Notes on Crisis and Opportunity 2.0

Last Thursday night I had the opportunity to attend Austin Creative Alliance’s dialog “Crisis and Opportunity: Audiences Everywhere”

 Matt Lehrman of Arizona’s Alliance for Audience and ShowUp.com, opened the discussion by inviting everyone in the room to introduce themselves, which was helpful for those of us that are new to the area (me…). I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the vast majority of the audience was made up of individuals who work in arts organizations.
Takeaway messages from Matt’s presentation:
·         Your audience is limited by opportunity, money, time, and ability.
·         The appearance of failure is just as harmful as failure itself (an empty seat never recommended anything to anyone).
·         Stop picking from the bottom of the tree: don’t just market to your most devoted audience; seek to find solutions for those audiences limited by opportunity, money, time, ability, or interest.
·         Seek audiences everywhere.
·         Compete and cooperate. Arts organizations are always in competition with each other, but there is always room for collaboration, cross-promotion, and supporting one another.
After Matt’s short presentation, he opened up the room for discussion, encouraging people to speak out about things they were doing or ideas that they had. To my surprise, a number of individuals in the audience shared their thoughts and talked about the ideas that Matt was suggesting. In some cases the arts organizations in attendance were already practicing some of Matt’s suggestions and in some cases they weren’t. All in all, people were talking and discussing things, and these people were the ones actually in the field doing the work.
I found this very encouraging!
My expectations for this event were set low. After reading “Austin arts groups feel strains of growth,” which ran in the Austin American Statesman the Saturday prior to the event, I was unsure of what to expect. The article outlined the troubles facing arts organizations in Austin and pointed to the organizations currently operating above the line as those who lead the rest into the future. While I found the article useful in many ways, I wondered how it would look to donors or potential donors. Is painting a bleak picture of Austin’s arts and culture sector the way to improve stewardship? As a firm believer in transparency and authenticity, I think that explaining one’s troubles can be productive; however the media already thrives on this. Negative news makes headlines, so in some respect, it could be argued that the general public has already read about the troubles facing the art world. What they haven’t read about is how organizations are attempting change, and taking steps to not only survive, but support one another. I think that article would have encouraged me to support my favorite local arts organization.
I would hesitate to say that everything I learned last Thursday night was a new. I would, however, say that for the first time in my life, I attended a dialog that promoted change and collaboration with the people who had the power to make it happen.


Some Appreciated Space

I am an intern with a desk and a cubicle.

I know. You’re jealous.

I have more workspace than I have ever had at any of my jobs—paying or not! Having my own space has been helpful in allowing me to have a semi-private space to retreat to, and it forces me to get up and ask a question if I need to.

Isn’t it beautiful?

My lovely workspace at the Long Center.

This week I have been working on website improvements for the Long Center and some grant research. This Thursday I will be attending the Austin Creative Alliance’s dialog, “Crisis and Opportunity.” Looking forward to sharing what I learned next week!

Stay cool :)


An Introduction to Austin

Hello from Texas! Things have been busy and adventurous lately! I was happy to start my internship early at the Long Center for Performing Arts, and have been driving around the city attempting to free myself from my oh-so-lovely-crutch: my GPS. To start my internship series, I thought it would be most helpful to open with an introduction to Austin for my classmates in Boston!

I wish I could say that because I was born and raised in Texas that I know everything about Austin, but that would be a lie. Texas is a huge state.  I completed my undergraduate study at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, a mere 30 miles north of Austin; however, aside from taking advantage of student-rush tickets or sneaking into the University of Texas Music Library, my knowledge of Austin and its cultural institutions is seriously lacking.

Jerry Hayes, Champion Printing
Austin, “The Live Music Capital of the World,” is the capital of Texas, and the fourth largest city in the state. Austin has a population of just over 790,000 (2010 U.S. Census), which is just a bit larger than Boston proper’s population.  Politically, Austin is known for its liberal persuasion in the center of a widely conservative state. Austin and its surrounding cities are home to the headquarters of Whole Foods, Freescale Semiconductor, Forestar Group, and Dell.  

The University of Texas flagship is also located in Austin.  UT is huge. It has over 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students and 16,500 faculty members, and prides itself in holding the largest enrollment of all colleges in Texas. Upon a recent visit I learned that each department within the UT system actually has its own development department, and really acts like its own institution. The Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art is the University’s cutting edge art museum. The Harry Ransom Center is the University’s very impressive library and archive, which houses a Gutenberg Bible among other interesting possessions.

To get a better idea of what Austin has to offer I was able to sit down with Karen Jantsch, Programming Manager at the Long Center, and Arts Administration graduate from University of New Orleans. Karen has only been in the Austin area for four years, but given her position at the Long Center and background in the arts, she has a unique perspective on Austin’s art world.

