Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Creative Vitality in Philadelphia - Telling the Story: World Cafe Live and WXPN

As many of my readers will know, yesterday we released a new study "Creative Vitality in Philadelphia," that looks at the health of our creative sector - for-profit creative businesses, nonprofit arts and culture groups, and individual artists and creative workers.  This research uses something called the Creative Vitality Index, or CVI, that has been developed by a group called the Western States Arts Federation. Because the data is national, aggregating an array of different sources of information, it provides a great vehicle for measuring our creative sector's vitality over time, and also to benchmark ourselves against the nation and other communities. You can access a PDF of the full report here.

The big "take-away" number from the report is that Philadelphia's CVI rating is 1.7, a full 70% higher than the national benchmark of 1.0. The region performs somewhat more modestly - at 1.1 ranking the region 16th out of the top 50 metro areas, though in terms of growth the Philly region has the fifth highest growth rate of the three years covered in the study (06-08). The CVI rating of our nonprofit arts activity is an astounding 500% higher than the national benchmark.

But an important part of the report is also a collection of case studies - the stories of the artists and businesses that make our creative sector sing. And that is a perfect segue to a teaser I would like to share from one of the case studies. This is the story of the brilliant partnership between World Cafe Live and WXPN - in effect the perfect exemplification of the creative economy intersection of for-profit creative business, nonprofit arts and individual artists.

In 1998, when music lover and former real estate lawyer Hal Real first approached WXPN/88.5 FM about joining forces and creating a live music venue, he was hoping to fulfill his dream to “radically change the landscape for contemporary music artists and audiences.” Real was a big fan of David Dye’s widely acclaimed World Cafe show, an eclectic blend of new music, live performances and interviews featuring local and national acts that is broadcast on XPN and heard on 200 stations nationwide. His idea was to create World Cafe Live, a for-profit music venue for grownups that was the physical extension of the experience World Cafe listeners had in their living rooms. At that time, WXPN, which is University of Pennsylvania owned and operated and had been broadcasting since the 1970s from a closet-like studio papered with vinyl records for soundproofing inside a run-down house on Penn’s campus (its support staff worked in another building several blocks away), had outgrown its space and was in need of a new home...

To read the rest of the World Cafe Live/WXPN profile go here. And as a reminder, you can download the full Philly CVI report here. In addition, we invite you to share your own creative industry story at our special website, where you can also sign up to attend a Creative Vitality town hall on January 27th, as well as to stay connected with us through Facebook and Twitter. We'll be selecting and sharing some of the profiles we receive in future reports, as well as online, so don't miss this opportunity to show off the amazing creative work you or your organization does everyday. (Only one submission per business/organization/artist, please.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Who are the Millennials, why do we need them, and how do we engage them?

Patricia Martin, a really sharp writer and consultant who follows consumer trends, marketing and sponsorship, and has a special interest in arts and culture, has just come out with a new study called Tipping the Culture: How engaging Millennials will change things. It is actually available as a free download by clicking on the link above.

The study was commissioned by Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago, and funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation as part of its support for Nonprofit Finance Fund's "Leading for the Future Initiative." 

Better understanding this new generational cohort (defined in this report as being between 15 and 31 years old) - now entering our workforce, our audiences, and our customer base, and in HUGE numbers that dwarf the size of the older Gen X group - is critical to the future of our arts organizations. The study takes a close and revealing look at this generation, helping us develop effective strategies to engage them. Notice I did NOT say "market to them" because if there is one thing this generations hates it is being "marketed to." The study also looks at examples from the corporate sector of firms that have successfully been able to build sales and brands that resonate with this generation. Some examples from the arts sector are included too, including a bit of Philly inclusion.

