Sunday, June 26, 2011

We're Way Past Buck Rogers Now

Good morning.

“And the beat goes on…………………..”

Sci Fi Reality - 3D Printing

This is mind boggling to me.  It seems so science fiction.

From the February 12, 2011 issue of the Economist
"FILTON, just outside Bristol, is where Britain’s fleet of Concorde supersonic airliners was built. In a building near a wind tunnel on the same sprawling site, something even more remarkable is being created. Little by little a machine is “printing” a complex titanium landing-gear bracket, about the size of a shoe, which normally would have to be laboriously hewn from a solid block of metal. Brackets are only the beginning. The researchers at Filton have a much bigger ambition: to print the entire wing of an airliner.

Far-fetched as this may seem, many other people are using three-dimensional printing technology to create similarly remarkable things. These include medical implants, jewellery, football boots designed for individual feet, lampshades, racing-car parts, solid-state batteries and customised mobile phones. Some are even making mechanical devices. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Peter Schmitt, a PhD student, has been printing something that resembles the workings of a grandfather clock. It took him a few attempts to get right, but eventually he removed the plastic clock from a 3D printer, hung it on the wall and pulled down the counterweight. It started ticking."

3D printing is science fiction become reality. It is a form of additive manufacturing technology where a three dimensional object is created by laying down successive layers of material. A 3D printer works by taking a 3D computer file (a file that can be created or downloaded to your computer) and constructing from it a series of cross-sectional slices. Each slice is then”printed” one on top of the other to create the 3D (actual / real) object. Any number of materials – from polymers to resins, from glass to ceramics can be used to create the “object” being printed (it’s kind of hard to grasp that an actual physical object can be “printed” at all).  The printers range in size depending on the size of the object that will be printed.

A large number of competing technologies are available to do 3D printing. Their main differences are found in the way layers are built to create parts. Some methods use melting or softening material to produce the layers, e.g. selective laser sintering (SLS) and fused deposition modeling (FDM), while others lay liquid materials that are cured with different technologies. In the case of lamination systems, thin layers are cut to shape and joined together.

As the Economist noted: "Printing in 3D may seem bizarre. In fact it is similar to clicking on the print button on a computer screen and sending a digital file, say a letter, to an inkjet printer. The difference is that the “ink” in a 3D printer is a material which is deposited in successive, thin layers until a solid object emerges. However it is achieved, after each layer is complete the build tray is lowered by a fraction of a millimetre and the next layer is added."

Each method has its advantages and drawbacks, and consequently some companies offer a choice between powder and polymer as the material from which the object emerges. Generally, the main considerations are speed, cost of the printed prototype, cost of the 3D printer, choice of materials and colour capabilities.

In 2006, S├ębastien Dion, John Balistreri and others at Bowling Green State University began research into 3D rapid prototyping machines, creating printed ceramic art objects. This research has led to the invention of ceramic powders and binder systems that enable clay material to be printed from a computer model and then fired for the first time.

In short, 3D Printing is a fabrication process, originally designed for low cost, fast creation of one of a kind prototypes. It is quickly developing into desktop home applications, and like every other technology, the size of the machines is shrinking as is the cost. We are really quite close to all being able to download a computer file and “print” or create an object (at least a small object) from that file in a wide range of materials right at home. Larger objects will have to use common 3D Printers that will doubtless be available for short term rent.

Indeed, commercialization has already begun.  Freedom of Creation is a website seeking to enable 3D Printing - from creation to marketplace.  And Open City Design is a combination of space, community and resources that includes the 3D Printing platform option at an affordable price.   Click here for a video You Tube link to a rap about Open City and the concept. 

I cannot but imagine that this will be an extraordinary development for artists and for access to art. It is likely to have profound impact on (at the least an expansion of) who creates and what they create. For the most part, 3D Printing has initially had applications in the design world, but it won’t be long until it becomes a part of both creation and distribution of sculpture and perhaps even other art forms.  And not just for a few, but for everyone.

