Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Arts' College of Cardinals Equivalent

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

Note:  I have been wresting with my response to the inquiry posed by Roberto Bedoya to several bloggers as to impressions of the white racial frame’s application to the cultural field.  This is no easy task, for the subject could easily be a doctoral dissertation.  I hope to finish my reading and research and clarify my own feelings by next week.

Lessons learned from the Vatican:
In the meantime, here is a lighter entry on Pope Benedict’s surprising resignation from the Papacy that has sent shock waves around the globe, and which, I think, suggests a couple of ideas for us.

Taking the Pope’s rationale for his decision at face value (though no one can really know the politics or backstory of his decision) - I have two reactions to the situation:

First, (the more serious thought) I think resigning from such a lofty position because one thinks he no longer has the skills or energy to faithfully discharge his duties, is, on its face, a selfless act that puts the institution above the personal interests of the individual.    Assuming arguendo this is the case, that might just be a lesson for people in all kinds of positions - including our own nonprofit universe.  I would encourage our own long serving leaders to ask themselves the same question, and consider when it might be - in the interests of their organizations and their own deeply held beliefs about the value of their work - time to step aside.  Letting go of the reigns of power, and moving on is a very difficult decision for people who have given so much of themselves for a mission for a long period of time.  It isn’t easy to know when to make that move, or to even ask the question.  We all naturally want to believe that we continue to have something to offer, more contributions to make, and miles left in our tanks as it were.  But, to honor the work we have done, it is a legitimate question to ask ourselves at some point.  While there is probably a long list of reasons to stay the course, there is also an equally long list of reasons why it might be time to consider passing the baton.

Second, (the not so serious thought.............maybe) As a longtime political junkie I am intrigued and fascinated by - and eagerly look forward to - the whole process of the College of Cardinals who meet beginning tomorrow to select a new Pope to head the church. Locked in the Sistine Chapel, the cardinals begin the process of agreeing on one of their own to lead Catholicism into the future.  A momentous decision to be sure.  Oh to be the proverbial fly on the drape and listen in on those collective and small deliberations.  I have no doubt, the whole process (which probably started with Benedict’s announcement - if not before - and has been going on in private chambers for some time) will be highly political.  Lots of deal making, lots of compromises, power plays, Machiavellian maneuvering, and outright horse trading -- with dialogue back and forth as to the consequences of selecting one person over another. Maybe (probably) even some vote swapping - for good reasons, of course.  I mean no disrespect to suggest this is a highly politically charged atmosphere and that the ultimate decision will be made based on all kinds of considerations - those divine and mundane).  The longer it takes for the white smoke to signal a 2/3 consensus decision for a new Pope, the more politicking will likely have gone on.

Will the largest voting bloc - the Italians - succeed in returning one of their own to the post of Bishop of Rome, or will reformist minded Americans (the second largest bloc) prevail in whomever they throw their weight behind?  Will the new Pope be a pastoral leader with charisma who might appeal to the younger Catholics of the world, or someone who can effectively manage and tame the Curia - the Vatican bureaucrats?  Will the new Pope be a person of color?  Up for grabs is whom a new Pope might appoint to the second most powerful post - the Secretary of State who runs the day to day operations of the Holy See.

The Church understands ritual, and the selection of a new Pope is a textbook dream media event that calls attention to the Church as perhaps no other event might.  A new beginning, it comes at a time the Vatican continues to grapple with scandal and negative publicity.

It is the closest modern equivalent we have of what political junkies like me have long thought would be great fun if one of our own political parties at their national presidential nominating conventions were deadlocked and there were a truly brokered convention wherein deals were made in backrooms among fractious, and likely contentious camps, to agree on a selection. How fun to watch, and arguably just as rational a way to choose a nominee as the current primary process that locks up the nomination for one candidate long before the actual convention takes place.

The Papal selection process is somewhat akin to Supreme Court appointments: you can never be sure of what you are getting. Eisenhower's nomination of former California Governor, Earl Warren, as Chief Justice - thought to be a conservative - resulted in one of the most liberal courts.  Ditto the result of the election of Pope John XXIII; an election that resulted in changes to the Church that older, hardliners were none too pleased with.

So that got me thinking about our next Chair of the NEA, as we wait for the President to put forth a name for Senate confirmation.  Obviously, this particular political appointment is not high on the priority list.  They will get to it when they get to it.  And the name ultimately put forth will likely not be the result of any organized, systemic search or vetting process.  That’s not how it works.  Someone in the administration will ask someone else if they have any ideas and a name will somehow emerge.  It may well be a political process.  Not, however, likely to be transparent in any sense. To be fair, this process has yielded us some very good Chairmen, even if they were not from the field itself.  But perhaps we are squandering a great media opportunity - a chance to call attention to not just the agency but the role of art itself in our society.

So (only partially) tongue in cheek, I suggest we copy the Vatican’s process and form our own College of Cardinals as it were.  A hundred arts leaders from all walks of our field.  Lock them in a room (no, better yet, a museum or residential arts retreat - let's stay on theme here) and let them come up with the name of the new NEA Chair.  One of their own.  Insider political intrigue. Deal making. Great theater.  Great media p.r.  No worries, Mr. President.  I suspect that the final selection would probably be a good one.  (And if you don't like this idea Mr. President, perhaps you could provide the name of a contact within the White House handling this appointment, so that we might at least provide names for your consideration.)

I know, I know - this will never happen.  But if it did, all I would want would be to be an inside observer who could blog on the whole thing.  Handicapping the front runners, and speculating on power plays.  A political junkie blogger dream.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit