Sunday, August 23, 2015

Dare to Imagine

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

A tip of the hat to Scott Heckes, recently retired Deputy Director (one of many hats he wore over a three decade tenure) at the California Arts Council.  I had the great privilege and honor to work with Scott during my tenure as Director of the CAC, and he served the arts in California with great distinction, passion, intelligence, sensitivity and style - all with good humor and a caring attitude.  Well done Scott and thank you.

Watching the news or reading the news has never been more disconcerting.  Everywhere there is evidence the world has entered an expanded and relentless dysfunctional era.  In too many places and too many instances, violence and stupidity seem to rule.  I admit, I am somewhat a cynic.  I've seen the inside of politics and business and know that the world is controlled in large part by selfish, greedy - and not all that enlightened or smart - people.  Recognizing that I am jaded, it's important for me (and other cynics and doubters out there) to affiliate with, and saddle up to, optimists - those who don't let themselves doubt that somehow, some way, we can get to solutions.  The arts are full of those people.  That is part of what makes the arts attractive.

Fellow blogger, Arlene Goldbard is an optimist.  She simply doesn't accept that what is wrong with the world has to stand; she refuses to accept defeat, and won't let setbacks cloud her judgment or paralyze her actions.  She deals with what might be possible, not through the lens of what stands in the way.  She keeps keeping on, and she, and those like her (and probably a majority in our field), inspire me.

Several years ago she hit on promoting the idea of Arts and Culture being represented at a Cabinet level in the White House.  She wasn't the first; it's an idea touted before her, and echoed after her.  And we all know that realistically it's not going to happen soon.  But she's not naive. She knew that it wasn't likely to happen.  So she did what those who get things going always do - she took action. She started an unofficial virtual United States Department of Arts and Culture  (USDAC).  She gave it a name and form, and invited a score of people to join her and help her define what this kind of thing might mean.

Here's the thumb nail description:

"The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (USDAC) is the nation's newest people-powered department, founded on the truth that art and culture are our most powerful and under-tapped resources for social change. Radically inclusive, useful and sustainable, and vibrantly playful, the USDAC aims to spark a grassroots, creative change movement, engaging millions in performing and creating a world rooted in empathy, equity, and social imagination."

Why such a project?  Here's the answer:

"Active creative participation is a gateway to ongoing civic engagement and the capacity to collaborate is a key element of any resilient community. But for too long, we’ve believed that everything that counts can be counted, ignoring the vital role that arts and culture play in advancing equity, innovation, and democracy. Everything that is created must first be imagined, yet we've failed to fully invite and support people in every community to step up as artists and agents of change."  

The project is an exercise in what might be possible were people to imagine those possibilities as reality, and one of those possibilities is that if enough people can envision something, it's possible it can become reality.  And so she set about trying to move the mountain.

One of her first acts was to recruit a score or more leaders within the field to join her and become Ministers in the Department of Arts and Culture.  Clicking on the link you can see some smart, passionate and experienced people, well known in our field, liked the idea and accepted her invitation.  You can tell by the names each choose for their ministerial post that Arlene wanted people to have some fun with this.  But it should be noted that this isn't a joke -- underneath and at its' core,  it's a quite serious effort to move that mountain of public ennui towards what we do, and to work towards what we might all imagine could be possible if there were someday an actual Department of Arts and Culture as an official U.S. Government Agency - with a chair at the President's Cabinet --- established because, finally, there is recognition as to the value art and creativity has to the country.

At the heart of this effort is using imagination to animate the value of the arts.  The first project last year involved imagining sessions across the country.  And the current project is a Dare to Imagine week (during Arts and Humanities Month) wherein we in the arts can help the public (and ourselves) to imagine what the world might look like in the future if everybody would embrace the role and value of art and culture.

"From October 10-18, 2015, Emissaries from the Future will create Imagination Stations nationwide—popping up in parks, classrooms, galleries, conferences, farmer's markets and beyond for this large-scale act of collective imagination. Using creative tactics, Emissaries will engage people in envisioning the world they hope to inhabit and—looking back from the future—celebrating the work they did to get there. The resulting texts, images, videos, and more will be uploaded to an online platform, yielding a crowd-sourced vision of the future, inspiring art, policy, and community action."
Here is how you and your organization can participate:

How to participate: Sign up online to be an Emissary from the Future. Emissaries will receive free online training and a step-by-step toolkit making it easy to host an Imagination Station. Find out more and register by September 10th**:

If your organization wants to join the exercise and the fun, click here to become a partner.  It's really quite simple and won't take much time.  A very detailed and comprehensive tool-kit has been created to make it easy to participate.  Imagine if thousands of arts organizations did it.

My contribution is to posit to you, dear readers, the notion of a virtual Dare to Imagine station, that is focused on the politics of the 2016 election - which, I need not tell you, is already crazier than any Tea Party the Mad Hatter ever threw (and we are all Alice wondering just how we ever got into this nonsensical, logic-defying, insanity that is now American politics).

So I Dare you to Imagine what this election and the lead up to it over the next 15 months might be if we  had a cadre of people across the country who, at every opportunity, repeatedly and relentlessly asked candidates, their spokespeople and staffs and the media - to explain their support for (or lack thereof) for the arts and culture.  No bs'ing, no obfuscation, no deflection, no spinning their answers, no avoiding a simple, direct question:

"Do you understand the value of the arts to the economy, to education and job preparation, to healing and aging, to science, to tourism and to identity, a sense of place, and community development, and do you support funding for the arts and culture at one dollar per capita - nationally, on the state level and locally? and if you don't, why exactly not?"  
Imagine if we asked that question twenty to forty thousand times over the next year - in letters, tweets, emails, at meetings, on social networks, face to face and, well, everywhere.  Indeed, Americans for the Arts', Arts Action Fund has begun trying to do precisely that on the Presidential Campaign level. (I just want to ramp up the effort about 1000 times)
Imagine too that 20% of the hundred thousand people who work in the non profit arts were joined by 20% of the hundred thousand of those who support us -- as Board members, major donors, volunteers and the like -- and those 40,000 people (only a fifth of the total mind you) each gave just $20 in 2016 (just one year, no repeat obligations) for advocacy.  That would raise $800,000.  If we directed one third of that money to the national election (president and congress), one third to statewide races and one third to local races, we would have more real influence than we have ever had.  I wonder if people in our field really have any idea how much influence we would have with an $800,000 war chest.  It's easy to imagine that if an election cycle is going to cost in the neighborhood of several billion dollars, eight hundred thousand is just irrelevant peanuts, but that is simply NOT true.  It is a major, major amount of money and the leverage it can access is inestimable.  Dare to Imagine just how much that amount could help us.  And if you want to be bold, imagine twice or three times the participation.  Fantasy?  Probably - but Dare to Imagine is the challenge.

So perhaps you might set up a small Dare to Imagine Station in your office or venue or wherever, and challenge those in your organization to Imagine how we might impact this election to our direct benefit. I would love to hear your ideas.

So thank you to Arlene, to the Cabinet Ministers at USDAC, and to all the countless optimists out there who keep my cynicism in check, and allow me to harbor the secret belief that I think we actually can save the world - and that the arts will play a major role in that effort -- though we're going to have to deal with a lot of morons to get there.

Have a great week, and Dare to Imagine a better world.

Don't Quit