What I've Been Doing

So I just spent a week at the Airlie Conference Center as part of HERE Arts Center’s “innovation team.”


It was very intense and very productive – I gained a lot of knowledge and I think we made some amazing progress as a team. For discretion’s sake, I will wait for HERE to start talking about their upcoming innovations, but I will say that there were a lot of great ideas generated and the future of the project looks very exciting.

A little bit about the program: supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF), the Innovation Lab for the Performing Arts was created by EmcArts with producing and presenting organizations in theatre, dance, and jazz in mind, to help them design and prototype innovative strategies that address major opportunities and challenges. The partnership with DDCF has provided funding for three Lab Cohorts, each made up of four participating organizations. The four organizations comprising the third round of grantees are Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, COCA—Center of Creative Arts, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, and University Musical Society (UMS). For Round 3 grantee project descriptions, as well as information about the Lab, click here. The organizations comprising the first and second rounds of grantees are The Civilians, MAPP International Productions, Roadside Theater/Appalshop, STREB, Children’s Theatre Company, HERE Arts Center, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. For Round 1 grantee project descriptions, click here , for Round 2 grantee project descriptions, click here.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to be a member of the HERE innovation team by Kristin and Kim. Knowing my background with the interwebs and my work at PS122, PRELUDE, Culturebot and other places, I reckon they figured I’d be a good voice to have at the table. I think it worked out pretty well, if I do say so myself, and it was a powerful, transformative experience for all involved. Basically we had five days of intensive planning sessions, reviewing the proposed organizational innovation and digging deep into the organizational DNA to figure out what change would look like, how to implement it, prototype it and test it. I know this sounds pretty abstract – but that’s because the information of the actual task at hand is pretty much confidential at this point. But I think it is safe to say we found some pretty major points of difference in the way that HERE works with and presents its artists and those differences will be made more obvious moving forward. (In a good way).

Apart from the exciting organizational transformations and innovations we worked on, we also did some really interesting work with this guy Phil McArthur of ActionDesign who used this idea of the “ladder of inference” to talk about the ways people frequently miscommunicate or communicate less optimally than they could by moving up and down this ladder of inference.

It it sounds pretty corporate, it is. I think that arts organizations could probably benefit from some of this corporate organizational psychology stuff. So often arts organizations are run as scrappy DIY enterprises that even the people who move up through the system to work at big institutions have deeply engrained and dysfunctional management styles. It makes for profoundly fucked up work environments which leads to stagnation, negativity and a general “scarcity consciousness.” People wear their dysfunction like a badge of honor – but in this day and age I think that being a whack job is nothing to be proud of. You can support totally cool art, and be totally cool as a person, while still being a responsible, conscious, conscientious leader.

Not everyone can afford to do these kind of intensives and its a shame because I think so many arts organizations – and other cultural organizations – could really benefit from this kind of deep organizational psychological work. It would help with growth, contraction, resource management, mission drift, innovation, vision, human resources, etc. etc. etc.  And its not just psychological! As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a HUGE process geek – I love mapping workflow and user experience, finding points of engagement, redefining and recontextualizing the role of the organization in creating art + culture…. so to get to dig deep into the meta meta and then have to find practical, implementable solutions? That’s just badass, wicked fun. ‘Cause that’s just how I roll – nerd-style. (Yes, I’ve read some Tufte and some Jakbo Nielsen)….Hmmmmmmm…..

So in conclusion, for now, I want to give a big shout-out to my peeps at HERE for inviting me to participate and contribute = it was awesome. And another big shout-out to my new friends at The Yerb (Yerba Buena Center for the Arts) who are just a rocking group of fantastic, positive people. I mean, everyone was cool, but it was HERE and YBCA that were mostly holding down the “drinking by the poolside at midnight” fort.

I’m happy to discuss this in more detail offline!


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