Hello Createquity friends, colleagues, collaborators, loyal followers, casual readers, and curious onlookers…

WE'RE BACK! (original photo by xan lotta via Flickr Creative Commons)

Fresh on the heels of a successful $11,000+ Indiegogo campaign, four months and ten days of rerun posts, a weekend-long in-person planning retreat, and countless hours of editorial video conferences, Createquity has returned with a new look and a new mandate to match. And we’re more psyched than ever.

For those who need a little refresher, back in June we announced plans to “take Createquity to the next level.” We realized that while we’d built a handsome and loyal following thanks to our editorial filter, we were sorely lacking in editorial direction, and as a result, missing important opportunities to maximize our impact within the field. So we suspended new posts for the summer while we refreshed the website and plotted out a new content strategy that would do exactly that.

The result that you see before you represents a major transformation in the way that Createquity looks and operates. No longer a mere catalogue of interesting thought pieces and tidbits, Createquity is now a research-backed investigation of the most important issues in the arts and what we, collectively and individually, can do about them. We’ll still offer the same engaging, substantive writing and timely updates you’ve come to expect from us, but all of our major feature articles from this point forward will build towards that goal.

Why do this? One of the main downsides of any periodical format, most digital media included, is what I call the “here today, gone tomorrow” effect. We publish something interesting, you like it, everybody feels good, and then life moves on as if nothing happened. But if you think about it, that’s not how our minds work. We’re constantly learning new things, adapting our beliefs in response to new information, forming and revising mental models of the world based on what we know about it, and hopefully getting wiser in the process. We decided Createquity should work the same way: every investment of time and intellectual capacity we make should add to our cumulative wisdom about the sector and our understanding of how we can change things for the better through our actions. Our readers deserve nothing less.

In an Ideal World…

When we created the crowdfunding campaign that launched this effort back in June, we posed four key questions to ourselves: What does a healthy arts ecosystem look like? How is that different from the status quo? What would it take to make it work better for artists and audiences? And what can we all do to make a difference? This summer, Createquity’s crackerjack editorial team – John Carnwath, Talia Gibas, Jackie Hasa, Daniel Reid, Devon Smith, and yours truly – set about answering the first two of these questions. The framework we created to describe a healthy arts ecosystem deserves its own post, so I won’t get into too much detail about it here. But I do want to share with you our preliminary answers to the second question, and how they will shape our investigation going forward.

For the near-term future, Createquity’s research process and feature articles will focus on two core themes: disparities of access and the capacity of our field to make change. The more that we explored both oft-mentioned and overlooked problems faced by the field, the more we realized that almost all of them fit into one or the other of these themes. Moreover, to the extent these problems are real and not imagined, it’s clear that they represent significant challenges to our conception of a healthy arts ecosystem. We see the disparities of access theme reflected most readily (but not exclusively) in the challenges that economically disadvantaged people face in pursuing opportunities to participate in the arts, especially when it comes to maintaining a sustained and public identity as an artist; widespread inequality in the amount and nature of school-based arts education opportunities offered to children; and headline-grabbing disparities by race and gender in various contexts. If, as we contend, the arts ecosystem exists to provide concrete and meaningful benefits to individuals and communities, when large numbers of people face barriers to participating in the arts in the way they might want to, that represents a major failure for the ecosystem.

The capacity to make change theme is more of a meta-problem. The arts in the United States are extremely decentralized, with very little government policy in place to guide outcomes and the dynamics of the system driven to a large extent by market forces. There are many advantages to such a model, but one of the challenges it poses is that it makes any kind of large-scale, systemic change – such as the kinds of changes we might recommend as part of our disparities of access theme – extremely difficult to accomplish. We see this problem manifesting in a number of ways, including the reluctance of cultural institutions to prioritize the interests of the ecosystem as a whole ahead of their own prosperity; a disproportionate share of influence wielded within the sector by wealthy individuals who do not always use that influence to further the best interests of the ecosystem; and a gap in the skills and information resources arts managers have at their disposal to make effective decisions on behalf of the collective good. Our definition of a healthy arts ecosystem asserts that cultural infrastructure, including organizations led by professional managers, provides value only insofar as it furthers the goal of improving people’s lives in concrete and meaningful ways through the arts. To the extent that any element within that infrastructure is unwilling or unable to put that impact first, it’s acting as a drag on the system’s capacity to change for the better.

In the months to come, we’ll be exploring these two themes via the most extensive literature review process we’ve ever taken on – delving into whether these problems are as damaging to the sector as we perceive them to be, which aspects of them appear to have the biggest role in determining outcomes and how they manifest in real people’s lives, what others have tried to do about them either within the arts or in other sectors, and which strategies seem to offer the best promise for real change. And we’ll be sharing what we find along the way via beautifully constructed, extensively researched feature articles that bring these topics to life. We can’t wait to get started.

I should note this is a long-term effort and we all have day jobs, so this won’t be one of those feeds where we’re pumping multiple articles a day into your inbox. Rather, this is going to be a boutique, in-depth exercise in information-gathering and-sharing. You can think of Createquity as a Slow Knowledge movement for the arts. Our process will be intellectually rigorous but not slavishly numbers-driven; we understand that in many of the areas in which we’re most interested, available research may be of poor quality or nonexistent. And we intend for it to be participatory as well: we’ve set up a separate feed that armchair arts policy wonks can use to follow along with our process (and debate our assumptions) in more detail.

Welcome to Our Humble Abode

With all of these changes in the pipeline, there was no way that we could keep publishing on our five-year-old WordPress theme, colorful as it might have been. So with the help of our friends at Punkt Digital, we’ve redesigned our website and brand identity to accommodate our new editorial focus. Allow me to take you on a brief guided tour of our new digs:

    • The big, screen-width space you see at the top of the homepage (just below the header) currently links to this post. But eventually, that’s going to be the home for our latest case for change. What’s a case for change, you ask? It’s the culmination of our research process – the point at which we arrive at concrete recommendations for action to improve the welfare of the arts ecosystem. It might be a while before we get there, but when we do, we’ll make sure you hear about it. Just below that big box, you’ll see three smaller ones all in a row, starting with:
    • Features. Semi-regular feature articles communicate major breakthroughs and synthesis on each issue we’re investigating. Expect the same thorough, engaging, and thought-provoking pieces that have long been the hallmark of the Createquity brand. These posts will be quite labor-intensive, so don’t expect to see them pop up every week. When they do, they will be well worth settling in for a thorough read – and hopefully a comment or two (or ten!).
    • Research Spotlight. After five-plus years of reviewing, analyzing, and sharing research on Createquity, we’ve found that the most valuable knowledge resources out there are rarely the ones that get the most attention. We want to try to correct that imbalance, so we’re introducing the Research Spotlight series, which will present recently released reports, publications, and datasets of note as a series of engaging briefs. Information overload be gone!
    • Newsroom. People who rely on Createquity to keep up with the latest trends will appreciate this new item that rolls our old Around the Horn, Public Art Funding Update, and Cool Jobs of the Month posts into one streamlined monthly update. Twelve times a year, we’ll count down the top five need-to-know news stories from the previous thirty days, accompanied by an easy-to-scan bullet list of other nuggets like musical chairs and new research of note. If you’re still playing catch-up from summer vacation, updates from June, July, August, and September are up in the Newsroom for your perusal.
    • Issues. Remember how I wrote that Createquity is turning into a cumulative knowledge resource? The Issue pages will be where we aggregate our research, analysis, and conclusions on each of our editorial focus areas into one place. If you’re introducing someone new to the site or are only an occasional reader yourself, this will be a great place starting point to catch up on where we stand on a given issue, without having to first wade through a year’s worth of articles. We’re starting out with two issues, but plan to add more as get further into the process and increase our capacity.
    • Twitter. Astute observers may have noticed that our Twitter feed got a lot more active starting around August. That’s because we’re now funneling the links that would have made the cut for Around the Horn but don’t fit into Newsroom through Twitter instead. This is definitely the timeliest way to keep up with what we’re reading, so if you miss the full Around the Horn experience, definitely make sure you’re following us; if you’re not a Twitter user, you can stay plugged in by checking out the “Createquity on Twitter” box on the homepage.
    • Createquity Insider. Along with our new editorial direction comes a new commitment to transparency. Createquity Insider is a special, separate feed and section of the site for people who want a window into our process as it’s happening. We’ll publish everything from planning documents to “capsule reviews” of research we’re reading to invitations to weigh in on internal debates about our definition of a healthy arts ecosystem. If you ever want to retrace our steps and understand exactly how we arrived at our recommendations, this will be the place to start.

And This is Where You Come In

If all this sounds kind of amazing, I can’t say I disagree. But as I said, this is just the beginning. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, and I want all of you to feel welcome to participate in this enterprise in whatever way makes sense for you. How can you do that? Here are a few options:

