Since my last post , many people asked: what can artists and arts professionals specifically do about the constantly shifting goals, strategies, and measurements sweeping through our sector?
What I’d Love to See from the Innovators, Funders, and Business School Grads
Transparency. What is the goal you are choosing for the arts? Who chose it and how? What research or data went into choosing it? And when will you reassess and consider a different goal? Assigning a goal to the arts is the policy; everything flows from that subtle but massive act. Be transparent about it.
Humility. Admit that we are now several rounds into solving the arts with strategic thinking. Don’t refute past efforts unless you have convincing data to back that up. Be courageous and humble enough to say: this goal, this theory of change is a proposal. It follows many equally well-intentioned and intelligent proposals. In all likelihood, it’s not the final answer.
Acknowledge the opportunity cost. Imposing a goal on the arts necessarily eliminates other possibilities, other strategies. Consider that cost. Measure it even. Any cost-benefit analysis of a “disruptive strategy” in the arts needs to take into account the resource and capacity cost of swerving every five years, and making artists and arts organizations swerve to keep up.
Track how much resource organizations provide specifically to artists. Track this as a percentage and total dollar figure, publish it, and set targets around it. Arts professionals have a strong incentive to back goals and strategies that fund their salary lines. Thus we get meta-strategies like creative placemaking steering resources toward arts professionals and away from artists. Good data could provide a counterweight to this.
What I’d Love to See from Artists and Arts Organizations
Advocate for your goal.Tell the world what goal(s) you have chosen to pursue for your art. And measure it, however you think it might be measurable. One reason the MBA mind imposes goals is that we artists have failed to explain, measure, and argue for the goals we are reaching toward.
Be aware of contorting. When funding shifts, artists and organizations bend ourselves to fit the new agenda. Think critically about these contortions, and how much is too much for you. When you do contort to fit the Outcomes du Jour, remember that you are contorting, that your actual work isn’t contained or defined by funder objectives.
Talk back. Ask funders about the goals they are choosing (see above). Let them know the capacity cost of these changes to you or your organization. And if you opt out of an opportunity because you just don’t want to contort that much, tell them why. In a letter (anonymously, if need be), CCing their bosses and board.