Here are some of the big take-aways for me:

  • Reaching and engaging Millennials is critical, yet "for a performing arts presenter, it is especially vexing because the very conventions of the experience you offer can conflict with [their] mind-set." What this means is that most performing arts experiences basically require audience to arrive at a set time, sit in a seat and engage in an essentially passive cultural experience. Clapping only at appropriate times. 
  • Even given the resistance of Millennials to these passive cultural experiences - they prefer to CREATE or self-curate their cultural experiences - the research DOES find that under the right circumstances Millennials WILL "abide by the rituals associated with live performance...many do not expect  or want to text or tweet. And if the situation calls for it, they'll dress up a bit for the experience. They study proposes three key insights:
  • The brand is no longer at the center of the universe, the user is. To succeed in reaching Millennnials, you essentially have to turn your brand over to them. They need to own it and shape it. This is really exciting, and also really scary for marketers used to obsessively controlling the integrity of their brand.
  • Have something meaningful to say. Millennials are moved by REAL content. They want authentic experiences. Artificiality and phoniness turns them off.
  • Help them belong to the brand. We need to provide vehicles that give them the capacity to belong to the brand and share it - providing comments and review on the web site, sharing photos of the experiences, facilitating social interactions through the arts experiencing, posting videos, etc.
  • And finally (and related to the above) they respond really powerfully to opportunities to actually be a part of creating the content; they want to actively participate. The roll-out of the Ford Fiesta is cited as one example, which was done almost entirely through blogging and other viral marketing techniques targeting Millennials - engaging Millennials.
This is just a little taste - download and read the entire report yourself. For those that have been following this issue, this study may not be new news, but it reinforces many key phenomena. It also provides some great insights into how some corporations and nonprofit arts groups have been finding strategies that work. Some of the Philly examples cited? Bartram's Garden and its work with the artist Mark Dion that through blogging allowed the audience to follow the creative process of a work coming together. New Paradise Laboratories and director Whit MacLaughlin's production of Fatebook which took place in part online and involved significant interactive social media.

The thing that is uniquely challenging about this issue is that to engage Millennials is not a question of "spin" - of choosing the right lists, designing the brochure the right way, pitching stories to the right media. It is in fact about changing the user experience, changing the relationship to the "customer", and - yes - even about changing the art itself. That can be scary, but putting your head in the sand and doing things the same old way seems a formula for slow steady demise.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Presidential Re-Quote - President Obama: "The arts are a necessary part of our lives"

This was posted on the blog The Playgoer, December 7, 2010 and was included today in Tom Cott's useful "You've Cott Mail" e-newsletter (archive of past e-mails is here, where you can also click a link to sign up). Couldn't resist sharing!

Being here with tonight's honorees, reflecting on their contributions, I'm reminded of a Supreme Court opinion by the great Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.  In a case argued before the Court in 1926, the majority ruled that the state of New York couldn't regulate the price of theater tickets, because, in the opinion of the majority, the theater was not a public necessity.  They argued, in effect, that the experience of attending the theater was superfluous.  And this is what Justice Holmes had to say: 'To many people the superfluous is necessary.'  The theater is necessary. Dance is necessary. Song is necessary. The arts are necessary -- they are a necessary part of our lives.

-President Barack Obama, saluting this year's Kennedy Center Honorees.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Will New York Lose It's Primacy as a Place for Artists? Can Philly Gain?

There was a story in yesterday's Crain's New York Business called Artists Fleeing the City about the fact that the economic downturn, combined with the high cost of living in NYC, was beginning to drive artists out of the City.  Here is a key quote from the article:

Though there are no official numbers, a survey of 1,000 artists conducted in 2009 by the New York Foundation for the Arts found that more than 43% expected their annual income to drop by 26% to 50% over the next six months, and 11% believed they would have to leave New York within six months. Even more troubling, cultural boosters say, is that for the first time, artists fresh out of art schools around the country are choosing to live in nascent artist communities in regional cities like Detroit and Cleveland—which are dangling incentives to attract this group—and bypassing New York altogether.
Of course, many arts advocates and policy folks in NY are trying to figure out how to prevent this from happening. It is clear that much of New York's cultural energy - and economic activity - ultimately flows from the work of individual artists, and much would be lost if they start leaving the city, and are not replaced by a fresh new stream of young artists.
Now this is both good news and bad news for Philadelphia. Back to the article in 2005 calling Philadelphia the "sixth borough" (or actually, the "next" borough) Philadelphia has been known for being a place that has started to attract many artists who might otherwise be settling in Brooklyn, or Long Island City, or Hunts Point. Philadelphia has a truly vibrant arts scene, combined with a large stock of very affordable housing, and many old industrial buildings perfect for conversion to studios, lofts and creative manufacturing or service businesses (web design, advertising, product design, furniture manufacturing, etc.). It is happening all over our city from Crane Arts to Globe Dye Works to 2424 Studios, just to name a few. We also are frankly just 90 minutes away from NY, so meeting with dealers, or agents, or collectors is a breeze. On the performing arts side there is a large enough critical mass of theatre and dance companies and music clubs and presenters, that performing artists are finding they can also actually make a life for themselves here. The significant number of arts training colleges and universities also offer great teaching opportunities to fill out the multi-stream income that most artists need to survive. And, of course, the many arts schools also churn out a great local creative workforce, many of whoch decide when done with their training they want to stay here.
So, while not explicitly mentioned in this new article, Philadelphia is one of those places NY artists can - and do - move to. If that stream increases, we welcome it! Come on down! We've still got LOTS of room and affordable space. Now here's the cautionary "canary in the coal mine" problem - MANY other cities around the country are creating very concrete strategies to build their cultural and creative economies - and making SPECIFIC and in some cases substantial investments in attracting these workers and businesses. Cities and States are investing their business development dollars on this sector, even in these tough times. Philadelphia's creative vibrancy has largely happened without a substantial set of incentives and policies. Government policies and dollars certainly had a major role in the Avenue of the Arts, but much of the vibrancy in this sector is now spread throughout hundreds - thousands - of small creative businesses (for profit and nonprofit) that are driving this sector. And these smaller businesses are largely operating without specific governmental encouragement or invcentives. Perhaps this has helped them - I certainly now champion the medical adage of "first, do no harm" that one of the best things I can do is try to remove barriers or impediments to success and stay out of the way.
But this sector is increasingly attracted by these incentives - cultural/creative districts, subsidized live-work space for artists, developer or zoning incentives for creative businesses. If Philadelphia does not create a formal and strategic approach to strengthening our creative business climate and attracting new creative businesses and creative workers, will we risk an article like this one appearing about us a few years from now?

I think we have a great competitive advantage now, and I want Philadelphia to keep that momentum. With TEDxPhilly taking place this week, and with the imminent release of a new Creative Vitality Index study by the Office of Arts Culture and the Creative Economy, this is a good time to think about how we move forward. The creation of my Office a couple of years ago was a great first step, and we have been able to make many things happen - now what?  Look forward to the conversation!

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Random Act of Culture at Macy's in Philadelphia

This past Saturday at Noon the Opera Company of Philadelphia mounted a surprise performance of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah (with a lot of help from many other choruses and ensembles) in the women's shoe department at Macy's Center City, accompanied by the extraordinary Wanamaker Organ. There were over 600 participating singers! This performance was made possible by the Knight Foundation as part of their national "Random Acts of Culture" program, and coincided with the launch of the new Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia.

Given the scale of this undertaking it was perhaps not as much of a complete surprise as many similar arts flash mobs have been. The singers perhaps even outnumbered the shoppers surprised by the "spontaneous" performance. Yet it still worked. The performance coincided with the regularly scheduled Noon organ concert, the performers were dressed in ordinary street clothes, often accompanied by children or partners. The regular patrons knew SOMETHING was going on, but really were totally unprepared for the immersive experience of being surrounded by this great piece of vocal music, with the thunderous accompaniment of the Wanamaker Organ.

