Wednesday, October 31, 2007

October 31, 2007

Barry's Blog

Hi everybody.

"And the beat goes on......................"

Here's my interview with Andrew Taylor of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration

Andrew Taylor Bio: Andrew Taylor is Director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration - an MBA degree program and research center in the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business. An author, lecturer, and researcher on a broad range of arts management issues, Andrew has also served as a consultant to arts organizations and cultural initiatives throughout the U.S. and Canada, including the International Society for the Performing Arts, American Ballet Theatre, the Center for Arts and Culture, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and helped develop the budget pro forma and operating plan for the $205-million Overture Center for the Arts in Madison, Wisconsin. Andrew is currently the president of the Association of Arts Administration Educators (, an international association of degree-granting programs in arts and cultural management, research, and policy, and is a consulting editor for The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society. Since July 2003, he has written a popular weblog on the business of arts and culture, The Artful Manager, hosted by (

Barry: There are many ways for arts and cultural professionals to learn and advance their craft. Where do degree-granting programs in higher education fit into that spectrum of learning opportunities?

Andrew: Like most other professionals, arts and cultural managers can learn on the job, through professional development at conferences and workshops, through self-study or mentorship, or through a number of other paths and resources. In fact, most responsive leaders in the arts will always be learning through one of these means, as there's always more to learn. Undergraduate and graduate degree programs provide a place and process for uniquely intensive and sequential learning in the full range of skills and insights required of cultural management. For some, a degree program provides a fast-track through what would take decades to learn on the job. For others, these programs offer a space to rethink what they've learned through experience, and to connect it with the theory, critical thinking, and personal/professional networks they need to evolve their work in the arts.

You certainly don't need a business degree to run a business. Nor do you need a communications degree to serve as an effective communications professional. But these structured learning opportunities, along with the rich environments and personal networks they provide, can bring you to a different place in your life and your work than you could discover without them. It's the same with degree programs in arts administration.

Barry: When I was the Director of the California Arts Council, there were degree programs in Arts Administration at U.C.L.A. and Golden Gate University. Those programs no longer exist. Can you give us status report and an assessment of university arts administration program provision in the U.S. today? How many schools offer curriculum in the area? And are we turning out more or fewer graduates from these programs than say four years ago? Where do you see this area going in the next few years? What obstacles will it face?

Andrew: There have been a few graduate and undergraduate degree programs that have closed shop over the years, due to the retirement of their founding directors or changing priorities for their host institutions but others have risen in equal or greater numbers. Over the past four years, I'd estimate that the total number of degree programs in arts and cultural management has grown slightly, with some more significant growth in undergraduate programs.

As for numbers, The Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE), the international collective of degree-granting institutions in arts and cultural management, has 59 full member programs and 37 associate member programs, the large majority of which are based in North America -

In the next few years, I'd expect roughly the same slow growth in programs and graduates. As the environment for cultural organizations continues to change rather dramatically, our challenge will be adapting our curriculum and programs in response, to ground our students to know how the world used to work while preparing them for the world to come.

Barry: Follow up Question: Can you give me some examples of how you think curriculum in arts nonprofit programs will likely change in the next couple of years in response to a changing environment in which our arts & culture nonprofits operate? For example, I am a vocal proponent of advancing the sector's advocacy and lobbying skills, and for arts leadership to make advocacy and lobbying a part of the job description of arts organization senior staff and board members yet advocacy and lobbying doesn't seem to yet be a part of most higher arts management programs. Do you think that is an area that will change? Are there others you can point to?

Andrew: The shape and sequence of the coursework will likely remain much the same, as such things move at a glacial pace in higher education. But the content of the required courses is changing all the time. For example, introductory marketing courses used to emphasize fairly basic consumer awareness and decision-making models. Today, a course with the same title will cover much more sophisticated terrain, like customer analysis and segmentation, value-based pricing, and channel strategy.

For me, the constant challenge is to resist the impulse to respond to complex changes by adding more complexity to our curriculum. As we notice more globalization in the arts, shifts in leisure time, challenges to copyright, and the like, the impulse is to tack on more and more readings and topics, rather than rethinking things down to their underlying forms. This is certainly true in connecting students to marketing and development. We used to treat these two income streams as entirely different entities (and many arts organizations are still structured as if they are different endeavors). Yet, really, marketing and development are just different corollaries of the same challenge: matching your organization's strengths with an individual's or organization's needs and values, and encouraging more of them to commit their resources to you. Come to think of it, that describes volunteer staffing and governance, as well.

The growing need for advocacy and lobbying fits this simplicity effort as well. The two primary jobs for governing boards and top leadership are to ensure that their organizations work effectively and productively, and that there are sufficient resources and support to sustain that success over time. Lobbying and advocacy are essential elements of both of these primary tasks.

So, what I hope will evolve in our curricula and our learning strategies is a new simplicity, a growing emphasis on elegance and elemental insight, rather than just teaching more and more stuff. As Leonardo Da Vinci is credited with saying (who knows if he actually did): Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. But it's a bear to get there.

Barry: If the number of graduates from these programs is on the increase, does that mean the number of jobs available for these graduates is similarly increasing? Or to put the question another way, is arts administration more viable as a career path today than it was a few years ago? Are students optimistic that they will find the jobs they are looking for after graduation? And if they are optimistic, is that optimism justified by the reality? As a follow-up question, is recruitment for these programs difficult? Is it easier than it was a few years ago? How do these schools go about recruiting the best and brightest?

Andrew: I can only speak from my own experience and the conversations I have with my colleagues at other programs, but I think that the supply of graduates and the demand for them in the market are well matched. We have great success in placing our graduates in substantial jobs around the country, and I know other programs do, as well. What's more, we know that graduates advance quickly in the ranks, once their organizations experience what they can do.

Of course, the career success of our graduates is a different matter than the viability of cultural management on the grander scale. Most indicators suggest that the dramatic growth in the number and size of arts organizations of the past few decades has hit a plateau. Most of the forces that fueled that growth, massive increases in wealth; availability of workforce to staff, govern, and volunteer; and under-penetrated cultural markets, have leveled or declined.

It's an increasingly challenging time to work in any capacity at a professional nonprofit arts organization. But to the benefit of degree programs and the students within them, those challenges are growing the demand for thoughtful, innovative, and accountable leaders and staff.

Barry: Follow-up question: Do you think the pay level for arts administrators particularly at the levels the graduates from these programs both enter and aspire to will likely increase so as to remain somewhat competitive with other jobs those students might take? Will their holding a degree help to raise the pay structure? And what about the mid-level administrators who are not graduates of programs and don't hold degrees will they benefit from increased pay levels as well? Much of arts & culture funding is program based and even basic operational support often ignores salary needs what are your thoughts on how to advance the profession of arts administration through increased compensation packages to our leadership?

Andrew: First off, conversations about compensation always need to recognize that it's a complex calculus. People have all sorts of reasons for committing their time, talent, and attention to careers in cultural management, or any other career for that matter. Salary is certainly an essential element of those calculations, but only one. Also in the mix are a sense of purpose, productive contribution to an endeavor you value, connections to co-workers and constituents who enrich and challenge you, and a sense of joy and play.

On average, the arts industry will always be resource-poor in capital and operating cash, it will be delivering services at below their true total cost, and it will be striving toward mission statements that are much larger than its capacity to deliver. We'll make up some of the difference in contributed income, volunteer labor, and the fiscal privilege of the nonprofit form. And we'll make up the rest in relatively lower salaries as compared to our commercial peers. There will be outliers in large and iconic cultural organizations, but there's no escaping the math.

Does that mean we can't structure organizations that pay a living wage with benefits that respect the time, talent, and commitment of staff and leadership? No, of course not. It just means we have to be resourceful in our human resource practices, thoughtful in our organizational scope and scale, and competitive in the full definition of compensation.

I've been pleased to see a steady increase in starting salaries for our graduates, and a growing willingness for thoughtful organizations to shape competitive compensation, even when they have to be creative with vacation time, professional development, and other non-monetary benefits. As the labor pool constricts over the coming decade (which demographics say it must), the market will force this kind of resourcefulness for those who want the most qualified and productive leaders.

Barry: What constitutes the core subjects in a balanced arts administration education program today? What areas of arts administration education are we, in your opinion, doing a good job at covering? Which areas are we not doing such a good job?

