Rat City Watching the Trey McIntire Project's Half-Time Show / photo by Kenneth Freeman

(David B. Pankratz, Ph.D., is the Principal of Creative Sector Research in South Pasadena, California. He can be reached at creativesectorresearch@gmail.com.)

In TINA vs. LOIS: Bringing the Arts Back Home, community arts advocate Scott Walters applies a concept developed by author Michael Shuman in The Small-Mart Revolution to cultural economies in American communities. TINA (There is No Alternative), in the broad economic and social terms that Shuman discusses, refers to develop strategies that emphasize: 1) luring large corporations to locate in your back yard, e.g., Wal-Mart, a Toyota plant, or a major studio movie production; and 2) exporting goods as widely as possible. LOIS (Local Ownership and Import Substitution), on the other hand, refers to: 1) local ownership of businesses, and 2) whenever possible, locally-focused distribution of goods and services, e.g., farmers markets, alternative newspapers, and artists space collectives. The LOIS imperative is to maximize the dollars generated locally and to minimize their subsequent departure.

A TINA cultural economy, according to Walters, features passive consumption of the cultural products (the commodities) of large non-profits (many with edifice complexes), merging media companies, and other “outside experts.” The LOIS cultural economy is characterized by the growth of “citizen-artists” who are equipped with the skills needed to extract joy, meaning, and achievement from the practice of art. Walters argues that this kind of personal creativity begets personal empowerment among citizens, unleashes a “creativity multiplier effect,” and can lead to a community’s transformation toward self-sufficiency and sustainability.

Despite these important distinctions, it seems to me that TINA and LOIS are not mutually exclusive, a point Walters acknowledges by saying that “a complete isolation of local economies from the globalized one is not possible or desirable.” In cultural terms, finding meaning in the creations of professionals surely has its place within a community’s cultural ecology. Nor does it seem to stifle “personal creativity,” which is on the rise, exemplified by the proliferation of community choruses, the “curatorial me,” and omnipresent craft festivals.

To be sure, not everyone will be convinced that TINA and LOIS can co-exist peacefully. That said, these kinds of either/or distinctions in the arts sector are softening and blurring. For example, thousands of crafters both exhibit locally and, via Etsy.com, export their wares to national and international buyers. The City of Chicago, in its 2012 Cultural Plan, will seek to promote its major cultural assets worldwide and to attract affluent “creatives” to the city, while also providing ample opportunities to all citizens for personal creativity in neighborhood-based venues. The Irvine Foundation, a major funder of large arts nonprofits, also aims to increase citizens’ engagement in the arts by supporting their making and practicing of art, through its new Exploring Engagement Funds initiative.  Finally, as an example of mutually advantageous blurring of TINA and LOIS distinctions, the Baltimore Symphony’s Rusty Musicians program gives non-professional local musicians the chance to perform in side-by-side concerts with its Symphony members, who are recruited from around the world.

Still another way to look at bridging either/or distinctions is through the practices of individual arts organizations. The Trey McIntyre Project (TMP), I think, provides an especially strong example. TMP is a modern dance troupe that, since its founding in 2004, has toured extensively to national and international acclaim, led by a mission to advance the form of dance “in innovative and ground-breaking ways.” In 2008, TMP conducted a nationwide search to identify a home base of operations, which it had lacked.

In making this decision, the Troy McIntyre Project ranked the locale itself as a significant selection criterion. Boise, Idaho, with its growing arts community, its aspirations to become a regional center of innovation, and its status as one of America’s most livable cities, scored high. And it appeared that Boise would support TMP’s artistic mission.

But Mr. McIntyre wanted more. He had originally placed San Francisco and New York City at the top of TMP’s list of possible landing spots. However, he reasoned that in these and other large cities  TMP likely would just get lost amid the flurry of dance activity. Instead, he wanted a city that needed the troupe, and that wanted it to become part of its civic identity. It wasn’t enough just to make the best possible work. TMP wanted to both reflect and engage its local community AND to tour to and work in other locales in the U.S. and worldwide. (To illustrate, once TMP settled into Boise in 2008, it soon thereafter undertook a 25-city tour).

In the past few years, TMP has also become well-known for the many ways it engages citizens and institutions in Boise—from its SpUrbans (Spontaneous Urban Performances) to an artist in residence program at St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital, where dancers go bedside to bedside. An array of LOIS-like engagement activities are known collectively as the Boise Bright Spot Project.

Boise’s political leaders, following TMP’s lead, bought into both/and thinking as well, naming TMP the city’s Economic Development Cultural Ambassador and their emissary to the world while also making grants to the company annually to support local engagement projects, which now number 40. For their part, Boise citizens treat company members as local heroes and rock stars, offering them a wealth of in-kind services and spaces, reductions in health care services, and driving the price of TMP performance tickets into the $100s on Craigslist.

Some might say that Boise lucked into a mutually beneficial relationship with TMP. After all, it’s not as though Boise tried to lure the company to town, in TINA-like fashion, with a bevy of tax breaks or other incentives. But, in ways that many cities might not have, Boise certainly has  leveraged TMP’s presence. And that goes back to TMP’s thinking in choosing a locale aspiring to be an innovation hub and that needed them.

TMP set a high early standard for itself saying that it wanted to generate local identity and pride equivalent to that fostered by the by the university football team, the Boise State University Broncos. The Broncos regularly rank in college football’s Top 10 and were the authors of one of the most dramatic upsets in college football history, beating the University of Oklahoma Sooners, a perennial power, with highly innovative play-calling in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos head coach, Chris Peterson, along with TMP’s John Michael Schert, is a member of “The Gang,” a select, eight-person group of innovative, high-achievement leaders in Boise.  They are drawn from law enforcement, athletics, business, education, and the arts, and meet to discuss the importance of creativity in their work. Mr. Schert sees parallels between TMP and Boise State football, saying that they both have “a lot of nuance, layers, and integrity and a lot of sense of…[themselves]. They know what they’re trying to achieve and they go and achieve it, and that’s art really.” Participation in The Gang is yet another example of TMP engaging multiple segments of Boise, even if equaling the iconic status of the football team may yet take some time.