A digression on the organ, since coincidentally the same week I joined a University of the Arts class led by its teacher, artist Billy Blaise Dufala (who works as an artist with his brother Steven as the Dufala Brothers), for a thorough (and thoroughly fascinating) "backstage" tour of the organ.  It consists of nearly 30,000 (!) pipes. The Wanamaker Organ - the largest of its kind in the world - began its life as a 10,000 pipe organ built for the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904. Philadelphia department store magnate John Wanaker bought it for his new Philadelphia store across from City Hall and over the years continued to add to it. Having now seen it up close, crawling through its nooks and crannies, watched the caretakers of this beast lovingly restoring its immensely complex workings, it is truly not just an extraordinary piece of machinery, but a massive work of art/craft. It is also amazing how completely it is integrated into the fabric of what is now Macy's. Pop behind a nondescript door in women's lingerie and - voila! - you are in a world of 100-year-old handmade pipes and machinery. It is a National Historic Landmark, and another of the many "hidden" Philadelphia treasures that need to be better known and supported. Bravo to Macy's for supporting and celebrating this enormous asset in its store, and to the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ for restoring and managing it.

More RAC

But back to the Messiah Flash Mob. There was great coverage of the event in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I am sure a You Tube video will appear soon. For now, you can go to this area of OCP's website for more information and still photographs. This event builds on the enormous success of the Opera Company's staging of Traviata in Reading Terminal Market in April of this year, a YouTube video that is up to NEARLY 3 MILLION views! Here is a link to the video. [And after this was originally posted, OCP posted the "official" video to YouTube.  The video is included in the OCP web page linked to above, but here it is below:]

These cultural interventions - which Knight is now investing in - are one of the great new developments in the arts, I think. This is another performing arts variation of the growing interest in sophisticated visual arts interventions that run the gamut from "street art" to temporary art projects that find their way into your everyday life, so you experience art without having to make a conscious decision to have "an arts experience." I wrote about this phenomena a few times over the past year, beginning in late 2009, here, here and here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Light Drift and Philadelphia Underground Videos

J. Meejin Yoon's Light Drift: October 15-17, 2010 from Philebrity on Vimeo.

One of the great installations as part of DesignPhiladelphia was "Light Drift" by artist Meejin Yoon, presented by the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Only able to be viewed at night, and only up for three days this past weekend, it was one of those "happenings" that are both great art, and great community celebrations. If you missed it, here is a video that captures a little of the magic.

Opening on October 25th in the Art Gallery of City Hall will be a salute to some of the DesignPhiladelphia installations that the City was involved in, directly or indirectly, including Light Drift. It will also include material related to the Aurora Robson be like water installation at the Skybox (that runs through November 7th), the Virtual Public Art Project exhibit with Breadboard, Philadelphia Underground, curated by Marianne Bernstein, and FABLASTIC, by Multicultural Youth eXchange (MYX) and Minima. So if you missed any of these or would like to see some of the background to how they were created, visit City Hall! As I have written here before I believe DesignPhiladelphia is a great creative economy asset for Philadelphia - these are just a handful of the many DP exhibitions and installations that took place over the past couple of weeks.

Here is another great video by klipcollective of Philadelphia Underground:

The Philadelphia Underground from klipcollective on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

DesignPhiladelphia - "be like water" (says Bruce Lee)

Aurora Robson - "Up Drop" (detail)

One of the great cultural assets of Philadelphia is the now six-year-old DesignPhiladelphia. This major annual celebration of all things design is now housed at University of the Arts, and each year in the month of Ocotber (this year, the 7th through the 17th)  brings together scores of exhibitions, installations, symposia and unclassifiable "happenings around the filed of design - furniture design, product design, sustainable design, fashion design, architecture, landscape architecture, etc. It is definitely a big tent, and plays to the wealth of talent that Philadelphia has in these areas. It also serves as a vehicle for bringing in artists and designers from outside the region to enrich the dialogue. It is the largest celebration of its kind and brings together the work this year of over 450 designers.