Andrew: The benefit of having a full complement of independent graduate and undergraduate degree programs around the country is that there is more than one answer to those questions. Some programs emphasize community engagement, some balance toward business, some focus on a specific arts discipline, some are entirely cross-disciplinary. If prospective students take time to understand their choices, they can find the mix, balance, and teaching philosophy that match their own learning interests and career goals.

The Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE) website at is a great resource to begin this comparison, and it will soon be getting much better as we launch the association's web redesign in the coming months.

But within that range and variety, there are certainly essential elements of an integrated curriculum in arts and cultural management. AAAE recently developed graduate program curriculum standards to clarify and advance those essential elements among its graduate-level member programs. Those standards recommend both coursework and service learning in the production and distribution of art, financial analysis and budget management, income generation through earned and contributed sources, strategic planning, legal and ethical environments, policy, institutional leadership, and international issues.

Undergraduate programs will have a different mix at a different level of engagement, as they also need to cover the broader goals of undergraduate education.

As for where we're doing a good job in arts administration education and where we aren't, there's no way to provide a general response. All of the degree programs have unique strengths. All of us are also working to continually improve. For me, one of the larger frustrations is the disconnect between academic programs in arts administration and leadership development initiatives outside academia. It seems so obvious that efforts on both sides would benefit from more seamless conversation and collaboration. And yet each side seems to work in isolation from the other.

Barry: Follow-up question: Why is that? What can we do to build intersections between those academic programs and the initiatives outside academia?

Andrew: I'm honestly not sure what created these separate camps, as it makes no sense for either side to disconnect from the knowledge and insight of the other. I hear grumblings from non-academic programs that the academics are detached from real-world challenges. And I hear similar grumblings from the academic world that practitioner-based programs lack reflection and rigor. Both are right and both are wrong. And it's certainly not a challenge unique to arts administration you'll hear similar strains in almost any industry with specialized academic programs.

The only way to build those intersections is to continue to try. The AAAE is working to build more meaningful and productive bridges with national service organizations, and they seem more eager than ever to connect with our programs. If we can gain some little victories and I think we can we can slowly disassemble these flawed perspectives and unproductive barriers we've constructed over the decades.

In the end, the theory/practice argument is silly. You can't take action without a working theory of the challenge in front of you even if that theory is unspoken and unexamined. And you can't advance theory without direct interaction with real people making real choices.

Barry: Generational succession is a hot button topic, and how the arts & culture sector can, and will, attract new blood from the next generation will likely greatly impact the future health of the sector what is the role arts administration education (particularly at the university level) in helping to insure that the sector has a reliable stream of qualified new talent to join its leadership ranks? How has it fared in successfully playing out that role?

Andrew: I'll have to admit that I have a growing frustration with the tone and tenor of our proclaimed leadership crisis as explored at national conferences and among arts leaders. From my vantage point, the arts world is swimming in extraordinary prospective leaders with great ideas, entrepreneurial spirit, killer skills, and passion for the arts. I meet passionate and competent young and mid-career arts professionals everywhere I go. But I also watch them leave the sector because of their own frustration with the work they are allowed to do.

The problem, in my opinion, isn't a lack of prospects entering the pipeline, but rather an extraordinarily leaky pipe. Working in an arts organization should be one of the most powerful mixtures of passion and profession. As other industries strive to meet growing workforce demand for jobs with meaning, personal value, connection, and impact, arts organizations so often seem to squander the riches they hold in these very areas. Through rigid leadership and governance structures, advancing professionalism above passion, growing aversion to risk in programming and in practice, and strangely sterile and joyless work environments, many arts organizations have modeled the corporate ideal of the 1950s just as corporations are rediscovering creative expression. It's an odd irony that we feel we can't compete for tomorrow's knowledge workers, when we can offer so much of what those workers claim they want.

In most of the hand-wringing by established arts leaders about not seeing a next generation to succeed them, I hear a consistent subtext that what they're really not seeing is leaders like them. This next group of arts leaders will work differently, balance their work and life differently, and aggressively work to reshape our current understanding of how arts organizations can and should be run. It doesn't mean that their predecessors did things badly, just that each generation brings its own style and flair to the challenge. And thank goodness for that!

As for the role of higher education programs in this challenge, I'd say we have several. First, our programs need to work continually with practitioners to understand what competencies are needed, and how the environment is changing. If we graduate students that can't excel at the job at hand, we've missed a primary part of our calling. Beyond that, however, academic programs have a unique opportunity to reframe the conversation about arts and cultural leadership. Through research, convenings, service learning, collaborations with national and international service organizations, and conversations with our alumni, arts administration degree programs can help define the job ahead, while also serving the job at hand.

I think we've already seen extraordinary contributions to this conversation from academic programs across the country and around the world. And, to my mind, this is the most productive space for academic programs to explore.

Barry: In the follow-up public forums on the study we did for the Hewlett Foundation Youth Involvement in the Arts (click here to download the full report:, a number of young people in several venues decried that the work offered them was pedestrian in nature, made no attempt to utilize their talents and was rigidly authoritarian, not allowing for them any meaningful decision-making authority. Those views echoed conclusions in the report itself by organizations that had successful programs to involve more young people. Given your observations, how would you suggest we begin a sector wide systemic change in our attitudes as to the recruitment and involvement of young people?

Andrew: I sure wish that I knew where the levers were to impact systemic change on this issue. It's a constant frustration to release bright and insightful students back into the workforce only to hear them frustrated and undervalued. I'm not suggesting they should be given the keys to the kingdom, but it's astounding what a little honest and responsive listening can do, as well as a clear sense that their actions and insights are valued.

I suppose the ever-increasing competition for labor will eventually force more thoughtful change. Corporations in other fields are working fast and furiously to rethink their work environments, their recruiting and advancement strategies, and their pipeline of potential leaders. Arts organizations that don't do the same will increasingly fall short of their promise, and eventually fall flat on their faces.

Barry: Arts organizations are really small businesses at their core with all of the positive things small businesses can offer local communities, and all of the problems and challenges every small business faces does the current arts administration education, thinking adequately address the needs of future arts administrators to become smart small business entrepreneurs in an increasingly competitive marketplace?

Andrew: The concept of an arts organization as a small business, resonates deeply with my program, and many programs of my peers. Even at a huge annual operating budget (like $30 million or more), arts organizations are small businesses for a range of reasons. They live on cash and die on cash flow, they excel only when a complex number of constituencies work in alignment, and they are personal endeavors that thrive on relationship and human interaction.

I know that many of my peer programs are working hard to advance this way of thinking, and I also know that a new generation of students is demanding it. I experience that push from my own students, and it drives me to work even harder to change the game. As one example, students are increasingly interested in exploring non-traditional corporate forms for expressive organizations from hybrid for-profit/nonprofit structures to informal, non-corporate organizations, to entirely commercial enterprises that still strive for mission over money.

The traditional, professional, independently operated 501c3 organization is certainly one tool in the toolbox. But a vibrant future cultural ecosystem will demand leaders with a mastery of many tools.

Barry: Many people have suggested that it's time for the old models to die and be replaced by new models that adapt to the changing times. And that may apply to the wider nonprofit universe as a whole. How can we facilitate moving from one paradigm to another and minimize the fear, disruptions, and challenges that come with wholesale change?

Andrew: I actually have this argument with my arts consultant friends quite a bit these days. After working with an endless string of struggling nonprofit arts organizations, all sharing the inevitable challenges of the nonprofit corporate structure, they can't help but wonder if there's a better way waiting in the wings.

I'm not so ready to toss out the nonprofit structure, as it has proven to be powerful in advancing non-market-supported expressive forms. But I am ready to toss out all the myths and common conceptions of what the nonprofit form looks like. On paper, it's really not that complicated, a board of three or more, some basic rules about the distribution of net revenue and the avoidance of personal gain, and some loose but convincing ties to serving the public trust. George Thorn and Nello McDaniel figured this out decades ago, that the large majority of our troubles with nonprofit structure are due to the mythology we invest in it.

But of course, there should be a full range of means to advance the expressive life of our communities and the creative voices of our artists. Tomorrow's arts ecology will need to work harder to match organizational and corporate structure to the specific challenge at hand. The good ol' 501c3 will remain an important part of the solution. At least, so says I.

Barry: Is there any national consensus on policy being developed within the arts administration education community that can serve as a guideline for future decision-making in this area? If not, why not? If there is, how is that policy arrived at?

Andrew: Cultural policy is such a multi-headed monster in the United States, I would doubt that anyone could forge a national consensus. It's a creature of government at every level, federal, state, county, municipal but also of organized philanthropy, individual giving, and corporate support, generally forged as the byproduct of initiatives outside the arts and advanced without much communication between the players.