    • Subscribe to Createquity Insider! The content we publish on our main feed – namely features, Research Spotlight, Newsroom, and announcements – is aimed at busy professionals who don’t have time to look everything up themselves and are willing to trust that we’ve done our homework and our conclusions are rooted in the best information available. We know that describes a lot of people, but we really hope it doesn’t describe everyone. We’ve adopted a commitment to transparency so that you can follow along with our research process and retrace the steps to every important judgment we make. If you find yourself questioning any of those judgments, or even if you don’t, we invite you to follow our Createquity Insider feed and engage with us on the details. Because details matter.
    • Tell your friends! Createquity has long appealed to the arts geek in all of us. A lot of the resources you’ve grown to love – like our periodic digests of news and analysis across the sector – will continue to feature prominently on the site. As we shift gears toward investigating and developing cases for change, we’re confident we will have even more that appeals to just about everyone – including (perhaps especially) people who may not know that much about the arts. So tell your colleagues, coworkers, and favorite dinner party friends what we’re up to. The more bright minds we have following and contributing to this work, the better it will be!
    • Join our team! If you’re eager to jump in on the ground floor of this nerdtastic and ambitious venture, consider becoming a member of the Createquity editorial team. We’re looking for whip-smart, motivated individuals with a wide array of backgrounds and skills who love to question conventional wisdom.  Whether you have a penchant for exhaustive yet compelling research reports or zinging tweets, we have a boatload of fun and challenging projects for you. Applications for our current recruitment round are due November 7.
    • Chip in for the cause! We are over the moon about the success of our Indiegogo campaign, which paid for our shiny new online home. But our work is far from over. One of our big next steps is making sure this work, which has until this year been a 100% volunteer effort, is sustainable in the long run. Your financial support can help us get there, and we encourage you to sign up for a monthly donation.
    • Sponsor us! For the first time, Createquity is offering opportunities for visibility on our site. Join our founding sponsors, MailChimp and Pamela York Klainer, and place your brand in front of a large and influential global audience of arts supporters and enthusiasts. Contact sponsorships@createquity.com for more details.

Finally, I would be remiss in not acknowledging the many wonderful people who helped to make all of this happen. First of all, a huge shout out to our aforementioned founding sponsors, who made our campaign turn out a lot better than it would have otherwise! We’d also like to thank our other campaign donors, including (deep breath): Claudia Bach, Anne Bergeron, Nora Bright, Alan Brown, Sherri Brueggemann, Ken Busby, William Byrnes, Anna Campbell, John Carnwath, Jonas Cartano, Ellen Chenoweth, James Chung, Cynthia Clair, Eleanor Cory, Lindsey Cosgrove, Calcagno Cullen, Shannon Daut, Dianne Debicella, Lauren DeMille, Jean Ann Douglass, Laura Dowd, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Deena Epstein, Pamela Epstein, Adrian Ellis, Reena Esmail, Linda Essig, Zlato Fagundes, Betty Farrell, Nicole Flannigan, Laura Forbes, Kate Forester, Shiri Friedman, Louise Geraghty, Marian Godfrey, David Greenham, Katherine Gressel, Ryan Hageman, Ann Haubrich, Barry’s Blog / Barry Hessenius, Tracy Hudak, Amy Hunter, Adam Huttler, Kemi Ilesanmi, Carol Jin, Ethan Joseph, Daniel Joynes, Selena Juneau-Vogel, Daniel Katz, Daniel Kertzner, Aref Khan, Amy Klainer, Christine T. Laffer, Peter Lakin, Thien-Kieu Lam, Rosa Langley, Jennifer Lee, Lex Leifheit, Elaine Grogan Luttrull, Becca Lynch, Anthony Macklin, Carlyn Madden, Nichole Martini, Kerry McCarthy, Douglas McLennan, Mary Means, Gary Moore, Jessica Moore, Anna Muessig, The New York Community Trust, Lisa Niedermeyer, Anne Gadwa Nicodemus, Irfana Jetha Noorani, Deborah Obalil, Cristina Pacheco, Laura Aden Packer, Stephan Paschalides, Dominique Palmer, Sarah Pauly, Amy Phillips, Trevor Pollack, Angelique Power, Mollie Quinlan-Hayes, Diane Ragsdale, Jeremy Reed, Daniel Reid, Jill Richens, Alex W. Rodriguez, Chandra Roxanne, Richard Russell, Ann Sachs, Fabiola Salman, Jack Schwimmer, Jane Severs, Holly Sidford, Nina Simon, Alanna Simone, Thor Steingraber, Arin Sullivan, Rachel Sussman, Leslie Tamaribuchi, Andrew Taylor, Stephanie Tilden, Salem Tsegaye, Brandon Turner, Paul Tyler, Vogl Consulting, Margy Waller, Crystal Wallis, Mara Walker, Roseann Weiss, Michelle Williams, Karen Yair, Guy Yedwab, Gerald Yoshitomi, Laura Zucker, and 10 individuals who preferred to remain anonymous. You all are amazing, and on behalf of the entire Createquity team, thank you for helping get us to this point.

And with that, it’s time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work. We can’t wait for your thoughts, questions, concerns, and debates. We’re counting on your sharp minds and generous hearts to help this project reach its potential. Here’s to new beginnings.