One of the exciting installations this year is "be like water" - a site specific installation by the artist Aurora Robson, curated by Eileen Tognini. This huge project will take place in the Skybox of 2424 Studios at 2424 East York Street in Fishtown. It opens on October 15th and runs through November 7th. The Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy was involved in helping to make this installation a reality, as were several private supporters. It seems that water is a theme of a few of the DesignPhiladelphia projects we are involved in, so today's blog entry is an invitation to "wade in" and give you a taste of some of these projects.

The Skybox
This monumentally scaled installation is made from thousands of recycled plastic bottles and will stretch over 108' long.

"My work is largely about transforming something negative into something positive, recognizing and exploring potential. be like water is an installation comprised of bottles and caps that would otherwise be burdensome on the environment. Instead, I have transformed them to create what I hope is suggestive of an uplifting waterfall of light and form," says Aurora Robson. The title of the work - be like water - comes from a quote by Bruce Lee, the martial arts icon: "Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend."

Aurora Robson - The Great Indoors - Rice Gallery, Houston

In conjunction with the show, invited schools, including Philadelphia public, charter, private and a community school have been engaged in collecting plastic bottle caps. Plastic bottle caps are especially problematic as they do not get recycled, and end up in landfills and oceans — likely to be ingested by birds and fish due to their opacity and bright colors. In a joint effort to raise environmental awareness, bottle caps will be collected and sorted by students, and then displayed at the event. Robson will then deliver all of the bottle caps to Aveda, located in Babylon, NY, one of the only places in the country that recycles caps.

The use of familiar, ordinary and recycled materials, considered unconventional by classical standards of materials to create art, has long been a personal interest of Eileen's. "It's my goal to introduce an artist's work whose use of unexpected materials may expand the definition of 'what is design of art,' moreover to use design and art to show how waste by-products can be brilliantly re-imagined so materials don't end up in the waste stream."

Robson is a 2009 recipient of the Pollock Krasner Grant and the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Sculpture, and a 2010 recipient of an Arthur Levine Foundation Grant. She was the subject of a major profile last year in Art in America magazine. She has exhibited internationally and has works in major public, corporate and private collections worldwide. Robson is in the process of forming an international alliance of like-minded artists, designers and architects called Project Vortex, creating global opportunity for artists to join forces with Project Kaisei and the Ocean Conservancy to help eliminate the plastic vortexes in our oceans.

Urban Studio - Rainwater  Collection Kit for Urban Row Houses

There are many other exciting DesignPhiladelphia projects, including several others that the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy and other City agencies are involved in. In an earlier blog entry I reported on the Virtual Public Art Project, a partnership with Breadboard at the Science Center. The Art Gallery in City Hall will also be featuring an exhibit called Visual Voice: Neighborhood Led Design, by the design collaborative Urban Studio. It runs October 7 - November 12th, 2010, with an opening reception and discussion on October 14th, 4-7 PM. This illustration is from an Urban Studio project that looked at how rainwater collection could be implemented in our urban row house environment.

And the Mural Arts Program will be presenting Light Drift by the artist Meijin Yoon, an installation on the banks of the Schuykill River between Market and Chestnut Streets. This installation opens October 15th at 6:30 PM and will be up for public viewing for three consecutive evenings, Ocrober 15-17, 6:30 PM - 1 AM (as a light installation it requires dusk or darkness for the full impact). Glowing orbs will start on the Schuykill banks and extent out into the river. The orbs on shore respond to human touch by changing color and activating changing colors and patterns in the water orbs. Very cool!

Meijin Yoon - preliminary rendering for Light Drift, Schuykill Rover, Mural Arts Program
So, "be like water" in October and flow your way to be like water at the Skybox in 2424 Studios in Fishtown, Light Drift in Schuykill Banks Park, and Visual Voice at the City Hall Art Gallery. And while you are at it, don't forget to download the app for the Virtual Public Art Project and be prepared to view art that is "out of this world" at and around City Hall and the Science Center area. Not to mention the MANY other DesignPhiladelphia exhibitions and conversations - including many other projects that the Office has been involved in, directly and indirectly - such as The Philadelphia Underground, a video installation, conceived and curated by artist Marianne Bernstein in the Broad Street Concourse. Ricardo Rivera of the Klip Collective is producing it, and there are eight artists (including Ricardo) whose work will be featured. Opening night party is Saturday, Oct.9th from 7-10pm in Dilworth Plaza. For more info on The Philadelphia Underground project see this piece on ArtBlog. And, finally, FABLASTIC, weavings created by young people from MYX:Multicultural Youth Exchange using plastic bags. 

Apologies for the run-on blog entry, but there is so much to talk about!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Celebrating Student Artists

Artist: Lung Ung, CAPA, 11th Grade, Teacher: John Fanti

The exhibition currently mounted in The Art Gallery at City Hall is "A Plus Art - An Annual Celebration of Student Art." This exhibition is a selection of some of  the best art from students in Philadelphia’s public schools. Each year, The School District of Philadelphia organizes an exhibition of approximately 1,500 works of art at the School District Administration Building on North Broad St. Working in partnership with the District’s Office of Comprehensive Arts Education, we have chosen works that highlight our children’s artistic achievement in what we hope will be an annual exhibition in City Hall.

This exhibition is also a testament to the many dedicated art teachers in the School District, as well as the arts administrators who emphatically believe that a quality arts education is an important part of a child’s critical development.  Dr. Dennis Creedon, the Director of Comprehensive Arts Education, and Tessie Varthas, Content Specialist-Art Education were instrumental in the organization of this exhibition. Despite the many challenges our students must often overcome, it is our shared responsibility to nurture their talents and provide them with an opportunity to shine. For some students, the arts gives them a sense of unlimited possibilities. Each of the students in this exhibit will be honored with a Mayoral Certificate of Excellence.

When I was a young public school student in New York City MANY years ago, I exhibited in a similar show of the best work by public school students. I still remember the pride and optimism it gave me as a young artist.  I am honored to now be able to pass on that experience to this very talented group of students, and I wish them great success.
Group Project, Central High School

In mounting this show we had to think about the function of this relatively new gallery space. Some in the arts community have indicated a preference for a focus on only the work of professional artists. Others have pushed for a focus on community-based art - by students, seniors, and others that do not normally get the benefit of gallery exhibition of their work.  This debate has also swirled around the possibility of an art gallery exhibition space at the new expanded Convention Center - in the end a tentative decision was made there to have a tri-part focus: K-12 student art; art by the students at our many art schools, such as PAFA, UArts, Moore and Tyler; and work by professional artists. At the Art Gallery at City Hall we have decided to serve the role the arts play in our civic life, and the many forms that can take. We will sometimes highlight student art and hope this show can become an annual event. We will tie into such citywide festivals as Design Philadelphia (our next show!) and the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts next year, and we will sometimes serve as an extension space for the Art in City Hall exhibition program. We will be eclectic, we will always seek partnerships in our exhibitions, and always strive for the highest quality. I believe providing a showcase for the work of the best of our young student artists is a perfect use for this new gallery space. I also had the pleasure of welcoming students on the first day of class at CAPA, our School District specialized arts high school - and many CAPA students are represented in this show.

I am remiss in not having written about this show earlier, so I hope that all my Philadelphia readers that may not have seen the show yet will come see it before it ends in a few days.

Here are the details:

The Art Gallery At City Hall
"A-Plus Art" 
August 9 - October 1
A selection from the 2009-2010 School District exhibition.
Room 116, East Portal Market St. Entrance.
10 am - 4 pm weekdays

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Virtual Public Art Comes to Philadelphia

In a few weeks DesignPhiladelphia 2010 comes to town, and there are an array of really cool projects that are part of it that my Office has been working on. I thought over the next couple of weeks it would be fun to begin to preview some of this exciting work. First up: Virtual Public Art.