I think higher education can play a productive role in policy on several levels. Through dispassionate and rigorous research, we can inform and advance a productive conversation based on evidence and reflection. Through cross-sectoral and cross-disciplinary convenings and partnerships, we can provide neutral ground for multiple constituents to learn together. Through curriculum and service learning, we can engage a next generation of leaders in the pitfalls and potential of the policy environment, and give them the tools to join the fray. And through all of this work, we can serve as translators, connectors, provocateurs, and thought-leaders to keep things moving forward.

Are we hitting all of the above on all cylinders? Of course not. But we're working at it. And some of the best policy work I know of is being done or supported by arts administration programs and their faculty in higher education.

Barry: You seem to suggest a greater role for your sector which I think will find a very sympathetic audience in the wider nonprofit arts field. How do you think that expanded role can best be rolled out?

Andrew: I can see a vast number of potential connections, but I can't yet figure the best ways to get there. For example, our degree programs have hundreds of students ready to research important questions in policy and practice and, in fact, many are required to do so as part of their coursework. At the same time, service organizations and policy-makers are swimming in vexing but essential questions with no time or resources to address them. How can we connect the student researchers with the subjects that will really inform our future, while giving them a substantial taste for policy development in the process?

Many arts administration education programs are already doing exceptional work in this regard. Carnegie Mellon's program has constructed a fantastic Arts and Culture Observatory initiative to provide on-going research on the state and shape of their region's arts infrastructure

Joan Jeffri at Columbia University Teachers College has long been a focused and passionate researcher on artists and arts policy

Margaret Wyszomirski at Ohio State University is an arts policy juggernaut, and connects her students with real-world challenges and the tools to assess them

Perhaps we can model these successful efforts and adapt them to work elsewhere.

I'd love to hear the thoughts of your readers and peers as to where and how we can move things forward.

Barry: You're the current President of the Association of Arts Administration Educators. Can you explain what that organization is all about? Is there an annual gathering? Are there ways you guys share information and work together in program development? Do you intersect with each other (or other sectors of the arts & culture universe) in terms of curriculum development or in other ways?

Andrew: Yes, I'm honored to be serving my term as president of the AAAE. It's an international association of arts and cultural management programs in higher education, started about 30 years ago as many of these programs were forming. We have an annual conference (our next is in Madison in April 2008). We connect our members on-line and in person to advance their programs and explore their craft. We engage prospective students in arts and cultural management and help them find a productive fit. We work with national and international service organizations, associations, and related networks. And we provide a forum for advancing the reach and quality of research, teaching, and service in this unique and complex field.

I've already mentioned our association's work in developing graduate program curriculum standards, and the tools surrounding them. Our members can use these standards to evaluate their own programs, and connect with peers who can help them grow and evolve where they identify the need to do so. We also know that the standards have been invaluable to new degree programs as they develop. And we are using them to inform our conversations with practitioners and professional development initiatives outside academia. We have a team of our members now exploring a similar effort for undergraduate programs.

Beyond this important and meaningful work, I'll admit that my favorite aspect of the association is the opportunity to gather with peers. These are brilliant, funny, reflective, insightful individuals. These are old friends and valued colleagues. These are members of an extended family with the common bond of advancing, celebrating, and supporting the expressive life of our planet, and the leaders who make it run.

Barry: You go to a lot of conferences - and participate as a speaker or panelist at a goodly number of them, is there, in your opinion, enough of a focus on issues germane to the provision of arts administration education? If not, where might more groups focus?

Andrew: I do travel the conference circuit a lot, and I'm sad to say that the arts and cultural industry lacks a thoughtful, responsive, and consistent learning infrastructure at almost every level. We're oddly insular in how we gather, and how we structure our learning, by discipline, by job function, by geographic region. And the bulk of our conference learning time is spent on tactics as to how to write a grant, use a blog, manage a mail campaign, rather than on strategy or lateral thinking.

To be fair to the conference conveners, it's a nearly impossible task to build such an infrastructure in such a rapidly evolving industry, especially when so many established arts leaders discount the value of continual learning. But I know that many of the national service organizations are working to turn this around, to rethink how they engage their members and advance a more curious culture among arts professionals, and to rebuild our rather sparse research infrastructure in a way that advances collective understanding and strategy.

We've built so many bunkers over the decades, and searched so desperately for good news about the arts and society to advance our cause, that we've lost much of our ability to question ourselves and each other out loud, to seek the connections among our disciplines, and to explore the integral links we have to other industries, other fields, and to the larger world. These are the fundamental building blocks of significant learning and field transformation in any field, and most definitely in the arts. One positive impact of the dramatic changes now taking place in the arts is the new ascendance of these qualities in our conversations.

Barry: If you had ten million dollars to spend to improve arts administrator education, how would you spend the money?

Andrew: I think we need a significant and sustained investment in fostering greater diversity in our student rosters, as the professional nonprofit arts also need more diversity in their staffs, leadership, and boards. A portion of the $10 million could make a tiny turn in that direction.

I also would segment some resources to encourage, support, and disseminate research on arts and cultural management issues, as we've only begun to scratch the surface of what we need to know to be effective teachers, managers, and leaders. And this doesn't take a bucket of money. For example, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is currently providing small grant incentives to researchers that will dive deeper into a recently developed data set on arts audiences. The grants (of $2000 to $5000 at the most) refocus bright minds on an essential issue in the arts, while generating new insight on existing data.

Finally, I'd fund a series of opportunities to encourage cross-talk and collaborative work between academic programs in arts administration and national service organizations. There's so much potential for mutual learning and growth between these worlds that even a tiny spark could set off a bonfire. If I had change left over from the $10 million after that, I'd probably buy some gum.

Thank you Andrew.

Couple of Announcements:

1. Alonzo King's LINES Ballet celebrates its 25th Anniversary with an extraordinary presentation of two new works at its Fall Season beginning this Friday night at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in downtown San Francisco. The opening night Gala Party is sold-out, but there still tickets available to the performances during the run.

Click here for more information LINES Ballet and I hope as many of you as possible get the chance to see one of the world's truly great artists at the peak of his career.

2. The Architectural Foundation of San Francisco (on whose board I sit) has one of the truly great educational programs (in partnership with the S.F. school district) that reaches out to kids who have otherwise given up on school, and connects with them in a practical, hands-on, project-based learning program that lets the kids become part of an architectural / building team in the design of an actual project, click here for info on the foundation: . The foundation is having an Arts Auction on November 8th from 5:30 to 10:30 pm at the Haworth Design firm in San Francisco at 9 Maritime Plaza (across from Embarcadero Center). This will be a free, fun event and the donated art (so far) is really quite spectacular. Please come out and for a very good cause. And if you are an artist and would consider donating one of your original works to this very good cause, I would be most grateful. Please contact either Claudia Valdivia at (415.981.8795 x 223) or John Giordano at (415.981-8795 x238)

Have a good week.

Don't Quit!


Monday, October 15, 2007

October 15, 2007

Hi everybody.

"And the beat goes on"

This blog is primarily a travelogue report of a recent month long trip to China. It's mostly personal observations of the country, including reporting and reflections on meetings I had in Shanghai and Beijing with leaders from China's arts & culture community (and thank you to Harvey Seifert for introducing me to Ralph Samuelson and to Ralph for his introductions to leaders in China).

Warning and Disclaimer: It's rather long and so those of you who don't appreciate these sorts of things, or whose schedules are really busy, might want to skip it.

Some brief announcements first:

1. I am doing a workshop (an abbreviated version and the first launch of a workshop I have been working on for months) on advocacy and lobbying as part of the Marin Nonprofit Center Conference an all day series of seminars, lectures, panels and the like to be held on October 25th and I hope many of you in the Northbay can attend

click here for more info:

2. The Architectural Foundation of San Francisco (on whose board I sit) has one of the truly great educational programs (in partnership with the S.F. school district) that reaches out to kids who have otherwise given up on school, and connects with them in a practical, hands-on, project-based learning program that lets the kids become part of an architectural / building team in the design of an actual project click here for info on the foundation: . The foundation is having an Arts Auction on November 8th from 5:30 to 10:30 pm at the Haworth Design firm in San Francisco at 9 Maritime Plaza (across from Embarcadero Center). This will be a free, fun event and the donated art (so far) is really quite spectacular. Please come out and for a very good cause. And if you are an artist and would consider donating one of your original works to this very good cause, I would be most grateful. Please contact either Claudia Valdivia at (415.981.8795 x 223) or John Giordano at (415.981-8795 x238)

3. Americans for the Arts and the Silicon Valley Emerging Leaders in the Arts Conference held one of their series of Creative Conversations last week in San Jose (these events are taking place across the country), featuring a series of round-table discussions on different career paths available in the arts and on the skills necessary to succeed and what those new to the field can expect. I would like to thank Americans for the Arts and the local Emerging Leaders chapters around the country for helping to further address the challenge of how we will attract, recruit, involve and retain young people in our sector in the future. I am gratified that there is significant increased activity in this area and the awareness of our field that we need to address this issue is expanding rapidly.

