Sunday, December 5, 2010

20Under40 - Interview with Edward Clapp

Good morning.

“And the beat goes on………………………………….”

“20 Under 40” – A compendium of essays by younger professional arts administrators.

There has been a lot of hype about this book (published this past week), thanks principally to the energy and savvy of its Editor, Edward Clapp – who has been, and continues to be, its’ tireless promoter. Dubbed a “project” – as opposed to simply the release of a ‘book’ – this is an ambitious attempt to aggregate thinking by younger arts administrators and practitioners on some of the major issues they (and the rest of us) face in the changing nonprofit arts sector. Clapp served as Editor of the content, and as the “Project Director” -- its’ principal architect and guardian angel.

Book publishers today are like Record Companies of the past in that they “sign” a lot of artists and then promote the ones that seem to take off on their own. Indeed, one of the most important criteria in determining which authors to sign in the first place is their ability and willingness to be able to self promote and market their work. None but the biggest sellers and celebrities ever command advances, nor do publishers spend any money hyping a book unless and until it generates some buzz (media or sales) on its own. Success is largely due to the efforts of the creators of the work itself, and the distinction between the creator and the marketer of anything has, and will continue, to become increasingly blurred. That is true I think whether the author is signed to major publishing house, to a small boutique publisher, or publishes on their own. I think in many ways this simply mirrors the reality of a lot of what "creativity" has become today. With so many more options to create and self-distribute, and so much more competition brought about by those increased opportunities, (self) marketing is now simply de facto part of the whole of any creative project.

Edward understands the necessity for an Editor or Author to be his or her own biggest booster and that this is an endless and not always easy task. This book or project is his baby and he has been carefully, relentlessly, and even, I think, lovingly tending it for over a year all across the country. I admire and respect that commitment to those he recruited to write chapters in this anthology. And I point to his efforts as a model for others.  Certainly the fact that the book has 20 participating authors, means that he is not alone in his efforts to spread the word. He has, as it were, 20 co-conspirators to assist his plan.

I think we are on the dawn of a new era that will see more and more seasoned and experienced arts administrators (and even those newer to the profession) writing books, and I already see increasing titles about issues germane to the nonprofit arts being published by people in our field. I have, just in the last six months, gotten a half dozen titles sent to me in the hopes I would mention or review them on this blog so as to help them gain some attention. I haven’t yet reviewed any (I won’t do that unless I read them first – and time is always an issue), but it is my intention to review some of those sent to me, including 20Under40 in the near future. I have read some of the abstracts of the chapters of this work on the project’s website (which includes a section that promotes discussion and dialogue on the chapter subjects), and there is much here to absorb and think about.  As one who champions both more discussion within the sector on the whole host of issues we face, and specifically the need for prioritizing the needs of the next generation’s role in arts administration infrastructure, I can applaud this effort from my exposure to it so far. I do think it important that as a field we support those from our field in their endeavors to write about our issues – so I encourage you to buy this book (make it a Christmas present).

I intend to blog more on other book releases germane to the nonprofit arts in the near future – including reviews (and I promise to be “critical”). Meanwhile here is an interview with Edward Clapp:

Edward Clapp Interview:

Barry: You have written and lectured about new forms of mentoring in the arts sector – specifically “bottom up” mentoring. Can you elaborate for my readers?

Edward: What you’re referring to is the notion of “omni-directional mentorship,” one of the five findings my colleague Ann Gregg and I identified based on our 2007 pilot study of young arts professionals. If you think about it, our traditional understanding of mentorship is directional. Knowledge and expertise flow from the top down as wizened older leaders counsel younger protégés. While the young arts professionals we spoke with identified a need for this kind of deep investment from their senior arts leaders, they also suggested that they possessed generational-specific knowledge and expertise that was largely ignored at their institutions. When this sort of knowledge and expertise flows up a hierarchical chain—from individuals of a younger generation to those of an older generation—we call this “mentoring up,” the transfer of knowledge and expertise from a “tapped in” generation to the decision makers above them who likely make meaning of their experiences form a different generational perspective. Traditional top-down mentorship, mentoring up, and lateral mentorship combine to form what Ann and I termed omni-directional mentorship. To learn more about this model of mentorship, your readers can check out my chapter in the recent NAMAC publication entitled A Closer Look 2010: Leading Creatively, To learn more about our initial pilot study and our five core findings, readers can check out the chapter Ann and I wrote for the 20UNDER40 anthology,

Barry: You have said that you think the term “managing” the generational divide in the nonprofit arts workplace is the wrong term to apply. How would you refer to the challenge of accommodating all the different generations within the workplace, and the potential therein for collision points, and how do you think that challenge can best be met?

Edward: You’re right. Lots of the management literature addressing generational differences in the workplace (little of it coming from the nonprofit sector, next to none specifically about the arts) talks about “dealing with” or “managing” generational differences in the workplace. Why look at generational difference as something that must be “dealt with” or “managed” like a problem raging out of control? Rather than strategize ways to “deal with” or “manage” generational differences in the workplace, why not figure out how to capitalize on generational differences? Clearly, this goes back to the omni-directional mentorship piece. Once all leaders become learners and all learners become leaders, we can identify the teaching and learning potential across generational platforms. From my perspective, viewing generational differences as opportunities for collective growth and institutional change seems a far better strategy than viewing the diverse array of generation-specific expertise, habits of mind, meaning making structures, and world views of young people (or old people!) as hurtles to overcome, as problems to be solved.

Barry: Your book “20UNDER40” was just published. Can you share with us some of the major themes and insights from that compendium of younger authors and leaders?

Edward: Indeed. 20UNDER40 is available in hardcover as of December 1, 2010 (ebook soon to follow). The over-arching themes of the text are innovation, hope, and devotion to the arts. A few more specific highlight points to bring up include: questioning institutional structures; critiques of the 501(c)3 model; problematizing the notion of “sustainability;” proposing crowdsourcing as a new medium for foundational giving; questioning the notion of originality as a goal (or even a possibility) of either artistry or arts education; further problematizing the concept of authorship, originality, creativity, and intellectual property in a digital world; refocusing the arts education agenda on the fastest growing audience of arts learners—adults; considering the artful use of video games and other new media in teaching and learning environments—from a neural perspective; identifying “creative coding” as the new media literacy, and; developing tactics to protect our youngest arts learners from the creativity-killing effects of art-o-phobic parents, educators, and caretakers. Your readers are welcome to read all of the chapter abstracts on the 20UNDER40 website:

Barry: What in your opinion is the major challenge for the nonprofit arts in the generational arena?

Edward: This is an easy one: the retention of our field’s highest potentials, i.e. an exodus of talent from the field when the arts sector needs the 21st century insights of young leaders the most. What’s at the root of this exodus? (1) Lack of a livable wage for young arts leaders many of whom are carrying the weight of insurmountable student loan debt in amounts their predecessors never had to bear (or even imagine), (2) Lack of clear career paths for young arts professionals eager to map out their lives and plan to achieve “life goals” (buying a home, getting married, having children) that their predecessors were able to commit to far sooner than they, (3) The frustration of glass ceilings and being mired down in middle management positions because the top positions in too many organizations are occupied and the individuals in those offices ain’t going anywhere any time soon, and, most importantly (4) A lack of agency and autonomy. There are many important issues to attend to in the arts sector, but without the leadership necessary to carry the field into the future, no amount of work on any topic in the field will prove fruitful in the long run.

Barry: If retention, not recruitment, of younger generations of leaders is the real issue, how can the average arts organization best go about creating a workplace that is attractive to, and designed to retain, the best and brightest new workers?

Edward:  Two words: agency and autonomy. One may suspect that as an answer to such a question I may say “get out of the way and let young professionals lead.” But I don’t actually think this is true—or even wise. Ben Cameron notes that he’s met plenty of young arts leaders who are eager to take the reins of leadership—but unless they are given the same autonomy and agency that Boomers had when they were young—today’s young arts leaders just are not interested. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. A common response of senior arts leaders (Boomers) to the moan of younger arts leaders complaining of the lack of a livable wage in the arts is that “no one chooses a career in the arts for the money.” What do they choose it for then? This answer isn’t hard to come up with: passion. Why were Boomers able to commit to the arts with limited financial rewards? Because a career in the arts equated to the pursuit of one’s passions—the moral uplift of pursuing one’s passion was worth the sacrifice of financial success/excess. Boomers were doing what they wanted to do—they didn’t need the Cadillac. Young people today aren’t necessarily doing what they want to do. They are doing what their senior leaders want them to do. Cameron is right, young people will commit themselves to the arts, just as the Boomers have before them—they just need to be given the agency and necessary autonomy to define and pursue their own passions as opposed to suffering the financial burden of salaries that are “less than” for the passions of their predecessors. How do we retain young arts leaders if we can’t pay them the big bucks their smarts warrant? Give them the agency and autonomy they deserve, provide the support structures/resources for them to succeed, and let go of long-standing traditions or tired old assumptions and allow today’s young arts professionals to be the game changers they’ve been groomed (by Boomers!) to be. Cameron is right. Young are leaders are ready and capable of leading the arts into the future, but if all we ask of them is to be “mere custodians” of a field they’ve inherited, they’re “not interested.”

Barry: What are your thoughts on the provision (or lack thereof) of real professional development training opportunities for our younger workers and what are your suggestions for addressing the issue? What kind of strategy will offer the widest training opportunities to the most people?