Karen started our conversation by describing Austin’s art world as diverse.  Austin’s art world, similar to many in the country, is experiencing a bit of a transition. Many of the city’s organizations like the Austin Museum of Art or the Austin Lyric Opera have experienced leadership changes. The Long Center, Austin Symphony, Austin Lyric Opera, Ballet Austin, Austin Museum of Art, and Art House were named among the most established or growing arts organizations in the city. In addition to these the University of Texas Blanton Museum of Art and Performing Arts Center were described as a vital part of the city.

Austin’s iconic collaborative spirit seems to permeate the art world, as organizations in the city have a lot of board crossover. In the last few years Austin has seen exceptional population growth, as the city has remained resilient through the great economic crises of the last few years. In addition to this, the city has seen the landscape for entertainment venues grow as well. Moody Theater, Bass Hall, Paramount Theatre, Austin Music Hall, Long Center, and Cedar Park Center are just some of the many options for performers who come to the city.

While much of Austin is still a bit of a mystery to me as a newcomer, I will say that the people and culture of the city is inviting. The citizens of Austin are (insert antonym for xenophobic). I am excited and inspired, and look forward to sharing more of my journey along the way!


Returning to the blogosphere

I will receive my degree in January
after completing my internship 
requirement, but I was still pretty
Wow, it has been a while. I have been following my regular blogs, but have finally found the time needed to keep up with my own! In the months since I last updated my blog I have attended the Brown Symposium, consolidated jobs (down to one!), started some new projects, finished my semester last semester of classes, walked during graduation, and have started planning for my move back to Texas.

We will be Texas bound in 29 days! I am excited, but also very nervous.

I am looking forward to starting my fellowship at the Long Center for Performing Arts! I have recently been in contact with the development department at the Long Center and we have set up a meeting to hash out the details of my fellowship during the first week in July! My last post followed my first visit to the Long Center after I had been offered the fellowship opportunity.  Although the Long Center has only been around just over three years, I knew that it would be a great fit for me, as it is so central to Austin’s cultural happenings.

I have great hope for the next few months. I have been working on a project with a friend who works in web development and I am hoping to unveil it soon. Between now and then I will be busy tying up loose ends in Boston and preparing for the much anticipated move back to the Lone Star State!


Baby Steps

Last semester I was charged with the task of finding an internship to complete my Master’s in Arts Administration at BU. Seems simple right? It probably would be if I hadn’t had the added challenge of our decision of whether or not to move back to Texas. We moved to Boston about two years ago, and we have really enjoyed it, but Texas feels like home. While Boston remains the city with the most arts organizations per capita in the country I know that it is important that I take what I have learned back to my home state. Arts Administration is a relatively new field of study and some people feel that it isn’t necessary and most that most learn more on the job than in school. I have had the unique opportunity to work in a lower level job within my field concurrently with my study. I feel that this has been the most enriching eighteen months of my life.

Okay, back to the main point of discussion: my internship. After becoming well acquainted with the Boston art world I felt it might be better and prepare for the more challenging feat: the possibility of moving back to Austin, where I had very limited knowledge. Trying to find an internship across the country is a bit challenging. I came up with a list and then started making calls and asking questions. After a few days of research I decided to pursue an internship at the Long Center for Performing Arts.

Yesterday I met my boss.

My head is still spinning from the possibilities presented to me yesterday. We will move back to Austin in June and I will start my fellowship at the Long Center for Performing Arts. Wow, just reading that sentence triggers a whole host of emotions ranging from excitement (primarily) to nervousness.

The Long Center is celebrating its third anniversary in Austin, Texas. It occupies the space of what was formerly known as the Palmer Auditorium. After some very generous seed money from the Long family and some aggressive capital campaign funding the Long Center became a reality. It was constructed with over 90% recycled materials from the original facility that stood in its place, and it is the most state of the art performing arts center in Austin to date.

Yesterday we discussed the challenges of maintaining an arts organization in Austin in comparison to Boston, and discussed possible projects that I could work on during my fellowship. I am really excited about sharing more of the details, but would like to refrain until most of them are a bit more concrete. 

I can't wait to get started, but from today until early Friday afternoon I will be Brown-Symposium-ing! 


My Final Quest in Education, Technology and the Arts

Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to meet with Steve Lambert, a faculty member at SMFA. I knew that it was imperative that I meet with him before leaving for Texas as almost everyone mentioned his name during my previous discussions, and thankfully he agreed to meet with me.

Steve teaches a hacking class and a class titled, “ Free as in Freedom not as in Free Beer,” and has also collaborated with the Yes Men. As soon as I heard about his hacking class I knew I needed to track this guy down.

Steve self-identifies as a nontraditional teacher with nontraditional expectations for his students. He created the hacking class in reaction to the number of software training classes that were offered at SMFA. He explained that he felt commercial software training resulted in students being reliant upon software and training is something that should not be part of the art school experience. An art degree should be more like a philosophy degree. In addition to this commercial software puts institutions into almost a hundred thousand dollars of debt after purchases are made and software updates. For these reasons his classes only use open source software, which is very often better than their commercial counterparts as people have the ability to augment it as needed.  Students must create their own website (which enables them to archive and share their work), and use their own server (instead of relying on the school’s). He also requests that none of his students copyright anything they create in either of his classes.