I've traveled extensively in Asia over the past decade, but this was my first trip to mainland China. An ex-pat friend of mine now living in Thailand and I traveled from Shanghai to Beijing to Tibet to Chengdu with stops in between -- and while the experience was grand and exhilarating, travel in China is arduous.

Some places are so larger than life that first time visits are events. You don't go to New York the first time and expect to kick back and relax for a few days. It demands you move to keep up with it, challenges you to try to take it all in, surprises you at every turn. China is like that. The country is vast and the population huge; the scale and scope of a decade old building boom defies comprehension; moving around is impacted by a hundred million new car drivers (most of whom didn't know how to drive six years ago), and everywhere the old is giving way to the new. In the Cinderella east coast cities, and elsewhere in the county, there is both optimism and expectation in the air, as China's grand re-entry to center stage under the world spotlight is anticipated to be ordained by the Beijing Olympics (auspiciously set to begin the eighth day of the eighth month in the eighth year of the new century aligning the prized good luck numbers 888). Everywhere there are signs of mobility, and yet everywhere there are also signs that the tide isn't yet high enough to raise all boats.

I read up on China before I left. Two books were I think very insightful: China Shakes the World by James Kynge about the Chinese economic revolution and its global impact, and China Road, by Rob Gifford (a 20 year China resident and Chief of the NPR Beijing Bureau -- a kind of Route 66 On the Road book). I scoured the internet for all things about China and there was far more than I had time to absorb. And several people were kind enough to make introductions to people in China in the Arts & Culture sector for me. Still, I make no claim to be any expert on China. All of this was new to me. What follows are just the personal impressions of a first time visitor. (I also admit to a certain bias in that I am deeply enamored with Asia. It got under my skin a decade ago when I made my first trip to Thailand and I very much love the continent and the people).

China is, to use old hippie language from the 60s, a trip and an extraordinary trip at that. Described as more of an empire governed by a long succession of different regimes than a nation in the usually meant sense it is a robust, energetic, colossal empire; one where historically, loyalty to clan trumped loyalty to country, but where Beijing is doing its best to manage an unprecedented laboratory experiment moving one plus billion people towards a new role in the global scheme of things, towards a more commonly shared prosperity (albeit still very measured), toward a greater unified self-perception as a nation than has yet to exist, toward a primary role as a world leader all under extraordinary pressures including a legacy of corruption (thought of by the current benefactors as entitlement) -- and the concomitant injustice that troublesome legacy produces. Thirty plus separate provinces plus Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Tibet bow to Beijing's leadership while all the while ignoring certain directives and protocols that would interfere with the local leadership's chance to finally be in the positions of power to enjoy the fruits and prosperity of that power. To paraphrase
Tip O'Neil's observation about all politics being local, in China all corruption seems to be local or at least that's where it starts out. And corruption, from all I have read, is a major problem for China. And despite the image westerners have as China being a monolithic country, with all power centralized in Beijing, the truth is that power is de-centralized and Beijing's long arm is often shorter than is supposed.

The thing that struck me most about China is how much of a western country it really is. It looks and feels like any western country; the architecture is modern (in some places inspired and other places, insipid), the people dress like we do, the shops are the same - some with different names, but otherwise just like we're used to. The pace is the same, the feel of the cities the same. They have malls. They have office towers. They have a financial district and restaurants abound. (They finally got rid of the Starbucks inside the Forbidden City when after a few years it became obvious to everyone that this was considered by the Chinese and westerners alike as a kind of sacrilege), but they are opening new Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets at the rate of one a day to add to the existent 4,000 + that already dot the landscape not to mention the McDonald's, Starbucks and other franchises that are also ever present. As elsewhere, globalization has come to mean, in part, the same marquees, the same brands, the same offerings in every city in every country on every continent much to the chagrin of many of us. I expected China to be more Asian in look and feel, and it wasn't.

The streets are wide. There are neighborhoods, some are charming, others non-descript. There are areas of affluence and ones more down on their luck. Traffic is already a problem. The cars look the same, their infrastructure-- roads, freeways, and the like are better and more modern than ours. Television isn't as international, and certainly government managed (a 30+ channel cable / satellite system is a mix of soap opera type dramas, a third of which seem to be historical; a half dozen regional and national news shows, including one in English which makes no pretense to be anything other than a propaganda tool saying China is great, the rest of the west, not so great; a few variety, game or MTV type shows, one or two situation comedies, some sports and a cartoon show or two. The most popular sit-com based on the number of channels that carry the repeats, the frequency those episodes are broadcast and the length the show must have run (if the aging of the cast is any reliable indication) involved a family (with three kids) in some big city -- ironic in the sense that all families in China are mandated as single child families (the controversial government intervention that may or may not be the single biggest determinant in what China can and can't do this century). The youngest child in this sit-com is explained as the son of either the mother or father's younger sister, but no apparent explanation is given for the other two kids, a teenage girl and a pre-teen young boy. Anyway, this comedy is as core as any American sit com ever was in terms of each episode promoting some basic family value, honesty, hard work, trust, compassion, responsibility, you name it, it's here in this Chinese version of Father Knows Best. All in all you could be in any big city in China and think you were anywhere in the western world.

I couldn't get over how western China has become. And as someone who laments that Times Square in New York was cleaned up years ago and is now too clean, too sterile, a Disneyland-esque version of its old self - I regret that China hasn't preserved more of its past. The other thing that stands out about China (and I suppose is also true of India) is the population. Even small cities dwarf American counterparts in terms of the numbers of people. A city with less than a million people is almost considered a village by default, and there are virtually no real villages left. America seems crowded to me with less than a quarter of China's population.

We didn't see all that many westerners in China. Of course, with such a large population, it's easy for westerners to get lost in the crowd. We saw some in Shanghai and Beijing, and of course, backpackers in Lhasa, but not large crowds, and judging from the spoken languages overheard, only a small percentage were Americans. America isn't on the average person's radar screen in China any more than it is anywhere else in Asia (and personally, that, to me, is one of the benefits of traveling in Asia: you get to step outside the narcissism that is America. Life on planet earth isn't all about America despite what we think). It isn't that their feelings are negative about us, quite the contrary; rather it's that we don't play much of a role in their daily lives and so they don't think about us at all. When asked where we were from and we replied "America" we got typical polite head nods, but they weren't all that interested. When we added "California", more often than not, eyes lit up a little bit and there was a smile of acknowledgement then. (I am constantly amazed how many people around the world have some awareness, some concept, even if obliquely of California which seems to me to be some universal brand out there (maybe it's because of Hollywood, I don't really know). ) But on balance, the daily global news in China is not so much of America (and certainly not of the Iraq war, our election, or even Wall Street), but on Asia, regional and local issues that impact them directly.

In China the loyalty to the family and the clan, and the historical legacy of Empire and Regimes created an expectation that when and if your group ever got into any position of power, that would be your time to score and it's unreasonable to expect that those whose time in power has finally come will easily relinquish their piece of the pie in favor of some greater good. In America, access to decision making is basically sold to the highest bidder (campaign contributor), and lobbying allows those with deep enough pockets a disproportionate share of influence in making decisions. Our lobbying system and the inequities and injustices it promotes grew over time. We can all lament how we got to this point, but we did. And so too China has gotten to the point they are at over two or three thousand years. Harder still to change that legacy.

