Sunday, July 7, 2013

Announcing The Dinner-vention Dinner TOPIC

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

Jammin at Djerassi:
The Dinner-vention Dinner Party guests have chimed in, and we have come up with a topic for the evening.

If there is a single overarching challenge that the nonprofit arts field faces, it is probably (to put it in its simplest form) survivability.  What will it take for the arts organization and artist ecosystems to survive? With the seeming negative “perfect storm” of factors allied against the arts [declining public, corporate and philanthropic support (and despite recent indications that arts philanthropy is up - when inflation is factored in, the rise is less than necessary to address the shortfall created over the past five + years); declining audience attendance and earned income; increased competition (not the least of which is the technological revolution) for public interest and support; a still faltering economy; and the undervaluation and marginalization of the arts and their role in our society on multiple levels] the question of just surviving (for arts organizations and individual artists) is anything but settled.

Chief among all those challenges would seem to be the declining and unstable audience base for the performing arts (and quite possibly for other arts areas too).  If that trend continues to make earned income for arts organizations problematic, then the impact on artists will continue to be felt.  Coupled with declining public and philanthropic funding, and the question looms large whether or not there is any model that will allow any real measure of sustainability to exist.

So we proposed this as the dinner topic:

Traditional audiences are declining and participation patterns are shifting seismically, which is having a deleterious impact on arts organization's traditional revenue streams. How can we address this pattern on a macro scale? What would a new movement around the arts look like?

In any discussion of that topic, issues of:
  •   The theory of engagement (community or otherwise)
  •   Equity
  •   Research, metrics and data
  •   Issues of technology and access to art
and all are germane to the discussion.

And, in the larger sense, that topic also implicitly asks the question of whether or not there will need to be (or can be) any new attempt to create some new (or revived) movement in support of the arts in America.   We seem to have lost any sense of an arts ‘movement’, and the field appears to be mired in localized survival issues rather than a broader compelling movement-framed vision.

--What are the key characteristics of a movement for change?

--Did the arts field ever have the movement structure, movement energy, and movement passion that would quality it as a movement? Do we want one?  Is one possible?

--What reforms need to be undertaken in the structure of the organized arts to create a strong movement for arts development?

The decline of the audience base and its impact would seem to be a single topic that invites multiple perspectives and the consideration of other issues in a discussion.  It allows for each of the dinner guests  to come at it from his/her own focused direction.

All that said, this experiment is governed by two principles - one positive, one negative.

I.   (Positive) We want to explore some specific, new ideas to address the main topic (audience decline and the impact on sustainability) and any of the other sub-topics that will be part of the discussion.  

Examples of new ideas (not necessarily tied to the above topic, but simply representative of new thinking):
a).  Arlene Goldbard a year or more ago suggested that community planners require a Cultural Impact Report before any new development projects got approval.  The CIR would echo the Environmental Impact Report now required in many instances.  Whether one thinks this is a good idea or not, it IS a new idea.

 b).  A couple of years ago I suggested that if every arts organization in every community in America (or even just 20% of that number) would join their local Chamber of Commerce and become active in its committee system and governance, the arts (as a field) could virtually take partial control of the national Chamber, and that would then allow us a powerful base and platform for our advocacy efforts and our efforts to build meaningful partnerships with business.  Again, good idea or stupid idea - but at least a (then) new idea.

We hope for specific, new ideas to come out of the dinner discussion and hope each of the guests will bring one to the table.

II.  (Negative)  We do NOT want the dinner conversation to be a rehash of the points about the topic or sub-topics with which everyone in the field is familiar.  We do NOT want to engage in the same analysis of the problem(s) that seems to happen at every conference and every gathering to discuss our challenges.  We’ve heard it all before.  It’s BORING.  We want to break new ground and talk about what we can do - NOT where we are at.

We want a lively and unscripted discussion, but we don’t want chaos, and we do want to bear in mind that we are videotaping the discussion and it has to have some “form” so that it will ultimately be engaging to those who we hope will watch it.  We also, of course, want to bear in mind that a two or three hour discussion (even with preparation and substantial aforethought) isn’t enough time to consider all the aspects of any topic, let alone all the implications of any suggested approach to addressing one or more challenges.  So we want to dig as deep as we can, as quickly as we can, given the time constraints.

We are in the process of now determining what protocol for organizing the dinner conversation will work best.

All of the dinner guests will be submitting briefing papers (one page - narrative or bullet points as each prefers) on what they think are the major issues within the topic, and / or the direction or perspective they want to take in discussing the topic. We have advised the guests that they can stake out any territory they wish given their own thinking on the topic.  I will post all of those briefing papers on this blog sometime in August before the actual September 5th Dinner-vention.

Thank you all for your continuing interest in this experiment.

Have a great week.

Don’t Quit