I suppose it will herald debate as to what constitutes art and the artist. For example, as long as sculpture has existed, great artists were those who had not only the vision as to the finished work of art, but also those whose talent and skill in the manipulation of hammer and chisel or clay or whatever was unique and extraordinary. 3D Printing may well allow for the creation of exemplary works without the latter skills of dexterity, emphasizing almost exclusively the visioning process. And the programmer as artist.

As to access, how might that change if instead of seeing a picture of a Ming Dynasty vase in a book, or going to the museum where the original might be on display – one could afford to simply “print or make” a copy and add it to one’s home collection? Or the artist could sell limited numbered editions of works without  the expense of an initial inventory.   Like all art forms I doubt any replication process can ever replace physical proximity to the real thing (and that is why television cannot fully replicate the experience of the movie theater, and the movie theater cannot fully replace seeing a live play, and viewing a photo of a Picasso is not the same experience as seeing the original). Nonetheless, this may be somewhat of yet another technological game changer.

At the least it will allow for many, many more people to create new works, and for many others to have a different kind of experience in viewing certain art. I leave to others critical review of what might someday be produced and criticism of the methodology.

What does it mean for us? I’m not sure. But I think it is one more example of how technology is developing so rapidly and in ways so unanticipated, that our relevance in nurturing both the creation of art and its widespread access has to start taking all of this into consideration in everything we do.  This is but another example of the changes happening around us while we continue to talk about the past.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Working the Rooms in San Diego at AFTA

Good morning.

“And the beat goes on……………………..”

Americans for the Arts in San Diego:

A tip of the hat to Victoria Hamilton and Mara Walker who organized the conference, and to San Diego - a beautiful city with an incomparably vibrant arts ecosystem.

I want to note that Alicia Anstead who facilitated a wrap-up closing forum the final day is an outstanding meeting facilitator.

And check out this wonderful participation performance art piece (I don't know how else to describe it) called "I Wish to Say", created by Sheryl Oring who sat at a desk with an old manual typewriter and typed letters to the President as dictated by convention delegates.  While I love the concept - a fascinating, potentially powerful and thoroughly enjoyable amalgam of thoughts from ourselves -  a work of art in itself - alas it can only succeed with widespread participation.  Sheryl posts three entries on the link provided me.  I hope there may be more to come.  I loved the idea of it - very likely in part because I am actually old enought to remember using a manual typewriter, and also because I think there should be more non-traditional performance art at our gatherings. 

Of all the national conferences held in our sector annually, the AFTA convention remains one of my favorites – in part because this is the sub sector that comprised my ecosystem when I first entered the field 15 years ago. I cut my teeth on this assemblage, and I always look forward to re-connecting with colleagues and friends – and though while I continue to be a little surprised by the absence of many former working partners as they retire, I am buoyed up at the number of new faces and the energy and infectious enthusiasm as well as insights and intelligence these new leaders bring with them.

Attendance neared 1000 – down perhaps slightly from the high water marks of a couple of years ago, but still impressive given rising costs of attendance. I believe all of these gatherings – whether AFTA or one of the discipline areas such as the theater community meeting in overlapping sessions in Los Angeles at the TCG conference last week are enormously valuable in allowing for intersections, connections and idea generation (and someone once got it right when they observed that: “The best way to have good ideas, is to have lots of ideas.”)   [Aside: maybe there should be some national conference calendar website so that we at least make informed decisions about scheduling these events in competition / coordination?]. But I am concerned that in ever tougher economic times, the rising costs of flights, hotels and registration fees will make it prohibitively expensive to continue to attend these confabs in the future – and that is something we need to take a look at.

The reality is that conferences scheduled for either coast tend to get people from that area in disproportionate numbers from the rest of the country. Far more delegates from California were in San Diego this week than were in Baltimore last year. I don’t know whether or not next year’s even in San Antonio will draw a more balanced representation of the country because San Antonio is less distant from either coast, but it will be interesting to see. I think what we have as a default is that conferences on one coast vs. the other are becoming de facto regional conferences to some degree, and perhaps that is both unavoidable and a good strategy.

I also think that we might see more niche gatherings – like the Arts Marketing Conference aimed at subsets of the various special interest areas within our community – and so Development Directors, Program Officers, Executive Directors may someday be meeting separately from the whole of us – though, of course, the issues of cost and distance will not change with that approach.

National Arts Strategies Chief Executive Program Open Call for Applicants:
Along those lines, Russell Willis Taylor at National Arts Strategies, continues her organization’s efforts to provide capacity building support by moving towards a narrowing of the focus on leadership development from the wide swath of all arts managers to an intriguing centering on a limited community of 100 Executive Directors in a multi year intensive Chief Executives Program – and while a good number of those 100 participants have already been chosen in a highly selective process, a number of slots remain in an open application call to insure the equity of access to the program.

This approach – or at least elements of it – may well be the model for how we approach professional development in the future, and I urge Chief Executives of all sizes and stripes of arts organizations – from everywhere in the country to check out the application process and criteria for selection and consider if it may be an option for you to apply.

AFTA Conference General observations:

Here are a few of the threads of oft repeated conversations I gleaned during the three days:

• Everywhere the emphasis was on both organizational and personal adaptability and flexibility in everything from finances and fundraising to program development and career trajectory. Increasingly the refrain echoed that the time has come to much more seriously challenge our basic thinking and thought processes and question the assumptions on which we base much of that thinking than we have heretofore.  We are, as more than one attendee observed: "Not nearly critical enough of ourselves."

Whether the observation from the Director of Global Community Investing for Boeing that the skills the next generation of business leaders will need to develop are unknown and unknowable at this point in time due to the scope and rapidity of change in the world – and thus our arguments in favor of arts education are not that an arts education provides this or that exact skill set, but rather that it prepares students to learn whatever those skills may turn out to be; OR

Steven Tepper’s observation that in the area of research we need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that “To us (in the arts) everything is important all of the time” (It's not); OR

The conclusion in a session on the benefits of a classroom centered professional development option vs. practical on the job learning that there simply is no one best approach - and that we have a long way to go in providing affordable and easy to access skills training; OR

Ben Cameron’s noting that sustainability may in fact not be an ideal goal in and of itself at all.  [
And Ben Cameron's closing speech once again confirms that he is far and away not only one our best and most dynamic thinkers, but that he is an orator of such extraordinary ability as to make most of the rest of us feel inadequate.  When I hear Ben speak, I am reminded of an old Peanuts comic strip, where in Schroeder and Charlie Brown are lying on a hill looking up at the clouds, and Schroeder says to Charlie Brown:  "Look Charlie Brown, up there that cloud looks like a Wagnerian Opera, and that other one looks like Plato and Aristotle.  What do you see in the clouds?"  And Charlie Brown replies:  "Well I was going to say I see a horsey and a doggie."  I hope AFTA will make Ben's entire speech available for free online:  OR

The welcome and refreshing news from many quarters that in fact all is not gloom and doom and that we are racking up some victories out there too – from the Ohio increase in state arts funding to the Atlanta Mayor’s admission that his cuts to the arts was a mistake and his reversal of that action to the survival of the Texas state arts agency.

All of these illustrate not only that change is in the air, but indicates the need to step up the pace in new responses from us.

• I heard numerous comments on the welcome reality of ever more emerging Leaders in attendance this week. Whereas just several years ago there was widespread bemoaning of their absence, they clearly now constitute a growing presence. In individual conversations with a number of those who fit into the category there are all kinds of issues to this sub-sector - from nearing the point of concern for some that the label “Emerging Leaders” and the increase in the number of separate networking / meeting gatherings for this cohort may now becoming a limiting characterization - pigeonholing them -  that some wish to avoid as a stigma, to concerns about the continuing dearth of available and affordable professional development opportunities.

In other generational arena news: Cora Mirikitani the Executive Director of the Center for Cultural Innovation shared with me the just completed report: Nurturing California’s Next Generation of Arts and Cultural Leaders – authored by Professor Ann Markusen – a continuation of the exploration into issues of generational aspirations and attitudes (and for the most part a confirmation of the findings) that began with the earlier study I did on Youth Involvement in the Arts for the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation (Though I am unsure, I assume the report will be available at the CCI website in the not too distant future).

• Of course, everywhere there was talk of budget cuts, cuts, cuts and downsizing. And my favorite observation from keynoter Bobby Shriver’s opening plenary remarks was to ask us “to get mad”. I have, for a long time, wondered why we aren’t angry enough to get more into the faces of those who would shortsightedly make ill-conceived decisions about us and our future. We ought to be angry, very angry and we ought to use that anger as a motivating tool to work harder to expand our tent to be ever bigger and to spur on action. 

•  As also as expected there was lots of talk about reaching out to the wider cultural sector and moving away from narrow definitions of the arts, as well as our now almost religious fervor in aligning the arts with "creativity" and "community" - conceptual discussions which are, I think, getting so bland and sacrosanct and above analysis as to result in diminishing returns.

• I was very pleased with the observations and suggestions in a terrific session jointly led by Bob Lynch and Jonathan Katz at which both pushed for greater direct political action and involvement by all of us. As Jonathan offered – the most important thing any of us who are arts supporters can say to any elected official is this: “I am your constituent and this is what I want. I am part of a larger group of your constituents, and we are organized and care about this specific issue. We can help you but we want you to help us.” As Bob noted, the most important thing we can do is to get politically involved – including Political Action Committees. He noted that in many, many races across the country, at all levels, the margins of victory are slim, and we can have an impact on the outcome, but we need to expand our numbers to become more directly involved. And one audience member, a former elected official himself, offered that the time has come for us to hold elected officials accountable - and that those who do not support us should understand we will support their opponents.  Of course, as any reader of this blog knows, I totally agree that the time for sitting on the sidelines has long passed.

Bob also noted a problem for us that has for far too long been an almost taboo subject – the territoriality and competition among ourselves that fosters suspicion and a lack of trust among us -- and results in a failure to achieve widespread buy-in and consensus on how to proceed with a united front. This is an unspoken issue that divides us and keeps us from nurturing a truly cooperative leveraging of the tremendous power that might be ours. 

Bob and Jonathan are together utterly charming, and their presentation is both humorous and powerful and bulwarked by their unprecedented experience and perspective.  I really encouage the two of them to take this show on the road.  Or at least film it and put it online.

• I ran into Jack Becker who publishes Public Art Review – an absolutely spectacular publication that you might want to check out.

Rumor Mill: The Shadow Knows. Lots of talk and speculation about who will be the successful candidate for the position I use to occupy – Director of the California Arts Council. Report is that they have narrowed their field to the finalists and that another round of interviews – this with the entire Council - will be forthcoming and they hope to name a new Director soon. This is good news for the right person in that post can use the bully pulpit to help the field develop a vision for the future of public support for the arts and help to position the sector in the hoped for situation in a year or two of a hugely reduced (if not entirely eliminated) state budget deficit – which if it comes to pass may allow Governor Brown and the legislature to finally refund the state agency at a meaningful level to again support arts and culture in its role of providing public good and benefit to all Californians.

The opportunity to attend these kinds of events to renew and regenerate is invaluable – if often exhausting. I'm always glad I went, and always glad to get home.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A New National ENDOWMENT

Good Morning

“And the beat goes on………………………………”

Creating Our Own Endowment:

I know attendance is down for our performances and exhibitions – pretty much across the board, though, of course, some may be faring better than others. And just like the 9+% unemployment is wrecking havoc on our national economy, no doubt that marginal decline in ticket sales is hurting the arts ecosystem economy. Still, 90% of the people are employed and do have money to spend, and we are selling tickets to our events.   To be sure, as many have pointed out, there are problems in the trends of ticket sales.  But we have a good product and to paraphrase Mark Twain:  "Reports of our demise may be grossly exaggerated."