Edward: Mentorship, mentorship, mentorship. One-off workshops, grad courses, trips to conferences, exposure to visiting consultants all help (really help!) make our young leaders more efficacious and more engaged in their work. But the easiest thing an institution can do, especially when strapped for cash to pay for formal professional development experiences for young professionals, is to establish multi-directional mentorship relationships within (and beyond) institutional walls. Every organization, no matter how small, is ripe with human resources… use them! On another note, though, when providing enrichment experiences for young arts professionals, it’s important to develop the individual, not the institution. The institution will develop by default. If the goal of providing enrichment experiences isn’t focused on the individual first—fully understanding that the individual will leave one day (and should!)—then such professional development experiences will be a waste of everyone’s time and money. Arts organizations have to go beyond thinking of themselves, and focus on the field. Focus on the field, of course, means focusing on individuals who will hop from one institution to the next. No one stays with one organization for 20-30 years anymore. Ask a Millennial. Want the best thing for your arts organization? Then invest in the field by investing in individuals. It’s a long term investment. Young professionals get it.

Barry: For a great many of those younger workers seeking a career in the nonprofit arts, there are any number of benefits that trump the lack of competitive wages and compensation -- but for at least an identifiable minority, the lack of adequate pay is an issue that they say will very likely invariably lead them back into the private sector. Given the tough economic times, is there anything the sector do about that – both short and long term?

Edward: First, don’t kid yourself about paying well. Four years of undergrad plus one-three years of grad school ain’t cheap (and this is before we even go to the level of doctoral studies). Is it really unimaginable that some of the hottest young professionals’ resumes may come with a price tag of $250,000+ in student loans? I think not. So don’t discount the importance of paying young professionals a livable wage, especially when there is such an increased focus on the credentials higher education avails. Otherwise, see my response to question five. Agency and autonomy my friend… agency and autonomy.

Barry: Who in the younger arts leadership field do you think is doing exceptional work?

Edward: You know, with this question my first response was to rattle off the names of the young arts leaders I know who have the loudest voices and the best luck in getting their ideas across. And these people (Marc Vogl, Aliza Greenberg, Ebony McKinney, John Abodeely, Ian David Moss and all of the 20UNDER40 authors, ambassadors, and supporters) are indeed making great strides in the field and are in full command of my deepest respect. However, I don’t think the focus of this question should be on young people. After all, this isn’t just a young person’s issue. The future of the arts is of everyone’s concern. In my mind, the people in the field doing the most exceptional work to support young arts leadership are not solely the young arts leaders who have been able to capture our ears, but instead the more established leaders who know that this issue is paramount, and therefore devote energy towards empowering young professionals, opening doors, and pushing them along. Of course, I don’t know all of these people (and everyone has their own list), but those who I have been fortunate to encounter include Eric Booth, Steve Seidel, Victoria Plettner-Saunders, Dale Davis, Barry Shauck, Richard Bell, and many others (including you, sir!). All of them over forty, and all of them genuine rock stars in my book.

Barry: What are your thoughts and impressions on the current Emerging Leaders efforts as you see them in our sector? What is working and what isn’t?

Edward: You know, I was just talking to one of the 20UNDER40 authors about this very issue the other day. The emerging leaders networks spread throughout the field are a wonderful thing, they really are. And Stephanie Evans at Americans for the Arts is one of the sweetest, most devoted people I’ve ever met. Big hugs. Huge! However, I feel as though I would be doing the domain of emerging leaders a disservice if all I did was praise their being. In all truth, the emerging leaders networks in the arts suffer from the same problem as the rest of our industry—the siloing of themselves apart from everyone else, including siloing themselves off within their own silos. This isn’t the fault of the emerging leaders groups, of course. It’s a cultural thing. For some weird reason I have yet to comprehend, it’s the nature of the arts sector to set up boundaries and divide constituency groups from other constituency groups—even when those separated constituency groups share common interests! The emerging leaders networks are awesome, and I support what each faction on its own is intending to do. I just wish there was a way for all of those factions to come together and really gain some ground. There are dozens of people in the field working to make this happen—but there is still much to be done.

Barry: What advice do you have for funders in meeting the challenges attendant to a whole new generation of arts leaders.

Edward: Nice question! My advice to funders is to read the chapters by Brian Newman, David J. McGraw, Rebecca Novick, and Ian David Moss and Daniel Reid in the forthcoming 20UNDER40 anthology. On top of that, one of the biggest things funders need to get beyond are the restrictions of their missions. Lots of our field’s biggest funders perpetuate problems in the arts because their hands are tied behind their backs due to the stipulations of their founders’ missions. Funders need to adapt to the changing nature of our arts ecosystem and interpret their missions accordingly. Otherwise, our most tired and ineffectual arts institutions will continue to get the lion’s share of the goods, while our most innovative hopes for the future of the arts in America (and beyond) will be starved out, or spin off into obscurity due to lack of support. Arts organizations ought to be funded because they are innovating, not merely because they are still breathing. That being said, it’s high time we stopped talking about funders in the arts, and instead, talked about hybrid business models, investors, and earned income.

Thank you Edward. My best wishes to you and all the contributing authors for the success of the work.

Have a great week.

Sé4A 2012

Don’t Quit.