Sunday, June 18, 2017

High Tech May Yield Even More Space Opportunities for the Arts

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on..............."

Note:  To all the boomers out there - Paul McCartney turns 75.  If you haven't yet begun to stop and smell the roses, you might want to start soon.  Time marches on.  Ain't nobody getting any younger.

I posted a blog last month that considered the possible opportunity for the arts and for artists as retail space (and particularly Mall space) continues to open up as retailers face competition from online companies.

Now another reality brought about by high tech promises there may be even more urban space needing desperately to re-purpose itself, and which therefor may be an opportunity for the arts and artists.

An article in City Lab notes how automated cars and drones are likely to result in fewer cars and trucks on the road, and, as a consequence, make downtown parking lots unnecessary:

"Ian Siegel is a futurist. As founder and CEO for ZipRecruiter, the job-seeking site, he spends a lot of time thinking about what happens next in work. From his 11th-floor office in downtown Santa Monica, Siegel says, he can see seven different parking garages, each one capable of hosting north of 1,000 cars—none of which will be necessary in the future he foresees. “There’s an amazing amount of real estate that’s about to go underutilized,” Siegel says, “unless they find a way to repurpose it.”
Siegel is backing one of the sunnier future transportation timelines: In his mind, the coming rise of autonomous vehicles (AVs), coupled with the takeoff of drone delivery, will leave our roads empty and our parking lots derelict."

And moving the reality of automated vehicles and drone delivery to scale may well not be that far in the future:  Smart phones went from the drawing board to near ubiquitous global usage in less than a decade.  Some predict that individuals will stop buying cars within five years and rely exclusively on the widespread availability of self-driving cars via uber and lyft type services on an as needed basis.  I'm not sure people will so easily give up their love affair with their automobiles, but I suffer the biases of an older generation.  I don't doubt a tech led paradigm shift in transportation is inevitable.

If the result is that these urban parking lots will have to be repurposed, it is unlikely retail stores will be the stand in.  Like empty Malls, empty parking lots may well present the arts and artists with new possibilities for exhibition, performance and work spaces in urban settings.  Of course, many such venues would be repurposed as living residences as that may be the most profitable re-use -- but not in all locations.

Who knows what other technological developments may positively or negatively impact the arts in the future.  The only thing that is probably a certainty is that tech developments will impact us in profound ways.  While it is impossible to predict what developments may be introduced, and exactly how they may impact us, as tech rolls out ever new innovations, there are usually clues and time to make some predictions.  Thus, the near death of urban retail, and perhaps, parking spaces has only begun to happen.  We still have time to react and do something if we deem it prudent, do-able and in our interests.  And many of these opportunities will need to be acted on early.

What we need is to create some mechanism that will allow us to consider the introduction of tech developments, assess their potential (positive and negative) impacts on us, and make recommendations as to how to respond -- rather than wait until the last minute to act.  We need, as a sector, to get in front of how tech changes our businesses and core vision, so we can react early on to maximize our options. What that mechanism would look like, or how it would be created and sustained, and by whom, are open questions we ought to think about.  My own thought is that this is precisely the kind of thing an active NEA could and should effectively address.  Absent their role, the sector needs to figure out how to address the issue.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit
Barry

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Intersections and the Arts

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on........................"

Everywhere you look, we are consumed with the realities and possibilities of varying intersections of the arts with other specific fields: arts and the economy, arts and social justice, arts and healing, and the military, and placemaking, and community engagement, and entrepreneurship and on and on.  Then too there are the intersections of the arts with other disciplines including arts and science, arts and technology, arts and medicine.  Indeed, we might well argue that there is virtually no area that doesn't intersect with the arts, and we firmly believe the arts play a role in nearly every area by bringing value, support, ideas and creativity to each.

In part, this policy of promoting relationships with other fields and interest areas stems from our strategy that our alliances with other sectors is a way for us to advance our interests and our agendas, and demonstrate our value over and apart from the intrinsic value of the arts.  And while those who decry that too much emphasis is placed on the value of the arts as a handmaiden to other values, and perhaps not enough emphasis on what the arts do for individuals, communities and society by just being the arts, the advance of the promotion and involvement of the arts where they intersect with other areas, and where they spur partnerships, is a genie not likely easily put back in the jar.

But all intersections are not the same, and we tend to ignore that fact.  We're in favor of exploring intersections, but haven't devoted energy or resources to understanding how intersections work in general, or in specific cases.  Some intersections are of two equal, major thoroughfares.  But most arts intersections are with forces and structures that dwarf (even if only in their own thinking) the arts.  Rather than as two major highways, the arts are still often seen as (and in reality often actually are)  minor intersection avenues and roads. The arts, and the proposition that they validly and meaningfully  intersect with other areas, in many such cases are almost afterthoughts to the area with which we seek to intersect.  To be sure, we have made inroads in being treated more equally, in having a more respected and vocal presence at a number of intersections, but not everywhere.  While in many cases, the arts intersections are well established and respected, in many other cases we are still at the stage of convincing the "other" area with which we intersect, to see us as we see ourselves - bringing much to the table, and worthy of being seen as not just a contributor, but as worthy of support ourselves for what we bring.

Because there are now so many arts intersections being explored, supported and nurtured (at least by us), it would be wise to take a look at the whole area of intersections, and specifically arts intersections and to try to develop some tools to analyze (or at least consider) each one - first on a case by case basis to determine our relative strength in the potential relationship, what obstacles we face, what opportunities await us, and, generally, what we need to do, and to demand, in order for us to effectively move forward; and second, while each arts intersection is different, there are common elements to all and we can learn from the whole of our effort to pursue meaningful intersections so we might be better at the effort in the longer term.  Our progress in any number of intersections that are already along the continuum has yielded us results and data and experiences that can help us with both existing intersections, and those still embryonic or yet to be opened.  And we have research on some of those intersections. But more would help us to answer two fundamental questions:   What have we already learned and how can we apply it?  And what might we still learn about the phenomenon of how intersections (best) work?

The whole idea of the arts intersecting across virtually every field and every interest area is so pervasive, widespread and endorsed, that it deserves special attention as a whole subject matter on its own, apart from each individual application.  It is an area that would benefit greatly from more data, more analysis and more consideration as it own phenomenon, so we can have some continuity across these various intersections, and have the best chance of success in each one.  So while we rush to embrace intersections and make them work, we should, I think, spend more time trying to understand intersections as a phenomenon and how they work; more time in consideration of both the art and science of these specific kinds of arts intersections.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit
Barry

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Arts Think Tank Follow Up

Good morning
"And the beat goes on......................"

In wondering aloud where the Arts Think Tank is, in last week's blog, several points need to be made as follow up - and I thank several of the readers for raising them with me.

First, there actually was a foundation funded Think Tank created in the 1990's - The Center for Arts and Culture, and it existed for a decade or so, but closed due to lack of continuing funding in 2005. It was affiliated with a number of researchers at major universities - including Princeton, John Hopkins, the University of Texas - Austin, Carnegie Mellon, Rutgers and Ohio State, with financial support over the years from the Ford, Rockefeller, Packard, Pew, Nathan Cummings, Andy Warhol, and Robert Sterling Clark foundations.

It's Board included Alberta Arthurs, Frank Hodsoll, Ben Wattenberg and Harold Williams among others, with Gigi Bradford as its Executive Director.

Out of sight, out of mind - I had completely forgotten about its existence.  During its existence, it published a number of papers, including several under the banner Art, Culture and the National Agenda.  One such paper, published in 2001 entitled America's Cultural Capital - Recommendations for Structuring the Federal Role called for various cultural structures within the federal government.

The Center's publications are now archived at Americans for the Arts' National Arts Administration and Policy Publications Database.

So why did the entity cease operations?  The stated reason was that they reached a point where their funding wasn't continued.  Think Tanks have to either have broad public support, wealthy angels and / or philanthropists committed to their ongoing existence, or earned income.  The Center apparently was unable to sustain any of those funding sources over time.  And it would appear that while their work was of high quality, by people with impeccable credentials, they operated more as a research arm, than an active "Think Tank"; one which sought to have direct active impact on policy decision making.  It was, it would seem, more of an academic approach, than an ongoing place for people to brainstorm and which sought to garner media and public attention from that brainstorming (supported by research).   And perhaps its biggest Achilles Heel was its lack of public involvement.

But it was a real Think Tank.

Publishing authoritative research isn't enough to affect public policy creation.  The organization that is the Think Tank has to be more activist - politically and media wise.  It must have a higher profile and seek attention.

Second, the absence of a formalized, structured Arts and Culture Think Tank (in the traditional sense of that concept), does not mean that meaningful thinking, research and brainstorming is not going on.  In fact, there may be more quality research being done by an ever wider array of qualified researchers now than at any time in the brief history of the nonprofit arts.  Moreover, there are an increasing number of publications - both academic and otherwise - with authoritative content - some affiliated with Universities, that examines a wide and diverse landscape of arts and culture policy issues.  And finally, there are more one time and ongoing forums and opportunities for cogent, disciplined conversations, dialogue and discussion of critical issues to the sector than ever before as well.

From the Kennedy Center Arts Summits to what Arlene Goldbard is doing with the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, and its' platform and Policy on Belonging, to the clearinghouse research archives of Createquity, to the NEA's vastly expanded research activity - to the literally countless meetings, conferences and other ways to exchange ideas and brainstorm.  From The Rand Corporation to Holly Sidford - provocative and far reaching studies have been done in the past decade.  All together there is ample evidence of Think Tank activity going on within our sector.

But it is so diffuse, so de-centralized, so without form and without singularity of purpose in impacting policy, that some of its energy and value are lost.  And that's a waste and a shame.

The challenge with all that activity is to centralize access to its fruits, and to find a way to aggregate it, then convey it, in ways that it helps to influence policy decision making at all levels, and which helps to support the value of the sector to the media and to the public.  That is where a modern version of an Arts and Culture Think Tank would be of value.

I would hope that another version of The Center for Arts and Cultue might be resurrected Phoenix like for the future.  While a University affiliated Think Tank, with research fellows and a management staff, has to have income and a budget, it may be possible with today's technology to run a tighter ship with more volunteer input.  It may not be necessary for a bricks and mortar home base, but rather operate as a virtual entity, and it may not have to re-invent the wheel of all the activity already going on.  Whereas the model for an Arts Think Tank has changed, so too has the model for its funding.  Think 2017, or even 2020.

Have a good week.

Don't Quit
Barry