I wonder how many tickets are sold in the aggregate to arts events in a given week across the whole country? In a month? Over the course of a whole year? Is that data available anywhere? Can we even make an educated guess? It must be a lot of people (tickets), and a substantial amount of money in the aggregate, despite not being what it once was or what it ought to be.

What if every organization were to voluntarily tack on an additional 50 cents to each ticket price, and earmark that money to a voluntary Endowment fund? What if everyone did that for five years? And what if we conservatively invested that money to grow that fund for that five years before even considering how to spend it? How much might it grow to in that five year period? Enough to constitute our own (small) National Endowment?

Would an additional fifty cents discourage current ticket buyers to the point where it would negatively impact overall sales? I doubt it. Would it be burdensome to do the accounting and pay that income into a fund? Not really. What if, at the end of the five year period that turned out to be a substantial amount of money? And if we did that on our own, could we leverage that effort into small individual donations (ones that arguably would not compete with an individual organization’s own fund raising efforts) to beef it up even more? Or garner more corporate or foundation support? Would that yield millions of dollars, or tens of millions of dollars. Would anybody want to do that?

Probably not. More likely, it would play as heresy. Too bad, because it could benefit everybody, in all kinds of ways – not the least of which would be to involve ourselves (working together) in taking some small measure of control of our destiny – even if only symbolically.

Maybe such an effort would work to improve the overall psyche of the sector, build momentum and signal that we were capable of controlling our own future to some degree. Maybe it would be amazingly empowering. Maybe it would be a game changer in how we approached the concept of collaboration, and how the diverse elements of our sector worked together. Maybe it would spawn new ideas to cooperate.

What would we do with the funds then? I suppose it could be another source of operational grant support – even if more symbolic than actual in its impact. Or it could be allocated to real advocacy to help finally secure sustainable, predictable government funding at all levels. Maybe it could fund public awareness campaigns, or be used to incubate real collaborative projects. Maybe it could help in providing professional development training to all our leadership. Maybe it could be an emergency / rainy day fund to keep alive certain efforts? Maybe it could subsidize attendance at our gatherings and conferences so more could participate. Maybe it could fund new joint projects with the private sector that would grow our tenuous relationship with business and industry. Maybe it could help to convince parents of the value of arts education. There are any number of ways to allocate funds to the needs of the sector that are currently unfunded.

This is just a thought – an idea how we might begin to leverage the strength of our own massive numbers in a specific, concrete way to demonstrate – if to no one but to ourselves - our collective power.

I would surely like to see us do something big and different and out-of-the-box, even if it were a little risky; even if the payoff was down the road; even if the reward wasn’t direct. Someday we need to find a way to do something that involves all of us in some big effort that would ultimately benefit us all – but which was bigger than any of us. Something proactive, not reactive.  This wouldn’t have to be in lieu of any other effort – but just something we could do for ourselves without anybody else’s approval  -  something under our control. Would we be willing to do that and defer the benefit for a period of time? I would love to be a part of it and I bet at least a few others would get on the bandwagon if it ever got rolling. Maybe Malcolm Gladwell will write a book on just how you get those bandwagons rolling. If ever there was an elusive concept, this may just be one.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Signs of progress in the Arts / Business sector Bridge

Good Morning

“And the beat goes on………………………….”

The Art of Management / Economist Magazine Editorial

I subscribe to the Economist weekly news magazine. Based out of London, it is probably the most widely read and respected weekly news in review periodical in print – and very likely more read in business circles than other general interest periodicals. Each issue contains several op-ed or editorial pieces. One regular feature is a print blog by-lined Schumpter and focuses on the business sector. The February 19th piece trumpeted the value of the arts to business. Here are the highlights of that blog.

“ARTISTS routinely deride businesspeople as money-obsessed bores. Or worse.
Many businesspeople, for their part, assume that artists are a bunch of pretentious wastrels. Bosses may stick a few modernist daubs on their boardroom walls. They may go on corporate jollies to the opera. They may even write the odd cheque to support their wives’ bearded friends. But they seldom take the arts seriously as a source of inspiration.
The bias starts at business school, where “hard” things such as numbers and case studies rule. It is reinforced by everyday experience. Bosses constantly remind their underlings that if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count. Quarterly results impress the stockmarket; little else does.
But lately there are welcome signs of a thaw on the business side of the great cultural divide.
Studying the arts can help businesspeople communicate more eloquently. Most bosses spend a huge amount of time “messaging” and “reaching out”, yet few are much good at it. Their prose is larded with clich├ęs and garbled with gobbledegook. Many of the world’s most successful businesses are triumphs of story-telling more than anything else. Marlboro and Jack Daniels have tapped into the myth of the frontier. Ben & Jerry’s, an ice-cream maker, wraps itself in the tie-dyed robes of the counter-culture. But business schools devote far more energy to teaching people how to produce and position their products rather than how to infuse them with meaning.
Studying the arts can also help companies learn how to manage bright people. Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones of the London Business School point out that today’s most productive companies are dominated by what they call “clevers”, who are the devil to manage. They hate being told what to do by managers, whom they regard as dullards. They refuse to submit to performance reviews. In short, they are prima donnas. The arts world has centuries of experience in managing such difficult people. Publishers coax books out of tardy authors. Directors persuade actresses to lock lips with actors they hate. Their tips might be worth hearing.
Studying the art world might even hold out the biggest prize of all—helping business become more innovative. Companies are scouring the world for new ideas (Procter and Gamble, for example, uses “crowdsourcing” to collect ideas from the general public). They are also trying to encourage their workers to become less risk averse (unless they are banks, of course). In their quest for creativity, they surely have something to learn from the creative industries.”

This is, I think, a promising starting point in building the long sought after bridges we need to the business sector, and I think the line above about it all starting in business school is the prescient observation. The mere fact that a respected and widely read business commentator authors such an opinion piece heralds recognition of the value of the link between the arts and creativity and creativity and innovation, and is a giant step in our slow churning relationship. If we want more intersections with business and industry (and I think we do – for the doors a working relationship would open in terms of funding, arts education and the imprimatur that the arts and creativity are important to society, to education, to our future) then I think we have to figure out how to get business schools to integrate the form and function of creativity (and the role of the arts) into their curriculums as a core idea (and not as a throw-away afterthought).  It is critical that we make progress on enlisting other people to help make our case rather than continuing to make it for ourselves (particularly people who have the ears of those whom we are trying to influence). 

But how do we get them to do that? First, I think we have to figure out how to link creativity as a teachable (or at least explorable) concept worthy of consideration, research and discussion. And then we have to link the arts to creativity as a definable (if not quantifiable or teachable) skill. Not such an easy task. I think one place to start might be for us to try to zero in on those in the business community who are the very people so highly sought after and admired today – the successful entrepreneurs and idea people – be they engineers, scientists, programmers, designers or whomever and uncover some direct links between some personal stories of successful business innovation and backgrounds in the arts. Even just anecdotal stories about the impact of an arts background and the link thereto to manifested creativity and marketable innovation may well help us to get business people thinking more about the possibility that the arts are one of the paths to nurturing and fostering the ecosystem that spawns innovation.

We have a lot more work in this area, but I think down the line such effort on our part might well yield beneficial outcomes to us. We should certainly spend some time and energy expanding on the notion (and, more importantly, gathering some real world kind of evidence to support the propositions) that communication / storytelling, risk aversion, and creative people management are all facets of the arts that are invaluable to business in their quest to promote innovation – worthy of their pursuit.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit.