Sunday, September 23, 2012

The ARTS Dinner-Vention Project

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

Dear Readers: PLEASE READ THIS OPEN INVITATION AND RESPOND - It should be fun.  Thank You.

Regular followers of this blog know that late every August I publish a list of the Most Powerful and Influential Leaders in the Nonprofit Arts.  Most people understand that the list isn’t meritocracy based; it isn’t based on specific achievement or accomplishment per se; it doesn't purport to necessarily identify the “best and brightest”, rather it merely identifies who has power and influence.

There has been some past comment that unfortunately the list excludes a whole cohort of serious thinkers - a group of younger (not necessarily chronologically younger) leaders omitted because their careers have not been long enough for them to develop the requisite power and influence the Most Powerful list embodies, and that there ought to be some mechanism that gives this cohort of leaders a voice and some recognition.  They are, after all, our future.

So to try to address that concern, I've come up with a companion project to the annual Most Powerful and Influential list.  I call it the Arts Dinner-vention Party project (thank you Shannon Daut).  It isn’t a list or a ranking.  It IS a platform to give those who do not yet have power and influence a chance to intervene into the national conversation on the big issues and to give them a voice and recognition.

Here’s how it will work.  It’s like the fantasy game that starts with the question: If you could invite anybody in the world to a dinner party, who would you invite?  The difference here is that we will actually hold the dinner party, and share it widely with the field (And you can’t actually invite anybody in the world.  It has to be arts sector people in the U.S.)

Readers of this blog are invited to submit a list of eight to twelve people that they think would represent the unheralded group of arts sector leaders (see specific criteria guideline suggestions below) and would - as guests at a dinner party - provide for a memorable and meaningfully engaging conversation on critically important arts issues; people with new ideas, who can argue convincingly for those ideas.

We call it the Arts Dinner-vention because - tongue-in-cheek - it’s like an intervention to a field that might have gotten addicted to old ways of doing things and old patterns of thinking about challenges and solutions; a field that arguably talks about getting out-of-the-box, but sometimes seems stuck within those walls.

Once the period for proposing names for the Arts Dinner-vention guest list closes (November 20, 2012), a small advisory committee consisting of:

  • Ian David Moss - Author of Createquity / Research Director, Fractured Atlas
  • Nina Simon - Executive Director, Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History
  • Richard Evans - President, Emc Arts
  • Shannon Daut - Executive Director, Alaska State Council on the Arts
  • Gary Steuer - Chief Cultural Officer, City of Philadelphia
  • Mitch Menchaca - Director, Local Arts Advancement, Americans for the Arts
  • Ron Ragin - Program Officer, Performing Arts Program, Hewlett Foundation

will then vet all the suggested names received, and come up with a final list of twelve people.  Once we have a date that will work for at least eight of those nominated dinner guests, we will schedule the dinner - probably in the Spring of 2013, location to be determined.

The entire dinner discussion will be videotaped and then edited, and the final tape will be as widely disseminated (via web access, podcast, you tube etc.) across the field as possible - perhaps divided into two presentations depending on how lively and lengthly the dinner conversation goes.

The topics will be selected from a master list of suggested topics, and those on the final guest list will determine which one or two they want to be the centerpiece of the evening’s discussion.  I am open to suggestions from the field for the master list of topics, and encourage you to include any ideas you have with your list of dinner guest nominees.

Once the topics are determined, each selected dinner guest will be asked to write a succinct (and hopefully compelling) argument for whatever position they wish to stake out on the topic - embodying some specific, concrete idea they want to implement - which briefing papers will be posted on my blog site prior to the dinner.

Rather than just another ‘discussion’ of the topics, where smart people wax eloquently about the issues, and analyze what is wrong without trying to figure out how to address the problems, the charge for those at this dinner will be to present specific, concrete ”new” ideas for addressing whatever challenges are embodied in the dinner topics.  Thus the framework for the dinner conversation will be real ‘idea generation’ and not just another talk fest where the participants dissect, analyze and ponder challenges, but come to no conclusions about what specifically to do.

My primary purpose for this project is twofold:
First, to identify and recognize some of the unheralded leadership of the field who have bold, inspired, cutting-edge ideas and new thinking to put forth, and to give them a platform from which to voice those ideas; and
Second, to engage the national field in serious discussion geared towards generating specific concrete proposals and strategies for solving existing challenges.

I hope this might spur further discussion across the country, and even that other people will hold their own local dinner parties to discuss the issues, examine new ideas, and to share the results of those conversations.  Should the project prove successful, we are contemplating initiating discussions with funders to support such local / regionally based dinner parties as part of a more comprehensive attempt to jumpstart and nurture serious new idea generation and a national conversation around those ideas.  One thought would be to hold one of these dinner parties every year, and perhaps tie it in with a national arts organization and have the actual dinner party at their national conference (perhaps with a live audience) - but at least with a companion session - something like “Dessert With the Arts Dinner-vention Party Guests” or “Breakfast With the Arts Dinner-vention Party Guests” as a way to allow for some follow up questions and a means to continue and expand the discussion.

So...........who would you invite if you were hosting such a dinner party?  Who would be on your ‘fantasy’ list?  We want inventive, creative, serious thinkers who have something to say and will contribute to an engaging, in-depth conversation on one or two major issues facing the sector -- and put forth specific ideas to move us forward. We aren’t  looking for the people you usually think of as exemplified by the Most Powerful and Influential list.  We want those who are to a large degree still unheralded, but who are highly regarded as the future of the field; people without the same voice as those who have been in the field long enough to develop power and influence, but who have something to say and ought to be heard.

Hopefully, you would give a little thought to where these people came from, their backgrounds and areas of expertise, how they might complement each other, and all of that (so that there would be great diversity at the table, and that the conversation would be lively and provocative.)  The primary candidates any good dinner party host seeks are people with ideas - dynamic thinkers and communicators with new ways of thinking about the challenges we face.

In short, this would be a dinner party of people you would like to hear from because you think they would have something to say; people you would invite to your fantasy dinner party.   It's a chance to identify a group of people that might differ from the Most Powerful list, and acknowledge and recognize all those folks and give them a platform.

As a way to help you think in terms of who you might want to invite, we suggest that people who fit any of the following categories would likely make for a memorable dinner party, and hope you might include as many people who would fit one or more of these categories as you can (though you are free to nominate any 8 to 12 people you like on your guest list):

The Connector*  - the person who links us to the world; those with huge networks of contacts and who span different spheres and sectors; the bridge builder with multiple perspectives.
The Maven* - the person who accumulates knowledge; the one who is the information broker and wants to share their new information.  The constant thinker.
The Salesperson* - the charismatic person with powerful negotiation skills who plays the role of the persuader.
*the first three categories are Malcolm Gladwell’s the Tipping Point categories.

Here are some others:
The Provocateur - the person who provokes and pushes towards new solutions and acceptance of upending the status quo.
The Power Broker - the person who can move other people and organizations to act based on knowledge, insider position and the ability to identify and implement what kinds of influence are necessary to effect change.
The Visionary - the one with the long range big picture in mind; the person who sees the future - what it will be and what it might be; a realistic dreamer.
The Organizer / Ring Leader - the person who provides on the ground leadership to get things done. The take charge leader with experience under his / her belt.
The Cynic / Skeptic - the person who plays Devil’s Advocate and asks the hard questions and keeps in check unbridled enthusiasm based more on passion than reality.
The Risk Taker - the person who argues for bold moves and action now.
The Master of Bureaucracy and Detail - the person in the trenches who actually makes things happen; the one who knows how to get things done and wade through all the detail.  The one who works with the Organizer.
The Policy Wonk / Geek - the theoretician; the student and strategist who revels in overarching implications.
The Practitioner / Artist - the centerpiece of why we all do what we do.
The Technology Guru - the tech nerd who understands and revels in all the latest technological advances and who understands their long range implications and how they might be applied to the field.

Those who might fit these descriptions can come from any area of the arts - from government agencies to foundation funders; from advocates to bloggers; from arts education people to discipline based organizations (e.g., dance, theater, museums, music, film et. al); from national service organizations to local groups; from consultants to policy wonks to researchers; from established organizations to avant garde recently launched enterprises; from senior managers to newbies; from administrators to artists.  Age, background, experience, geography et. al  are not necessarily the criteria to keep in mind.

➡As an incentive for you to think about this and help us, everyone who submits a list of candidates for consideration for the final guest list  - will be entered into a random drawing and one person will be chosen to attend the actual dinner party - all expenses paid.

You can submit your list of eight to twelve dinner party guests to me at   Nominate anyone you would like, including yourself, or even those individuals on our advisory vetting committee (though committee members so nominated would not comment, nor vote, on their own nominations).  Please include - for each name on the list - the person’s job title, organizational affiliation, contact phone and email (if available), and if you can, in just a few words, why you included that person (and, if applicable, what category they might fit).  The deadline for submissions is:   November 20, 2012.

I would greatly appreciate it if you would pass this on (and publicize it) to people within your sphere.  The more names submitted for possible guests to the Arts Dinner-vention, the better.

Thank you for your consideration.

Have a good week.

Don’t Quit