Thursday, April 21, 2005

April 22, 2005 Update #3

Table of Contents:
I. Conferences and more conferences
- Americans for the Arts in Austin, Dance USA Roundtable in Seattle
II. A New Gig for me - I've taken the position of Executive Director of Alonzo
King's LINES Ballet in San Francisco
III. Bits & Pieces - Alliance for the Arts meet on the Rand Study

Hello everybody.
"And the beat goes on............"

"I ran all the way home, just to say I'm sorry, what can I say........"
Another apology: Last week many people got the email summary of the weekly update blog several times - some as many as ten. My fault. I screwed it up by hitting the wrong key. I'm not terribly technically savvy. Please accept my apologies. I've figured it out so it won't happen again. Still working on making sure there are no typos or funny little symbols in the body of the update. I appreciate your patience.

I. Conferences, Conferences:
"It's the time of the season..........."

May seems to be the beginning of our annual "Let's All Get Together at big conferences" push. Several months ago Andrew Taylor raised a point in his The Artful Manager blog about the Panel Sessions that are the mainstay of our conferences, noting that the model doesn't seem to work all that well - Three to five people speak for five minutes each, in very general terms about the topic of the panel, then at the end there is usually enough time for maybe one or two questions from the audience, and invariably the first person recognized doesn't really have a question, but drones on about some point they think important, and that is the extent of any interchange between panel and audience.

Five minutes is not enough time for panel members to get into any depth on any subject, and usually there is very little pre-preparation on narrowing the focus. So what we end up with are general sessions that impart very little new or even usable knowledge, but rather provide a re-hash of the issue - well known for the most part by everyone who attends. I suppose there is some value in all of this, particularly for those new to the field or position they hold, but for most people it seems increasingly difficult to discern that value.

I have no idea what a more viable alternative might look like, but there must be a better approach than this one. I have to believe better minds can come up with something that might be tried.
For me, the value in attending these conferences isn't in the panels anymore anyway, but rather in the networking between the sessions. That's where the real discussions happen and new ideas are generated. I've never come away from an Americans for the Arts conference not having had some new idea or thought that was generated in the individual conversations had at the gathering, and frequently those ideas took shape and ultimately resulted in some new project or initiative. Years ago when I worked with Harriet Fulbright at the President's Committee on the Arts & Humanities, the idea of a joint meeting between the Committee and the Hollywood elite was born over drinks w/ myself, Bruce Davis of the Silicon Valley Arts Council, and Malcolm and Jane Swenson (nee Engelstadt) of the Committee' staff. Six months later Terry Semel, then President of Warner Bros, hosted a gathering at the studio attended by a virtual A LIST Who's Who of the movie industry. The failure of that gathering to yield the action it might have is another story. But the historic meeting was born over the chance meeting during the AFTA conference.

Maybe, we should have fewer panels and more time to network and talk with each other in both structured and unstructured brain storming sessions.

BTW the Americans for the Arts Conference will be in Austin, Texas (a very cool city), June 11-13 (Preconference June 9-10). I have always been impressed with the quality of those who occupy the Program Officer / Director positions at major foundations - as a group they are perceptive, savvy, extraordinarily intelligent and gifted leaders - some of the sharpest minds in the field. Moy Eng from the Hewlett Foundation is one of those foundation leaders at the very top of the field. She is one of the featured speakers in an Interview / "Conversation With" Session with Abel Lopez, the president-elect of the Theater Communications Group and immediate past president of the Board of Directors of the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, as the interviewer. That should be a very, very good session. The registration deadline for a reduced registration fee is APRIL 29TH.

For more information and registration click here:

II. A New Gig - Executive Director of Alonzo King's LINES Ballet
"Dancing in the streets........."

I've taken the position as the Executive Director of Alonzo King's LINES Ballet in San Francisco. A twenty-three year old contemporary dance company, that includes the downtown San Francisco Dance Center facility and the LINES Ballet School, it is one of the Bay Area's cultural treasures.
I took the gig for a variety of reasons: I like challenges and guiding this organization is certainly that. After ten years on the policy making stage in the arts, I thought it might be good for me to work in the trenches for a nonprofit arts organization like the ones I have ostensibly been helping to shape policy for. I have always loved dance. But the real reason I took it was Alonzo King - an artist widely regarded as the equal of Alvin Ailey, Twyla Tharp and the other great choreographers of modern dance. As William Forsythe of Ballet Frankfurt noted: "Alonzo King is one of the few, true Ballet Masters of our times." I have previously had the privilege of working with artists of Alonzo's stature and I know what an incredible rush it can be to be even a small part of helping to facilitate the creation of art for an artist at the top of their game. You don't get many chances in life to be a part of a creative matrix that will produce works that will outlive us all, and it is a heady experience. I am fortunate in that at this point in my life, I can afford to take the job, and to prioritize what I really want out of work.

Alonzo has already created a substantial body of work over time, but even great artists have a brief period when their creative output reaches a zenith, and everyone in this company believes that it is on the threshold of its Golden Age, and for purely selfish reasons, I wanted to again experience that ride. The question for this troupe isn't whether it can become one of the great dance companies in America - it already is. The question is can it become one of the great dance companies that ever was. I think it can. Alonzo is a collaborative artist and the plans on the board for new works include extraordinary artists from across the creative spectrum.

Dance is a hard sell; of all the disciplines perhaps the most undervalued. As an interpretive art, without a story, it often challenges audiences, and by and large American audiences are lazy. They want a plot, familiar music and celebrity artists they can relate to. Next to New York, San Francisco is the dance capital of America - and that is both good and bad news; good because the local community is supportive and somewhat sophisticated, bad because the competition is high and the resources limited. Still, LINES has a growing international reputation and base, and there are a number of assets it has yet to fully exploit. Of course, much of the job is fundraising in a far from perfect climate - but the possibilities are endless. Running a mid-sized nonprofit arts organization and joining the Presenting Community within the arts will doubtless tax my limited skills, but I am excited by the opportunity, and to be involved at the working organization level. I hope those at the forefront of these fields will give me the benefit of their experience and knowledge. I have much to learn.

III. Bits & Pieces;
* Date: May 5, 2005. Top cultural policy researchers will come together to present and discuss the latest data at Measuring the Muse: Arts Research from the Frontlines, presented by the National Arts Journalism Program and the Alliance for the Arts with support from The Wallace Foundation and the Columbia University Arts Initiative. Arts professionals will hear presentations of new cultural policy research, including the RAND Corporation report Gifts of the Muse and the Center for an Urban Future's report New York City's Creative Sector: Building an Understanding and Strategy (working title), and join a discussion with leading experts in the field. NEA Chair Dana Gioia and Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert Lynch will be among the speakers at the conference. Registration is required.
* The Governor of Maine has created a permanent Creative Economy Council, recognizing the value and impact of creativity on the state. For more details click here:
* NEA Report on Arts Funding in the US - download by clicking: (requires Adobe)
Have a good week.
Don't Quit.