Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Three Provocations from the West Coast of the Arts

You know those people who drop morsels of brilliance like a little kid scattering bread to ducks? I was surrounded by them last week.

I'm part of a cohort of ten arts organizations in California funded by the Irvine Foundation to strengthen our work to engage low-income and ethnically-diverse people. We meet in person twice a year. These are all really smart, dedicated people, and I feel lucky to learn from and with them.

Here's what hit me.


Deborah Cullinan (Executive Director of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts) spoke about the change process. She compared some frustrations to "a bird flying into a window." 

I love this metaphor because it doesn't just speak to stuck-ness. It speaks to the fact that there is a living thing on the other side of that glass wall. There is motion. There is joy. If we can open the window, the bird can fly in. Simple as that.


Jon Moscone (Artistic Director of CalShakes and son of the late San Francisco mayor George Moscone) talked about thinking politically about how we respond to criticism and to praise. As he put it: "Count the votes."

If someone is negative about what you are doing, will they ever vote for you? 
Does their vote even matter? 
If the answers to these questions are "no," move on. 

Jon implored us to think more like activists and less like artists. Less focused on being loved. More focused on strategically understanding who is important to our cause and ignoring those who aren't.


Michael Garces (Artistic Director of Cornerstone Theater) shared about a killer workshop that made him completely rethink how collaboration is supposed to work. We usually think about collaboration as a process of compromise and negotiation. But Michael suggested that collaboration really means "You get 100% of what you want. I get 100% of what I want. And we work really hard to make it work."

What would it look like if you approached partnership this way? 

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