In any case, do the examples of recognition, support, and engagement outlined here prove that TMP truly reflects the Boise community, bridging TINA and LOIS orientations? Mr. McIntyre acknowledges that connecting with the city and its residents is an ongoing, unfinished process. And Mr. Schert admits that “our time in Boise is limited. Touring takes us away so frequently that we are not able to fully commit ourselves for long stretches of time to the Boise Bright Spot Project.”

Still, it seems hard to dispute that the Boise community is indeed reflected through the creative dialogue between TMP and community members. Some connections occur in participatory, open rehearsals during which comments from citizens are encouraged, while others are rooted in opportunities for personal creativity fostered in TMP classes at, as one example, the Treasure Valley YMCA.

Further, several of TMP’s new pieces reflect cultural practices in Boise. One example is Arrantza, a piece created for the city’s Basque Festival, an annual event involving Boise’s Basque population of 15,000. McIntyre, out of respect for these local residents, functioned as cultural anthropologist as much as a choreographer, attempting to capture the authenticity of Basque dance, music, and mythologies in Arrantza. In a more whimsical vein, when a local couple discovered a cache of bowling pins, they thought to call and ask if Mr. McIntyre might want them. He did and, not surprisingly, made a dance, called Tenpin Episodes.

Now that it has been awarded funding from the National Endowment for the Arts’s Our Town program and the ArtPlace initiative, the Trey McIntyre Project may well to be able to deepen its connections to Boise citizens, for example, in hospital settings, local watering holes, and many more venues. But these community connections and TMP’s artistic reach are far from mutually exclusive.  Accordingly, TMP, in 2012, will represent the U.S. Department of State in a tour of China, South Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam; in 2013 the troupe has  week-long residencies in Orange County, CA, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

TMP’s story raises a final question: What can other non-profit arts organizations in the U.S. learn from TMP’s lead? On the one hand, the TMP experience, says Mr. Schert, has ”led other cities in the U.S. to look to the TMP/Boise model and ask how they can create projects similar to Boise Bright Spot in their own city.”  It appears that TMP is being asked less about its artistic innovation or international profile and more about its extensive and diverse community engagement programs.

However, are there other lessons to be learned? Some might be hard to apply. For example, most arts organizations, even if they hope to locate (or re-locate) in a new city, no matter how receptive that locale might be, do not have the standing, reputation, or  assets to do so. Nor is it always the case that organizations with the capacities to choose a new home should do so. All things considered, there are advantages to being part of an extensive artistic community, even as a small fish in a big pond rather than the reverse.

That said, TMP’s approach, grounded in an intentional strategy to both reflect local culture and engage with regular citizens while also pursuing artistic innovation and broad geographical reach, likely can be adapted by other arts organizations.  To do so, such organizations would do well to consult a recent interview with Mr. Schert, who cites several lessons that TMP has learned through its Boise experience:

  • Define your values and set your parameters. For TMP, definitions were about how best “to make an impact on the community in which we live and the greater nation, really create new models and systems, and do it in an innovative and entrepreneurial way.  It became apparent to us that Boise was a community that was really ripe ground for this sort of creative leadership to step in.”  
  • Invest time and energy to cultivate and steward local relationships. Mr. Schert points out that Boise citizens did not spontaneously embrace the troupe.  Retail relationship-building is hard, time-consuming work.  One of TMP’s signature partnerships, in which a local bar named a cocktail after each TMP dancer, happened only after 30 to 40 hours of planning meetings.    
  • Resist the scarcity paradigm so common in the arts. In its first two years in Boise, TMP, says Mr. Schert, “did not approach a single major patron in Boise or…any of the tried and true families that have supported the arts in this community for decades. We created new sources of income: new projects, new patrons, new relationships with certain businesses.”
  • Grow the local funding pie. TMP worked closely with a local foundation affiliated with Boise’s performing arts center (the Morrison Center) to revise its distribution policies to include each of the Center’s resident companies and user groups.

In summary, the overarching  message of TMP’s  orientation-spanning work amidst these many lessons,  it seems to me, is for individual arts organizations, and/or a locale’s artistic community, to define and pursue long-term strategies to think and act both locally and globally.

  • Fantastic post, and thanks for highlighting my recent interview with Mr. Schert on ArtsFwd.org. I think you are right to say that TMP is a living combination of TINA and LOIS. I would also agree that communities choosing to implement either TINA or LOIS policies exclusively will hinder growth in the arts sector. In many cases, it will be a TINA approach that attracts the publicly visible talent and momentum that can help foster a LOIS culture. I think of my community–Madison, Wisconsin–as a great example of a cultural economy where TINA and LOIS peacefully coexist. There is an astounding craft/pro-am/local arts scene as well as many traditional institutions that seek to attract national tours and talent, with the UW-Madison, community centers, and the Overture Center regularly serving as a common space for mingling and exchanging ideas. This is fostered by a local press that, in my opinion, devotes time equally to both threads, and a longstanding culture of progressivism in city government that has, in the past decade, adapted some of the more aggressive, TINA mentality to aid in economic development. Of course I’m speaking pretty broadly here. Madison doesn’t have any one organization that functions quite like TMP, but what they are doing illustrates that coexistence is possible and probably desirable on both organizational and community levels.

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