The most challenging part about teaching this class seemed to be de-programing traditional students and pushing them to solve problems on their own.  Obviously this mentality is not necessarily limited to the arts or technology; however teaching students to be independent of the teacher helps students continue their work even after the class has ended. Steve starts his class by giving his students some ideas about how to go about solving problems… the last one being asking him for advice. 

All of this has really just clarified my thoughts about technology, education and the arts. The Internet and the technologies surrounding its access and use have really changed the way that we receive information. In some way these technologies have actually made us more self-sufficient as we no longer have to work as hard to find information.  While technology has really taken off it seems like legislation always lags behind, which always affects the way that we make use of it, and as I said in my first post, creating art by means of technology is only natural as we surround ourselves with it day in and day out.
Whew. Let’s get started.


An Adventure in Education, Technology, and the Arts Pt 2: Information. Access. Research.

I like to think of myself as a curious individual who really appreciates knowing how things work, but I must admit, there are certain inventions and technologies that just dumbfound me.

A Series of Tubes: At Terremark's Miami headquarters,
undersea Internet cables emerge from the Atlantic
and connect to the rest of the country
John B. Carnett
Do you know how the Internet works? If you are reading this you probably should. I came to this realization today during a conversation with my friend Shannon. She mentioned that there are actually cables that run from continent to continent on the ocean floor. Pretty crazy right? I laughed. Then she found proof! Despite how very removed we have become from the hardware that provides our connection there is still a very physical aspect to the Internet and it requires constant maintenance and is maintained by humans! We are not as "wireless" as we think we are! The Internet has truly changed how we share information.

Last Thursday I met with Darin Murphy, SMFA’s librarian. We had a very eye opening discussion and I have been trying to condense our conversation into a post so that I can better understand what I learned.

Darin and I began our meeting by discussing the issue of technology in relation to arts and education. He cited a NYTimes book review from mid-December by Robert Darnton, a professor at Harvard (who coincidentally contributed to the Radcliff Symposium, “Why Books?”). This book review centered on the challenges centered around scholarship in libraries everywhere. Digital and technological research is needed now (and by now we mean yesterday). Research centers at Harvard and MIT have recognized the importance of the [instant] dissemination of scholarly research and have began practicing copyleft by allowing their research to be accessed for free instantly. This allows for the burden of dissemination to shared and through this research is actually enhanced do to the simple fact that people have access to it. Takeaway message: access to information is key.

How does this relate to the arts?

Artists are constantly pushing the fair use envelope, and a critical point of art making is having access to scholarly research. In this instance scholarly research pushes art forward, and decision made throughout the artistic process are believed to be influenced by scholarly research. Fair argument. We discussed a website that provides free access to research to anyone (once you register). The website is constantly fleeting legal action, and in order to keep information free flowing the website is changed. This seemed counterintuitive to me. While making research free for all to access the website's accessibility is compromised by its constant need to escape legal action. This actually brings me back to the discussion about copyright I had with James Dingle the week before last as it could be argued that those who do need to access the research do not wish to profit off of it, but simply advance their research or creation.

If scholarly research was freely accessible it would create a more egalitarian society and more egalitarian art.

We then discussed different art projects of note that had been produced with technology, specifically the New York Times Special Edition project that was organized by the Yes Men, and how their very public projects make their art and their cause very accessible and also pushed the copyright/fair use envelope. The Yes Men self identify as, "Impersonating big-time criminals in order to publicly humiliate them. Our targets are leaders and big corporations who put profits ahead of everything else."

New York Times Special Edition Video News Release - Nov. 12, 2008 from H Schweppes on Vimeo.

We also discussed the challenges of maintaining and supporting performance and digital art archival. Darin expressed that one of his biggest challenges in the Museum Schools library was making archival data available to students due to lack of funds. He pointed to the Mobius Artist Group, a performance group comprised of sound and performance artists that was formed about 34 years ago in Boston. The Mobius Artist Group is internationally known; however much of their early work has not been archived, and thus, it is difficult to really study their earlier works. For this reason it could be said that the lack of research available to performance art is hindering their growth.

Information, access, and research. These are the three things that push us forward in life and in our art, and technology can make it all so much easier. Whether or not we access the information needed for research legally seems to become the next issue.

I actually have more to share, but this is getting a little long, and I need to stop editing this post before it gets even longer. I leave for Texas in about 38 hours. I am so excited and more nervous than ever! I plan to do one more update before I leave (I had one last discussion yesterday!) and then I will do a few next week just to document my experiences in the Austin area. If you are still reading... thanks for doing so! The feedback I have received after my last few posts has been really encouraging!