for taking risks. And to do this, the arts will need to restructure their financial models to make room for risk capital, working capital, and flexible resources that allow for rapid responses to opportunities and new ideas.

After the keynote, a series of case studies were presented that offered models of this dynamic adaptability from other cities. Charlie Miller from the Denver Theatre Centre urged the symposium participants “Don’t do what you think your audiences want. Do what you think is awesome!” And he showed how that has worked for them. Sarah Lutman, CEO of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, talked about how the orchestra has dramatically reduced marketing costs while dramatically growing attendance by bonding the marketing and development departments. Renee Baldocchi of the de Young Museum in San Francisco bravely chronicled the almost guerrilla-like efforts of the program department to move interactive audience programming directly into the galleries, and its efforts to partner with dramatically nontraditional external organizations to make friends with people who had never visited the museum.

Finally, the very engaging Andy Goodman gave the whole group a hands-on primer on how to tell a good story and provided compelling data on why storytelling is the most effective marketing tool any organization possesses.

Watch this blog in the coming months for more on how the arts must change to engage a far broader and more diverse constituency that they have been comfortable with in the past.

* “One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore.” André Gide

CLEVELAND tm: (teach + make)

This post originally appeared on the Cleveland Foundation website July 8, 2011

Although he’s been here a few months already, Creative Fusioninternational artist Cristian Schmitt, from Chile, was just recently welcomed by the community at a reception held at the Idea Center in PlayhouseSquare. Creative Fusion, now in its second year, partners with Cleveland’s cultural, educational, and civic institutions to host foreign artists for long-term, community-based residencies as a way to share culture and creative ideas at a deeply engaged level.

Based in Santiago, Cristian is an architect/designer whose work has focused on environmentally friendly affordable housing and temporary housing for disaster victims. Chile’s great earthquake a few years ago put his talents to work. He is here on a six month residency as part of the Foundation’s Creative Fusion: International Artist in Residence Program. His hosts are PlayhouseSquare, the Kent State Urban Design Collaborative,Downtown Cleveland Alliance, and Cleveland Public Art, and collectively this group has launched a unique program, called Cleveland tm (teach + make). The goal is to engage a creative designer to create and prototype a new product that can be trademarked, manufactured, and sold through the long-discussed District of Design centered in Playhouse Square. The program also includes an educational component, connecting the artist/designer with other local artists and students to teach and share product concept and design skills.

While he is here, Cristian will work with students at Max Hayes Vocational High School, teaching students how to read blueprints and architectural drawings, and design a small structure and help them built it.

For DCA and Playhouse Square, he is looking at the potential for creative re-use of the old corrugated metal RTA shelters that have been replaced by the sleek new Health Line bus stops along Euclid Avenue. The Urban Design Collaborative has generously provided studio and working space for Cristian, and Cleveland Public Art will help him navigate the commercial manufacturing scene here and connect him with local artists.

At his welcome reception, Cristian shared some of his sketchbook drawings that included movable, secure, pop-up retail space for the Public Square-to-PlayhouseSquare retail corridor; attractive, on-street public washrooms that incorporate trees and plantings; and a portable, bicycle-driven laundry for the homeless.

In his remarks at the reception, Cristian talked about a small boy’s experience of his bed shaking during the earthquake in Chile and how his father, in trying to reassure him, also shook the bed to show how the shaking bed couldn’t hurt him. Cristian said, “Maybe in Cleveland we can also shake some beds.”

We don’t yet know what exactly Cristian will prototype for his hosts, but we do know he has been exceedingly busy for the first weeks he’s been here, meeting with architects from Westlake Reed Leskosky, connecting with local artists and commercial manufacturers, teaching at Max Hayes, and traveling to Detroit and Cleveland’s unseen places researching the homeless situation here – which he says, while very sad, is better than the extremely poor conditions at home.

We look forward to seeing Cristian’s final prototype design this fall.

Winches and Wheels, or How to Move a Store

This post originally appeared on the Cleveland Foundation website September 19, 2011

Rather than “How to move a store,” this blog should be titled “Why move a store?” When Creative Fusion artist Cristián Schmitt came to Cleveland from his home in Santiago, Chile, in April this year, he saw much to inspire him in creating new work. Cristián is an architect-designer with a passion for finding solutions for distressed urban environments. He built temporary housing for the disaster victims of Chile’s devastating earthquake, and is committed to working as much as possible with green technology and recycled materials.

In Cleveland he saw both the vacancy of retail in the downtown area as an opportunity. What if, he said, retail vendors could rent a shop that could be moved from place to place, but also be secure from weather and theft and be big enough to hold substantial inventory? They wouldn’t have the expense and risk of a long-term lease on a storefront and could, over a season, experiment with different locations for their wares. And Cleveland neighborhoods could have more vitality at street level from unique local retail vendors.

Enter SHOPBOX, the prototype of just such a portable retail space. And we are not talking food carts or kiosks, here. The SHOPBOX is a 13 x 7 x 9 foot enclosed space, with floor, walls, doors, and a skylight roof that can be configured in a wide variety of ways to accommodate many different kinds of salable goods. And it can be picked up and loaded onto a flatbed truck for transport in 15 minutes.

Made of recycled materials from RTA bus stops, reclaimed wood, and used street and traffic signs, and fabricated by Cristián and metalworker Mike Moritz in the Tyler Village artist/industrial complex in Midtown, SHOPBOX had its premiere outing as the bar for Playhouse Square’s Block Party on Star Plaza last Friday. It will move to the Ingenuity Festival as the t-shirt and information booth next week and then to the plaza at Progressive Field during an Indians’ game.

Not quite finished for its Playhouse Square debut (a few of the wall panels had not yet been installed), still the SHOPBOX performed perfectly as crowds lined up for drinks at the Block Party. It will have its doors and walls complete for Ingenuity.

I will post more about Cristián and his Creative Fusion residency in future blogs – including the incredible research and planning – and collaboration – that went into the conception and manufacturing of the SHOPBOX.

Social Network Integration by Acurax Social Media Branding Company
Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Twitter