According to numerous observers and analysts, the level of corruption in China runs much deeper than the problems created by the American lobbying mess and because of their incredible economic growth and China's sheer size, the amounts of money now involved are staggering sums. How Beijing handles this problem will probably determine how far it can succeed with its ambitious and grandiose plans. The Five Year Communist Party Congress being held this week will doubtless focus on this issue in the backroom conferences as the country tries to shape the next phase of its growth. The system doesn't appear to be in danger of imminent collapse, but how long that remains true in these turbulent times no one knows. From what I have read, it's the majority population (those hundreds of millions of Chinese peasants left out at the feeding trough of corruption) periodically reaching - throughout their history - the point of being fed-up over everybody but them getting a taste of a better life that incubates and ultimately ignites the cyclical rebellions that result in regime change (the last one being Mao's revolution in 1949). There remain a lot of those outsiders in today's China and there are apparently increasing signs that they aren't happy. Hu Jintao, head of the Chinese Communist Party will have to deal with corruption, the expectation of increased freedoms for the people (if not outright democracy) and both the Tibet and Taiwan issues during this next five year period. He will have his supporters and his detractors.

Obviously, corruption isn't visible to the tourist and casual observer. One small example of the indifference China can have towards its own - as greedy local officials rush to enrich themselves without any thought about their fellow citizens - can be found in how the Chinese decided to treat the seven peasants that discovered the Terra Cotta Warriors in the countryside near Xian. According to an article in the Nation newspaper that I read in an airport lounge in Bangkok, the discovery of the now famed terracotta army brought nothing but poverty and in some cases devastation for the farmers who discovered it. Their farmland was claimed by the government, stripping them of their livelihoods, and their homes and those of their neighbors were demolished with little or no compensation. Their village, with its 2,000 year old history has all but disappeared. Three of the seven have died jobless and penniless at home, the oldest a suicide at only 60 years old. Local businessmen and officials have gotten rich exploiting the tourism generated by the century's greatest archeological find. And the poor farmers who made the discovery got nothing from their responsibly notifying the government of their historic find. One is led to believe that this kind of indifference and myopic greed is endemic to their system, and thus the cyclical uprisings may also be systemically embedded and institutionalized as well. But then in the New China it remains to be seen what will happen.

We began the adventure when we arrived in Shanghai on connector flights (me from Hong Kong, my friend from Bangkok), and took the only Mag Lev (Magnetic Levitation) train in the world from the airport to downtown Shanghai. Traveling at racetrack speed, cars on the freeway outside the train windows look like they were going backward and we cover the 30 or so miles in five or six minutes.

Shanghai is a young, vibrant, energetic, and very cosmopolitan city of the new millennium. It is where the ambitious of the next generation Chinese the new pretenders to the throne; the movers and shakers of the future - want to be. We were hard pressed to find any of what the typical westerner would think of as Chinese architecture anywhere in the city. What little remained of the alleyways and back streets of the past century is being quickly torn down, and what little still exists of the old architecture is now really recently rebuilt. It is a modern city, aware that it is moving towards becoming the world's financial capitol. (Beijing was smart, I think, not to clamp down too hard on Hong Kong after the repatriation from the British in 1997, but rather to build up Shanghai as the mainland heir apparent to the banking and finance legacy of the old Hong Kong. Not that Hong Kong doesn't still play a bridge role to the future in the area of finance, but Shanghai is the default inheritor of the crown and that decision was already made years ago.)

It is no accident that a huge portion of the seed money to finance the world's most dramatic building boom has come from Taiwanese Chinese who are ever more present in China and in Shanghai in particular (just as the talent and skills of the Hong Kong Chinese are evident throughout China, the Empire is befitting from its citizens in both special provinces and Shanghai and Beijing are each considered separate provinces as well). A dozen years ago, the Pudong side of the river in Shanghai, the new downtown financial hub was a rice paddy, and during the past dozen years one fourth of all the major construction cranes in the world have been in Shanghai.

In Pudong, the skyscrapers soar ambitiously up toward the clouds, and the architecture is futuristic, occasionally stunning and beautiful, sometimes even whimsical, and more often than not inventive. Bathed in flattering lighting at night, tens of thousands of Chinese, many here from the provinces for the first time, joined by foreign visitors and local Shanghians - jam the river waterfront promenade known as the Bund (this is the other side of the river from Pudong and the incarnation of the former colonial occupation by the British, French and others). The Pudong skyline is a symbol for China, a source of pride for the people, and a punctuation to the inevitability of Shanghai becoming the center of finance for the planet in the not too distant future. One senses that the Chinese are beginning to understand this inevitability, to believe in it, even if they (or anyone else for that matter) yet knows what it will all mean to them or to us. Part of the pride the Chinese feel has something, I think, to do with their former diminution of self at the hands of those western nations that were less than gracious in inviting themselves to stay in the country, and the resultant loss of face from the Opium Wars and what they suffered during the two World Wars. Now China is again about to walk onto that world center stage and claim its place as a major player on the international scene -- and understanding of that inevitability permeates the whole of the country, nowhere more so than in Shanghai. Unlike Southeast Asia, where a huge percentage of the population is under 25, in China the one child dictate has kept the population age spread out (and as the population ages, like in Japan though to a lesser degree, provision for taking care of the older population may fall on the smaller group below.)

The building and economic statistics for China are almost unfathomable. The investment in other countries (and continents for that matter) is staggering. Visiting the Urban Planning Center (near the Shanghai Museum complex which also houses the new Shanghai Arts Museum in the refurbished old Shanghai Turf Club on the grounds that use to be the home of the city's racetrack and one-time center of the devil foreigner's cultural life), there is an model exhibit of Shanghaia's future, a kind of Bay Area Model depicting in miniature what Shanghai will look like in the year 2020 and one gets a sense of how enormous the Chinese vision, how breathtaking will be the finished product, and, of course, how complicated will be the problems and challenges such an undertaking will exact (and already has) as payment.

If the Bund remains the promenade of Shanghai, the perennial route of the ongoing "see you, see me" endless people parade, the Shanghai Museum, which holds undoubtedly and indisputably the best collection of antiquity pottery, bronzes, stoneware, furniture and other cultural and artistic artifacts from the past 8000 years, is the geographic center and soul of the city. While nearby Nanking Street still attracts thousands of pedestrian strollers on a warm night, the retail core of the city has moved to the old French Concession area from the once ubiquitous Freedom Department Store to smaller boutiques. Fashion, in a form has hit Shanghai.

Gone are the seeming millions of bicycles, replaced by cars and a state of the art subway system. Every self-respecting teenager in the city has a cell phone and, like teenagers everywhere, their attention is permanently fixated on those small screens as they text, play games and do whatever else teenagers do with their cell phones. My friend has brought his cell phone with him, buys a sim card at China Mobile, and his phone works everywhere we go in China from the east coast to Tibet with perfect reception. The elevated freeways are lit at night from underneath in futuristic blue lighting making the whole city seem alive. The pace of the city is fast, yet not frenzied. There is an intensity underlying daily life, but it's not oppressive or heavy. It's a cross somewhere between the excitement and the early feeling of Silicon Valley and the edgy Paris of a bygone era.

Our first small introduction to bribery came in Shanghai when my friend and I accompanied one of his friends and a Chinese woman working for his friend. We went to Shanghai's most famous dumpling emporium, a local hangout in the old town area whose dumplings were of such renown and so highly prized that there is always a line for both take-out and for a seat in one of the dozen or so small dining rooms. We went on a weekend, and the lines were impossible. Our Chinese hostess beckoned us up to the second floor where she spoke quickly to a matre'd and then informed us that getting immediately seated would be no problem we just had to agree that our four person party would order at least 600 Yuan's worth of food (approximately $80 for our lunch, high by Chinese standards, not impossibly so by ours). We were hungry, tired, not wanting to pass up Shanghai's most famous eatery, so we readily agreed, were quickly seated, and ordered and ordered and ordered our dumplings. It was a wonderful meal not overpriced by western standards, and when we finished, satisfied and satiated, we trudged back down the stairs past people in line we had passed on the way up who were still patiently waiting their turn. We simply bought our way in, not unlike what happens all over the world I suppose.. A fine system if you happen to have the cash. Of course, one might say the same thing about America.

I had the opportunity to meet with one of the foremost leaders in China's arts & cultural sector, Sun Man Tseng who heads the Arts Administration Department at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and over coffees we had the chance to talk about arts administration issues (a hot topic now in China and elsewhere in Asia) and how training of new leadership differs in China and America (it doesn't differ all that much) and marketing, fund-raising, solicitation of corporate sponsorships, audience development are all critical areas in both countries, and doubtless around the world. Mr. Tseng represents another phenomenon in the development of China, the migration of talent from Hong Kong back to the mainland, and Beijing has been, I think, extraordinarily wise in its handling of the Hong Kong repatriation process by not forcefully stifling the province in any sense. All the western developed talent, skills and experience of Hong Kong is beginning to be of direct benefit to all of China. Sun Man and I discussed ways we might share information across borders about arts administration issues and, in the process, build bridges and relationships in a global arts administration movement. (And arguably a consensus global underpinning of support for the concept of the value of art & culture would be a positive development for the arts in every country.)

My traveling companion has a friend who has lived in China for some twenty years. Originally from Richmond California, George is 80 years old now. One of the pioneers in the backpacking manufacturing field a founder of Sierra Designs, George now lives in Yangzhou, a 2500 year old city of some four million people - with beautiful downtown parks, but otherwise not particularly noteworthy, lying northeast of Shanghai and Nanjing in the Jiangsu province. George met us in Shanghai and we drove the two plus hours up to Yangzhou, through relatively flat, and not terribly interesting terrain. The only noteworthy memory of the trip was that you'd be driving along for a hour and all of a sudden on one side of the highway or the other, right in the middle of nowhere, there would be a cluster of a half dozen of some 20+ story high brand new buildings, apartments apparently. Then you'd drive another ten or fifteen miles and there would be another cluster rising up. Just another example of the patch-work quilt of building, building, building that is the norm in China right now.

George has a factory in Yangzhou, located on the outskirts of the growing city, where he manufacturers backpacks, tents, other gear and fulfills contracts for clients around the world. In this industry, he is always competing with other factories to land contracts for manufacture and to sell his wares across the globe to distributors. His is a small factory, taking up three principal rooms, the largest of which is maybe 100 feet long with sewing machines on both sides of long tables. His employees are by and large young Chinese from other provinces, lured to Shanghai for the wages that are many times what they might earn back home and for the glitter that is the new Shanghai. They are really kids. They work long, hard days, starting at 8:00 am and ending at 6:00 pm, five or six days a week. But this is no sweatshop in the Upton Sinclair sense. Nobody stands watch over them; lunch is part of their compensation, they take scheduled breaks, there is air conditioning and fans for the hot summers and heat for the cold winters. They are paid a salary, plus a bonus based on productivity. George has made and lost a couple of fortunes, and I think he stays in China and keeps this factory open because they have become his family. He provides a few of them rooms in another building and the rest share dormitory quarters - four to room on average. They send some money home, and they hope to move up the ladder in Shanghai. They smile as they toil and are grateful for the work (and if George doesn't have enough work to go around, the move on where there is work and there is plenty). They are better off by far than they were, and they are, I think, optimistic with their new opportunities. They are the backbone of China's new prosperity. Cheap labor providing manufactured goods to the entire world.

We ask George about the lead paint in the toys recall scandal, and he shows us what is a typical compliance book provided by one of his clients. This book specifies in detail George's obligations under the terms of his agreement with his clients, everything from how employees must be treated to what type of paint and materials must be used in manufacture. In addition to providing one of these books, every client that does business with factories in China also hires one of dozens of firms that audit the factory to make sure that they are in compliance with the specifications in these books.

Because of local corruption and basic greed, there are instances of local factories cutting corners, but the job of the auditing firms is to catch those who cheat. Beijing is doing what it can to enforce standards, but this is another instance where the long arm of Beijing isn't always long enough. The Mattel toy recall then is the fault of both the local greedy factory that disregarded the compliance obligations, and of Mattel or its auditing firm for failing to catch the wrongdoers. Is this systemic throughout China? George thinks not, that far and away the bulk of the factories are responsible and know that long term deviation from the model will only hurt them.

The food in Yangzhou is fantastic and we eat very well for very little money. This isn't prime tourist country so we're careful to tell our hosts that we prefer to pass on parts (beaks, feet, tails, brains et. al.  all of which seem to be on the menu of the average meal). I admit that prior to this trip I had trepidation about the safety of food in China. We consciously avoided (and in fact didn't even see that many) street food vendors, the kind which I regularly haunt when in Thailand, and preferred slightly more upscale restaurants, and all I can say is that I didn't get sick there, or once I got home and in my experience that is a little unusual for a trip to a new country and continent. I think safety is a future issue but not just for Chinese food; it will be an issue with American food too (spinach, lettuce, beef scares all this year) and maybe a global problem. One day we stopped at a very modern supermarket, common in cities across China. October is the autumn festival, a big holiday in China and their principal day for the giving of gifts. All throughout China during our visit we see elaborate gift boxes of moon cakes, a delicious Chinese round dessert cake filled with a variety of fillings, and highly prized by the Chinese. In airports you see people returning home with bags full of large boxes of these moon cakes.

We take a bus back to Nanjing (a former capitol of China) and then fly to Beijing and arrive early one morning. Driving into the city from the airport (and all the airports we use are modern and bustling) is much like driving into any big city in America during rush hour, with two exceptions: we can't see even a patch of blue sky or the sun and for the next five days that remains the case. Beijing is a very polluted city, a mixture of smog and coal dust or ash we're told. The pall of the darkened sky hangs heavily over the city. Whereas the buildings in Shanghai were skyscrapers, tall and thin reaching unfettered upward towards the clouds, the buildings in Beijing are fifteen to twenty stories high on average, but take up entire blocks. They appear squat and bulky and that adds to the heaviness of the air. Where Shanghai is young, energetic and optimistic, Beijing strikes me as a company town, and the company is the Communist Party. Still, there is a charm to what is easily China's core city, the link to its past and the grandeur that was and promises to be. While even old China (let alone ancient China) is being torn down and replaced at breakneck speed, so that visitors from just two years ago hardly recognize the place, Beijing remains the one place where some of the great monuments remain, and those monuments are of such proportion and importance that they dominate the city and its psyche. Some of the hold Hutongs (the narrow alleyways which house older courtyard style homes and small shops) still main in Beijing, and there is a move afoot to protect them. Our little hotel, centrally located is on one of these hutongs and reeks with charm and ambiance.

Beijing is where the tourist will still find vestiges of what westerner's think of when they think of China, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square and we take in all of them. Each of these landmarks is a cottage industry now unto itself and between the guided tours and vendors hawking souvenir junk, the experience isn't quite as pure as it might have been. Then there are the preparations for the Olympics, including the Olympic Countdown Clock at one end of Tiananmen Square marking each passing second until August 8, 2008. (Tiananmen Square is advertised as the largest public square in the world. Mao apparently wanted it to hold one million people and had it expanded but the expansion only increased its capacity from 300,000 to half a million. Still it's a hell of a place for a public gathering). And if you doubted the Olympics are a big deal here, you only need see the advertisements on television, touting the games, extolling people to be friendly to tourists, not to spit in the streets (a largely effective campaign in Beijing and Shanghai, less so elsewhere in the country), and to note the building boom in preparation. These Olympics are to be China's coming out party, the official marking of their ascendancy back to prominence on the world stage, a chance for the world to see the new China. They've recently launched a odd / even license plate numbers program to keep half the cars off the streets each day in an attempt to clean up the air, but I would be amazed if it works. Perhaps the five days we were there aren't typical but if they were, then the price China is paying for energy consumption is real pollution that won't paint the attractive picture China wants to paint to the world. I can imagine Bob Costas on NBC wearing a face mask and welcoming the American audience with the words: And it's another beautiful day here in Beijing. The new Birdcage Olympic Stadium (so named because the architectural feeling is one of a giant birdcage)is but the latest signature edifice in this capitol city, and it is impressive, though not likely to endure for the centuries that the Great Wall and the Forbidden City have stood, but then few modern creations will likely match the permanence of the past. Footnote: while Beijing is obsessed with the Olympics, indicative of the competition between Beijing and Shanghai (sort of like the LA / San Francisco or Houston / Dallas rivalry), Shanghai is pushing the fact that they are hosting the 2010 World Expo.

One negative we note in both Shanghai and Beijing is that while internet access is available in every hotel, there are no internet cafes to be found anywhere in either city. The government has recently closed them down we were told. You can use the access in your hotel, but only if you are a registered guest.

While I preferred Shanghai and understood why China's next generation shares that preference, Beijing has its charms. While a big city, many parts are still walkable, and cabs are inexpensive. Their subway system pales as compared with Shanghai's, but they are building it out at breakneck speed. The food is more varied than in Shanghai, and one day we eat at a place called the Noodle Loft where noodles are made by hand and the process is part of the show. A half dozen chefs are busy making noodles by hand in as many different ways and four giant woks are constantly in use -- all behind a circular counter in full view of the audience of diners. The combinations are seemingly endless, absolutely delicious and cheap too.

The remnants of China's knock-off retail markets remain alive and well in Beijing and there is virtually no product that hasn't been copied and pirated and is readily for sale, though the government is trying to rein in the excesses of the long standing practice. It's almost obligatory for tourists to visit the local markets, and the excursions are fun and great for people watching. From Rolex watches to Ping Golf Clubs, from Air Jordans to Mont Blanc pens, it's all for sale cheap.

There is a vibrant and robust visual art scene developing in Beijing. The five year old 798 Art District in northeast Beijing, near the Central Academy of Fine Arts, is a warren of old warehouses host to numerous galleries featuring some of the best modern art and artists (I mean spectacular stuff) who are rapidly ascending in international circles. Gentrification of the neighborhood and the inevitable arrival of new hip eateries and bars threaten the low rents that gave rise to the gallery explosion in the first place (sound familiar?). I am struck again by the notion that the cycles of impending cultural change, even chaos, seems to result in a dynamic that is very good for fostering visual arts as was the case in New York in the 60s when Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Claes Oldenburg and others were so prolifically productive.

Performing arts in Beijing have long centered on Peking Opera and acrobatics, complemented by foreign dance and music presentations but we may be at the dawn of the era when Beijing became a world presenter of great international performances, music, dance and theater. Three years in the making, the just opened National Grand Theatre is a spectacular new glass and titanium venue reminiscent of a nuclear power plant dome, surrounded by a moat - just steps from Tiananmen Square. Somewhat controversial because of its massive use of glass (in a city where the pollution is so severe there are questions of how the glass can possibly be kept clean), it is nonetheless a stunning architectural achievement. We were fortunate enough to be given a private tour of the entire facility as the workmen scrambled to complete the finishing details before the scheduled opening just one week after we were there. There are three separate venues within the giant edifice, somewhat smaller than one would have thought (a main hall for larger opera, music and dance presentations with an approximate 2,500 seat capacity, a second hall with a 2000 seat capacity concert hall, and a smaller 1000 seat venue. There is underground parking for 1000 cars and 1500 scooters or bicycles.) The interior is stunning, with extensive use of imported woods, different kinds of marble from throughout China, with wide open spaces, expansive lobbies, and concession and catering stations. Like the Disney Hall in LA, this is a signature building for Beijing, destined to be known both for its physical uniqueness and for its hosting an ambitious schedule of internationally acclaimed performing artists. Our guide talks about the future of this building and how he perceives that funding for arts programs and performance presentations will likely become increasingly dependent on earned income and less likely to be able to rely on government subsidy. He opines about his options to solicit corporate sponsorships (domestic and foreign) as he competes in the open marketplace for funds and support for his institution. We then adjourn to a local restaurant popular with Beijing residents for a traditional Peking Duck dinner and it is one of the best and most memorable meals I have ever had in Asia, absolutely delicious.

From Beijing we wanted to take the new (2006 launch) High Altitude Train to Lhasa in Tibet, but as you can't book the trip without a permit to travel to Tibet, and can't get the permit without booking a tour (consisting of no more than yourself if you might be traveling alone) and you can't book the tour until you are actually in China, and so the popular train tickets weren't available on the date we wanted, so we flew to Tibet and decided to take the two day train ride out.

At an altitude of nearly 15,000 feet the air in Lhasa is thin, and your sudden arrival at the airport hits you like a ton of bricks. Stepping off the plane, you feel light headed, a little giddy and confused, with a growing headache. Climbing even one flight of stairs is exhausting and you really need at least 24 hours and more like 36 to 48 hours for your body to adjust. They sell mini tanks of oxygen at hotels, and my doctor informed me before I left that one of the prophylaxis of choice for Acute Mountain Sickness is Viagra. Go figure.

So we have a kind of rough first night in Lhasa, a surprisingly bigger city than one might imagine, located the other side of nowhere, far, far beyond the boonies. A strange place to locate a city really, in a hostile and mostly barren land. But there is bright blue sky and plenty of sunshine and a welcome contrast to the dark, foreboding grey of Beijing from which we have come.

Lhasa is the major city in Tibet, home of the Dali Lama's ancestral home, the Potala Palace, an old, somewhat decaying, but impressively massive edifice built into the side of a cliff and which is the geographical and soulful center of Tibet. While the Dali Lama hasn't been in residence for some time, the palace is open to public tours and if you don't mind climbing countless steps, well worth the visit.
While the Potala is the obvious postcard landmark, the Jokhang Temple not far away is the spiritual center of the Buddhist country, which is deeply religious. Tibet's holiest temple is a maze of rooms that house significant antiquities and statuary of Buddha and to where Tibetans make daily pilgrimages carrying prayer wheels and paying homage to the spirit of the Buddha. The crowds get so large at certain points in the day, that the one entrance and exit to the main building is a stampede waiting to happen and on my visit, the crowds were pushing so hard to exit such a small space that I had, for a few moments anyway, the sinking feeling that we were perilously close to a tragedy in the making. All it would have taken was for a moment of panic and one or two people to have stumbled, and I would have been part of a tragic six o'clock lead news story and we came perilously close to that ending.
Surrounding the Jokhang outside is a pilgrim's circle (the Barkhor) of what has developed into a tourist maze of shops and stalls. The flow moves traditionally clockwise and it's a fun five minute stroll - perfect to absorb the flavor of the area, hard to resist buying local handicrafts and tourist trinkets.

Beijing has moved in large numbers of native Han Chinese (China's dominant ethnic group), and provided incentives for their settlement in Tibet and this strategy of diluting the native population, coupled with what some might term financial incentive bribes to the local Tibetans in the form of subsidized new housing and other standard of living improvements have combined to neutralize, at least for now, much of the unrest that stems from China's insistence that Tibet is a part of China and their reluctance to entertain any notion of Tibetan independence (similar to Beijing's stance on Taiwan but with arguably less questionable historical right on their side). The high altitude and intense sunlight, coupled with Tibetans hard working conditions have had an impact on the eyesight of many older Tibetans whose eyes are the glassed over milky color of cataracts. The one negative event of my whole trip was that I lost my own prescription glasses (titanium frames, integrated bi-focal, transition lenses, rather expensive) at the Potala Palace and the next day I discover the Tibetans aren't familiar with the concept of a Lost & Found. The good news is that there are a score or more optometrist shops catering to the eye problems of the natives, and I am able to replace my lost prescription glasses for a fraction of what I would have to pay in the States.

One of the things that struck me most about China is how much the country is like ours, how much the people are like us. When traveling internationally, I am always reminded how much people across the world are alike. When you witness the daily lives of people on the planet, it doesn't matter if they are from the west or east, Asia or the Americas, neither the color of their skins nor their religious beliefs change the fact that we spend our daily lives eating and sleeping, working and interacting and so our daily lives are very similar. A case in point: One day in Lhasa we are out walking the city in the afternoon and we come across a small group of Tibetans sitting and standing outside the iron gate of this building's courtyard. Women are seated on a wall aimlessly chatting with each other, some men are smoking (Asia is still a smoking continent) and talking. So we stop and wonder what they are all waiting for, and moments later young Tibetan school children (say K through fifth grade), dressed in their uniforms, come pouring out the gate. The adults are their parents come to pick them up and walk them home. It reminds me of the grammar school very near my home in Sleepy Hollow, Marin County, California, where every afternoon at about 2:45 parents wait for their little kids to get out of school to escort them home. The only difference is that in my neighborhood, the parents wait in the SUV's. But I am struck with how, on the other side of the world, in a land as exotic as a white westerner is likely to find, we are so much the same. I cannot help but smile as these cute little kids come filing out of their school to their waiting and proud parents.

We took the train out of Lhasa to Chengdu, a major metropolitan area in the center of China, akin I guess to Chicago in the states. Population 4 million in the city / 13 million in the wider metro area. It is a major hub city, lying at the heart of the Shetzuan province, the third largest city in China, and home (just outside the city) to the Panda preserve. The train ride is disappointing. It is an impressive engineering feat as the highest altitude train in the world, and the cars are modern, but the outside scenery isn't as spectacular as one might imagine (perhaps it is more so during winter when the mountains are completely covered in snow); the facilities are minimal (squat toilets are too primitive for me), and the food really isn't very good at all. And it is a 45 hour ride from Lhasa to Chengdu, far too long even with a virtually private cabin.

Chengdu shares with its east coast sister cities the penchant for growth and building, and everywhere it is expanding. They are in the process of building an underground subway, a feat I doubt any American city could even launch in the time Chengdu will very likely complete their project and this commitment to building and re-building the infrastructure is one of China's most amazing undertakings and accomplishments. To decide to make the country modern, and then to execute that decision within a relatively short period of time (a decade or two) in a country the geographical and population size of China is nothing short of amazing. To be sure they are paying a price for their ambition in the form of pollution, in terms of losing some of the past (perhaps deliberately), and in terms of displacement and disappointment to a whole strata of their people, but the forward movement can no longer be stopped even if they wanted to. They are on an inalterable course, one fraught with danger, but one which holds the promise of their salvation and future, at least that's how it's perceived, and the whole country, like it or not, is part of this experiment and transition. It permeates every area, every level, every city, every household, in ways I'm thinking no one completely understands. But everyone seems to appreciate that it is happening, and won't be stopped.

We were going to check out the nearby Panda center but learned that the Pandas schedule wasn't allowing them much time to preen for the tourist's pleasure at this time of year, so we passed. No point making a half day trek to find the Pandas in siesta downtime.

In neither Beijing nor Shanghai did we see many street beggars, odd, for there are always street people, homeless, addicts, people down on their luck - not just in Asia, but in cities across the globe, including here, in America. I don't know if the government has some program to help them, or more likely to help them go elsewhere, but you didn't see them. In Chengdu as we walked along the main boulevard among the mass of people at the end of the workday, there were a few beggars. One, a young man in his twenties had a twisted body, racked by what I have no idea, but his limbs were terribly mangled and deformed as in thalidomide poisoning, but the surprising thing was his face was absolutely perfect. I don't mean just without blemish or marred by something grotesque, his face was angelic, handsome, and deeply beautiful. It made you stop in mid-step to see the cruel juxtaposition of mangled limbs with such a stunning face. We stopped, returned and I gave him ten Yuan, a probably bigger amount than he usually got, but which was really nothing less than $1.25. And when I gave it to him, he looked me straight in the eyes and said a very simple yet profoundly moving and genuine "thank-you". I said "you're welcome" and moved on, too embarrassed or feeling too awkward to stay standing in front of him, not sure if "thank-you" was the sum total of his English, and with nothing more for me to really say anyway, and later I wondered why I felt like that, why I reacted so predictably, why I didn't give him a hundred Yuan or five hundred Yuan which wouldn't have been that much either, but at least enough that he could actually buy something with it. How can he survive on so little, and why does he have to beg? He appeared intelligent to me, he looked like he tried to take care of himself, he wasn't flipped out, like I think I would have been had fate dealt me his hand, not some kind of obvious addict or someone who had given up on life. I wonder what is wrong with me that I didn't ask him if he spoke any English and if he did, why I didn't just sit down on the sidewalk next to him and talk to him for a moment. Would that have offended him? I don't say this because I think for a minute that my giving him a reasonable amount of money, or sitting down and talking to him would, in any way, make me a good person or something. It bothered me and I think of it still because I squandered an opportunity that would have been good for me because of feeling ill at ease. The older I get, the more I recognize when I have squandered an opportunity; and the more I regret doing that. So while I would hope I am getting better at taking advantage of situations presented to me, I still take too few risks, play the game too safe, and have yet to get measurably beyond myself. One can only hope the opportunities will keep coming, and that I will get better at exploiting them. Travel should help one take more risks, not reinforce the risk taking aversion we already embrace. I resolve to do better. Time will tell if that resolve will mean anything. I will remember that young boy's face for a long, long time. I pray for him.

This young man was another example of the problems facing China post modernization. They have no legacy of government having a role to play in taking care of its citizens in the sense of a welfare state, particularly ones dealt lousy hands in life and industrial life will only increase the demands of those citizens. I am not criticizing here, this is simply the way it has always been. China has 1.2 billion people, so its no surprise that all of their statistics are kind of mind boggling to us, including the stat I read that declared China has 83 million disabled people. 83 million, like one fourth of our entire population. And I'm not sure what, if any, provision there is to take care of these people outside of their families providing for them. And that dependence only on the family or the clan has, during China's history, been one of the reasons that the common man has, from time to time -- and continuously -- rebelled against the corruption that allows some to live a good life, but not him.

Everything is impacted by China's population. The one child rule for population control, thought by the Chinese to be critical to any chance they would ever have to get a handle on their society and move forward finally, has had two profound side effects, first, as male children were preferred and abortions used as a tool to get a boy child, there has resulted a dearth of females available for marriage to what the Chinese themselves call the "little emperors", boy children raised since the Mao one child edict who are now looking for wives that aren't there (and there is a growing industry to provide the Chinese with Burmese and other ethnic group women for virtual import to China.) The second effect is what some critics claim is the new generation of spoiled, indulged "little Emperors" who, doted on by no fewer, on average, than six fawning adults mother, father and two sets of grandparents - have been spoiled rotten. Personally, I think that criticism is too harsh, I didn't see obvious signs that the little Emperors are going to be that different from previous generations, that the self-centeredness of indulged youth will ruin their society; certainly they have lived better lives, but why not?

While we had few opportunities to have any real in-depth conversations about heady subjects such as "democracy", we did speak with several Chinese people, from a variety of places in their society, over the course of the trip, and we got the impression that the idea of democracy is something they have neither abandoned nor forgotten, and we sensed a strong feeling that it must, inevitably, come to China. But that said, they are pre-occupied at the moment, caught up in an historical uplifting of their economic position and power, and their daily standard of living, and that is an opiate hard not to serve. Increased freedoms for the average person, more opportunities to participate in the decision-making process, greater equity in spreading around of the wealth, more provision to insure all layers of the society have some basic protections, these are the demands I think Beijing will have to address if they expect the rank and file of the population to accept continuation down the path they have chosen. And they will have to carefully manage both their economy and the expectations of their people while at the same time negotiating a labyrinth of international challenges fraught with increased risk and danger. They will have to get a handle on corruption and pollution while dealing with a hostile world. The same challenges that will face all nations.

October 1st is National Day in China commemorating the establishment of the People's Republic in 1949. The entire country celebrates and people travel on that date, they go home, the go to the cities to visit friends or check them out. Some 240 million people are reported to travel on that day or the days immediately preceding or following and they clog train stations, airports, highways and bring cities to a standstill across the country. You don't want to try to travel on that day. It's like 75% of the people in the U.S. all traveling on the Fourth of July. We didn't want to get stuck. So we left.

And those were some of the highlights that were my initial China experience. Too much to absorb in such a short time. I would go back, and will, for there is much I have yet to see there. And were I still young, in my thirties, I would try to learn Mandarin and would spend a year living in Shanghai, I think it would be of great value to my future success in the new world.

What is happening in China now is really unprecedented in history; it is a remarkable effort on a hard to imagine grand scale to change a culture and society, an attempt to move not just from one "age" to another, but to actually skip some of the middle steps in the process. This effort is ambitious, fraught with risk, and breathtakingly impressive as it unfolds. Beijing and the Chinese leadership need so many things to go right that it would be almost a miracle if their effort succeeds, but then it would also be surprising to me if they didn't. I wish them the best of luck. I hope America can take a more sophisticated view of China and not succumb to the easy political out of trying to make them the scapegoat for a variety of problems which are of our own making. China is different from the U.S. and we must step back from the notion that the only acceptable form of government, the only acceptable way to organize a society is some mirror image of the way we approach things. Certainly in the next two or three decades, China and America will be competitors, and our separate interests will vary widely. But neither need be a threat to the other. In modern history, China has never attacked anyone, never instigated war with any country, never been the aggressor. We ought to work together. A partnership between America and China, albeit an uneasy one, will be of far greater benefit to the world in the coming decades and to both China and America - than an arm's length competition based on mistrust and suspicion, and characterized by contentiousness and animosity. Both countries have an incredible opportunity. One can only hope neither side blows it.

If you get the opportunity, I urge you to go and see China for yourself. It is a fantastic country and you will enjoy the experience immensely. There should be lots of opportunities in the next few years for intersections in the arts and culture sectors of the two nations, and we ought to do all we can to capitalize on those intersections for our mutual benefit. We need to champion the idea that the arts & culture sectors can build bridges that can promote two-way traffic on scores of other fronts. My own conclusion is that we are far, far more alike than we are different.

COMING UP IN NOVEMBER: An in-depth interview with Andrew Taylor, Director of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration at the School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit!