The quantity of available, accessible, highly relevant information is expanding at a rate far faster than the human brain was designed to handle, while at the same time we’re gaining the ability to communicate meaningfully with more people than was ever before possible. For quantitative information, our information surplus is easily solved by means of computing power, but for the trickier qualitative questions (what does it all mean?), our task is harder than ever.

What We’ve Learned So Far (January 2)

Arturo’s story is inspiring to watch from afar. And it is humbling when I think about my discomfort with facing beggars on the street. I stopped my generosity experiment because I found myself resenting having to give a quarter or a dollar to the same strangers in the subway day after day. Gloria gave a stranger off the street not just a dollar, but her home, family, and unconditional love. Her generosity experiment will last a lifetime.

Five Generosity Experiments (March 30)

Nearly all of the sweeping changes in how we do business and live our lives that have taken place during the last 20 years can be traced to dramatic advances in communication and data storage technology. Twenty years ago, there was no World Wide Web, cell phones as we know them today did not exist, word processing software was still in its infancy, and a typical hard drive held 1/10,000th of the space boasted by a comparably-priced device today. Think about that for a second. In a single generation’s time, our collective capacity to store, process, and share information has exploded beyond all recognition. This one development has completely transformed our work and our relationships, and its impact on the arts and arts organizations is no exception.

The Future of Leadership (April 13)

I think orchestras are most effective when they put forth their authentic selves. One non-traditional concert I recall enjoying was the Yale Symphony Orchestra’s annual Halloween extravaganza. The show started at 11:59pm and would feature an original film made by members of the orchestra, arrangements of popular theme music by the students, cameo appearances from the Dean and President of the college, and a hall chock-full of raucous, costumed, mostly drunk undergraduates. It was a PARTY. But it was able to be that party because it was a concert by students, for students. I can’t imagine how awkward it would have been to have a professional orchestra (playing past 11pm on those union contracts? Are you kidding?) try to replicate that fun-loving no-holds-barred atmosphere for an audience it wasn’t familiar with.

Orchestras and Authenticity (June 9)

Democracy is a wonderful thing, but grand leaps of imagination are not often achieved by group consensus. Yet one would be hard-pressed to argue that our dominant system of institutional giving is all that much better. The decisions of our corporate and foundation funders have an enormous impact in shaping the field, yet in most cases less than a half-dozen people have meaningful input into those decisions. Sometimes, a single individual might drive essentially the entire agenda for a portfolio of hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. That’s an incredible amount of influence accruing to an incredibly small number of people. And individuals, no matter how dedicated or qualified, are increasingly not up to the task of responsibly evaluating the full range of artistic activity within their jurisdictions. There simply are not enough hours in the day or days in the year for a human being to give ongoing, fair, and substantive consideration to the work of the millions of artists and tens of thousands of arts nonprofits in the United States today. For all of Chris Jones’s lauding of the “noble tradition of the corporate giving officer,” what percentage of the participants in Chase Community Giving or Pepsi Refresh have had corporate giving officers regularly (or ever!) attend their performances or exhibits?

Popularity Contest Philanthropy (August 6)

In the course of this sudden immersion into what the rest of the world thinks about and does on a daily basis, I came to realize that my former existence had been focused like a laser on about 0.00001% of everything that matters. It was like the veil had been lifted on my life: the choices I faced when I voted in an election or needed to buy produce or searched for an apartment to rent or, yes, chose a graduate school had all been determined by somebody, or more often a collection of somebodies acting in somewhat predictable ways. It became clear to me that I was never going to have control over my own destiny unless I had the capacity to see and understand the external forces that were influencing my circumstances. And if that’s true for me, it’s true for you, too.

New Article on (September 16)

The recent NEA Survey of Public Participation in the Arts shows that in the year leading up to May 2008, less than 35% of Americans participated at least once in “benchmark arts activities,” which collectively cover the bulk, though not all, of the disciplines and genres we have traditionally considered to be part of our field. That means that nearly two-thirds of American adults went the entire year without seeing a single classical music or jazz concert, attending a single musical, play, opera, or ballet, or visiting a single art gallery or museum. Let me repeat that in case it wasn’t clear: 65% of American adults did none of these things at any time in 2007-08. (By contrast, fully 99% of American households have at least one television, and there are actually more TV sets than people in this country!)

Arts participation and the bottom of the pyramid (October 5)

I think that the people who had transformative arts experiences as youth of the kind that Gary talks about [i.e., as audience members] – where they heard Verdi or saw a Matisse and were hooked right then and there – just got lucky. They were in the right place at the right time and were bringing to the table just the right cocktail of personal background, talent, and curiosity to have a magical moment. I bet if you polled arts professionals more broadly, though, the vast majority would report having their minds first blown by the arts during an active state of engagement.

The Myth of the Transformative Arts Experience (December 27)

Here were the most-read articles from the past year, in case you missed them:

  1. The Top 10 (U.S.) Arts Policy Stories of 2009
  2. Popularity Contest Philanthropy
  3. On Vision, Ripples, Expression, and the Mysterious Other
  4. Economists Don’t Care About Poor People
  5. eighth blackbird and the Ethics of Pay-to-Play
  6. Interview with Helena Fruscio, Director, Berkshire Creative
  7. Playwrights’ Outrageous (Mis)Fortune
  8. Outrageous Fortune: a composer’s perspective
  9. The Top 10 Arts Policy Stories of 2010
  10. Economicsitis: A Response