Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dinner-vention Part 2

Good morning.
“And the beat goes on....................”

Note:  Margot Knight's name is inadvertently misspelled in the credits, omitting the "t" and erroneously    listing her as "Margo".  I deeply apologize to her for that error.

We tried to embed the video into the email of the blog so you could watch it that way, but it turns out the file is too big to do that.  So, if you click on the Barry's Blog logo above, you will be taken directly to the site where you will find the video.  Once you get to the site itself, you can scroll down to watch Part I if you want.


 Here is Part II of the Dinner-vention conversation.


Don't Quit


  1. This has been a wonderfully engaging discussion so far. The guests are all so passionate and articulate about their beliefs. And if I don't necessarily agree with everything that gets said I am at least sympathetic and recognize the genuine motivations that point in these directions.

    If I could, I'd ask Clayton Lord to explain his reference to the 'slippery slope' he sees in Nina Simon's perspective. He states (and apologies if I didn't get all of this right!), "You once told a story about an exhibit that you did about collage where you said that you weren't getting enough people, I think. I may be misinterpreting this. And so you put some couches with some paper and you allowed people to come in and play with the paper and make their own collages. And you were asked in the thing that I saw you at "How many people looked at the art on the walls?" and you basically said that you didn't care. And I think that that's absolutely fine, and that's your prerogative. But I also think that its a very slippery slope to go down. Because at a certain point engaging community is as vital as possible and also needs to be set along side the core mission of why the organization exists in the first place."

    In my mind those people sitting on the couch were perfectly engaged. They may, in fact, have been enthusiastic. What Lord seems to be suggesting, however, is that the art itself is the required reason for people's engagement, and that no matter how enthusiastic or well attended an event, if the art on display isn't itself the prime mover then we have somehow failed. I may be getting this wrong, but that is what he seems to imply.

    And yet this seems exactly opposite of what Simon herself said. She states (and again apologies if I get some of this wrong), "One of the things we, and I constantly, hate way more then 'help' is 'serve', and 'who do you serve?'. When we get asked that on a grant proposal and when we work with different communities we always talk about both 'needs' and 'assets' of the community. And this idea that we're just there to serve needs is total bullshit. And I was just talking to a coach who is helping us with this proposal talking about working with communities based on needs and assets, and she asks 'What's the assets part? Is that money?" "No its the art they make. Its what they bring to the table." And its so amazing for us, the kind of mind shift of instead of looking at 'what is this community?' or 'what does this particular population need?', looking at what do they have to bring to the table that otherwise is not represented here? And just looking at it more from the perspective of 'How can somebody else make this place better', as opposed to 'What do I have to serve you?'"

    I'd be inclined to think that regardless of the art on the walls this involvement is evidence of a more thorough engagement in the community than simply standing passively in front of a pedestal while the prescribed art acts on us. I'd even possibly argue that the passivity of meekly accepting our doses of others' art has gotten us in these dire straights in the first place. The issue of engagement is not always finding a place for art within our communities, but of finding the art within ourselves. THAT is how art becomes relevant.

  2. (2nd part of comment)

    But beyond the matter of the art itself, there is the further issue of how engagement straddles many activities and resources. If its only about the art, we may be doomed, or our relevance severely hampered. As Salvador Acevado says (again apologies If I didn't catch this all correctly), "At the end of the day its all about providing value or sharing that value with the people that matter to you. And I wanted to bring an example,... the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, the only Latino museum accredited by the American Association of Museums. At some Point during their history they realized that all the exhibits they could do, all the great art they could bring to the community, wasn't enough. Because people needed health services and health information, so they ran a diabetes awareness campaign. And they realized that teenagers in the area were at risk and getting in trouble, so they created a radio station. And they had no problem is saying "Is this part of our mission? Is this not part of our mission?" They were just paying attention to what their community needed and wanted..... Do you think that for a kid doing a video and putting it on Youtube that there's a difference between performing art, music and dance? The kid is just expressing himself. And that's what they are about, and that's what we need to pay attention to. But we get caught up in all this language."

    That seems profoundly important. And so the further thing I'd ask is whether by 'serving our communities' we can also mean giving something of value to smaller segments of them. Is it possible that the entire community, or the larger sense of that community, is itself helped by offering services to just the troubled youths, to just the folks who deal with diabetes? Isn't the idea of community, in fact, that despite our different needs we are all in this together? And the community itself is made stronger by including as many of the parts as possible? Isn't it valid to aim at the smaller interests? For the sake of the community?

    And so when the discussion turned to "killing off" organizations that are deemed to not be serving their communities I wonder just how pervasive the needs must be in order for organizations to justifiably 'serve' them? Are we measuring the success of what we do simply by how broadly the first contact brushes its paint? What about the 'ripple effect?' What about a community being a better place because real need in minority segments have been addressed? If we are only aiming at works that have the most first hand significance we miss the point that people being treated for diabetes is desirable for all the people who are friends with those persons, or who are their family. THIS makes the community stronger. Or we miss that finding a way for troubled youth to express themselves nonviolently is a good for the whole and not just the parts.....

    So, ultimately, it seems that the need to kill organizations is borne out of frustration at the seeming disproportionate investment rather than actual needs addressed in the community. Needs are not voided simply because they are not shared widely. And relevance for even only one person still makes a thing relevant, none the less. If we water down our offerings to have greater mass appeal we may suffer the consequences of no longer challenging our audiences to be inspired, as Marc Bamuthi Joseph suggests, and end up merely as entertainment. Pablum, in other words....

    Is that what we truly want? Personally, I would rather have art that was special in the sense of being unexpected or surprising, that teaches me something, than special in the sense of wildly popular. The two may overlap, but we should be careful that we are not measuring for the one when we think we are looking at the other.

    I can't wait to see where the discussion heads next! I, for one, am inspired by what I have witnessed so far!

  3. First off, Carter, I want to second your enthusiasm for where this conversation is heading. I've only watched the first two parts, and I'm very much looking forward to catching up on the rest.

    Secondly, thank you for responding to this segment so thoroughly. I, too, am interested in this discussion of the distinction between an arts organization and a community center (or if there is / should be one) and I think both your point about Clay and Nina's exchange as well as your comment on Salvador's statement get at the heart of it.

    To your first point, I would ask you, do you feel like there is still room for passive art? As someone who has enjoyed his fair share of interactive art exhibits, I am all for the idea of engaging audiences more thoroughly and providing them with means to be active with art, and I would also argue that Nina's use of the couch and paper created an artistic experience. I wonder, though, what does this mean for the proscenium stage? The walls of art exhibits? When you talk about us finding relevancy in art, do you see that being the responsibility of the artist, the audience, or both?

    To your second point, I would wonder whether an arts organization that serves other needs within the community, be it by running diabetes campaigns or serving as a voting center, would start to lose its sense of identity as an arts organization. I definitely agree that organizations should be conscious of the communities they exist in and how they might contribute, but I also think organizations should focus on their areas of strength, since it's in these areas that they'll likely make the biggest difference. If there's a diabetes awareness campaign that needs to be run, should it be the responsibility of the arts organization to do so? Or if they are the ones to notice the need, would they be better off finding others in the community to spearhead the campaign, and instead support the campaign with whatever resources/strengths they have to offer? I worry that it would be easy for a proactive organization, be it arts or otherwise, to stretch itself thin over this kind of work.

    What I would then ask is, if an arts organization is engaging in other issues within a community, be it a diabetes campaign or

  4. Hey Alex,

    I think those are all good questions! The last bit apparently got cut off, but you directed most things to what I thought personally, so I'll go ahead and respond to what made it in.

    Me personally, I think there is no natural limit on what art should be made. I would say that even if there were absolutely no audience for passive art it still should be made. That's me as an artist talking. But I can see how it might come into question from an arts organizational perspective when there are obligations not just to the art but to constituents, employees, and to the survival of the institution itself at stake. Which makes it complicated, I suppose. But the signs are that relevance challenged institutions will probably find themselves in a tough corner if they simply rely on passive engagement as the only source of public interest. The fact that this model may be failing in the marketplace is not a judgment against the quality or the nature of the art itself. Just on how it fits today's audience expectations and needs....

    Is it the responsibility of the audience or the artist to find relevance? I guess it depends. I wouldn't expect one answer for all circumstances. It may not even be the job of some art to be broadly relevant. Or even 'successful'. Take Nina Simon's example from this video: "One of the arts organizations that really inspires me, Machine project in LA, Mark Allen who runs it once said 'We have a deliberately unsustainable business model. At some point its not gonna work.' And I feel like any endeavor you undertake that you're really passionate about, its not about the business model. Yes, eventually you want to take care of your staff, and all those kinds of things. But I always really resonated with that idea: Just do something really amazing and don't worry about this other stuff. And sometimes it will work and sometimes it won't, but you're gonna feel a heck of a lot better about what you have done."

    As far as organizations becoming stretched in the pursuit of diversity, yes, that is always a risk. Some will find a sustainable balance while others fail. Just as organizations either succeed or fail for a variety of other reasons. But to not take those risks in favor of simply treading water, doling out the same old same old, seems like an affront to the changing nature of the arts themselves. If the arts world were at a stand still, it would not even be a question. But things ARE changing, and its important that we come to some accommodation in the new reality.

    Personally, I think its important to have hold outs and anachronisms, little islands of changelessness. But not everything. I think the allowable diversity should include all possible manifestations. Its a question of whether we also move forward with the times and reinvent ourselves to keep pace and even lead by example, or if we stay the course no matter how much around us seems to be passing us by.

    I'll end by quoting Marc Bamuthi Joseph from the 5th video. He speaks of the potential for a bifurcation in our thinking about the roles of these organizations. He says, "By creating this creative ecosystem I asked my organization to think of itself not as a presenting organization but as an entity that lies on an axis somewhere between academics and entrepreneurship. That we're not a graduate school, but we are a place of ideas. We're not a start up but we are a place where there is public output. Where do you see your particular organizations or your particular entities existing between? Are you on an axis existing between sports and health? Between literature and social development? And does that matter? All these question, I think, ultimately are about using artistic devices or artistic methodology to reframe how we think about our business models and how we think about our accountability to the micro-societies and the multiple publics that surround who and what it is that we are." Sounds about right to me!

  5. I, as a visual artist, was shocked to watched this discussion.

    Where was the discussion of the current neo-liberal politics behind the growing demand of non-profits, all begging for the same money?
    Where was the outrage that a art museum/cultural center even has to resort their money and energy as a medical clinic because society isn't supplying basic care?
    Where is the realization by these leading administrators that the neo-liberal cultural policies being shoved down our cultural institutions today isn't work, isn't sustainable?

    And what art advocate in their right mind, who really has the interest of artists and the organizations that represent them in mind, would ever suggest that it should be the IRS that is the arbiter of when a arts organization is being successful or not?