What is Virtual Public Art you say? Well whip out your smart phone and get ready for some mind-bending public art that exists only in "virtual space" but that is also part of the real space we live in. The first city-wide virtual art exhibit is coming to Philadelphia October 7, 2010. Breadboard; NextFab Studio; and Virtual Public Art Project(VPAP) are collaborating with the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, and DesignPhiladelphia2010 to host the first VPAP exhibit in Philadelphia as part of Design Philadelphia 2010. The VPAP Philadelphia project will include an informative multimedia exhibit at Breadboard’s Esther Klein Gallery (3600 Market Street) that introduces the Philadelphia community to the technology behind Augmented Reality and virtual art, and to recent VPAP projects in other cities around the world.

The image above is from a piece called Cargo, created by VPAP developer Christian Meinhardt. These structures could never exist in the "real world" being composed of hovering cargo containers that defy the laws of gravity. Yet this art was "installed" in various locations around the world damaged by human intervention, evoking the "cargo cults" created among native populations by American intervention in WWII. As an aside, can't help noting the connection to Mike Daisey's The Last Cargo Cult, a theatre piece presented as part of last year's Live Arts Festival. Below is a video that gives a sense of how this works: a 30' tall sculpture virtually installed in Prospect Park in NYC.

VPAP Philadelphia will also locate eight unique virtual artworks (created by Philadelphia artists) at various locations around Philadelphia’s City Hall location and the University City Science Center campus. These works will be viewable through the camera on any smart phone equipped with free downloaded VPAP application software. Breadboard is a new University City Science Center program that promotes art and design at the intersection of science and technology. VPAP is a new organization that is literally pushing the boundaries of public space and art via free Augmented Reality platforms easily accessible through smart phone applications. DesignPhiladelphia is the nation's largest celebration of its kind, a city-wide initiative showcasing the role that design has played historically in Philadelphia, and unites the creative disciplines – from architecture to interior design, fashion to product design, multi-media to graphic design.

Philadelphia has an incredibly strong cultural sector, as well as a long tradition of design and technology innovation. This program brings those strengths together in a very exciting way. I have been working with the Breadboard folks on an array of projects that unite science, art, design and technology in extraordinary ways that both serve our community and shine national and international light on what we’re doing here. Very cool stuff... I have also been meeting with the folks from the Vincent Michael Gallery in Northern Liberties, and they are also developing a technology for virtual public art. Look forward to collaborating with them as well!

VPAP uses emergent Augmented Reality platforms to create virtual art in public spaces by merging computer generated imagery with physical, real-world locations. The finished projects be viewed using the iPhone 3GS and Android phones. Just imagine the potential: A massive sculpture could be installed in the City Hall courtyard (or even replace William Penn on the Tower). The Liberty Bell could melt and reassemble itself right before your eyes (on your phone at least). Art can interject itself where the laws of physics or historic preservation would otherwise make it impossible.

Breadboard will also sponsor a suite of supporting workshops and events at NextFab Studio as part of DesignPhiladelphia 2010. These workshops will generate opportunities for Philadelphia artists and individuals to gain more in-depth understanding about virtual art and Augmented Reality and/or work on content to submit digital art work for consideration in the upcoming VPAP exhibit.

Artists and individuals interested in submitting work for the VPAP Philadelphia exhibit may contact

VPAP Public Events and Timeline:

September 1, 6:00-8:00 pm at NextFab Studio (3711 Market Street, Philadelphia)Public talk and demonstration with Chris Manzione, founder of the Virtual Public Art Project. This event will include a Smartphone walking tour to view temporary VPAP virtual content geo-tagged along the Science Center’s Market Street corridor.

September 18, 10:00 am-4:00 pm at NextFab Studio (3711 Market Street, Philadelphia)Special all-day VPAP Workshop: an Augmented Reality workshop where individuals can work one on one with VPAP personnel and learn how to create virtual content that can be viewed using smart phone applications. This event will also serve as a primer for individuals wishing to submit content for consideration in the VPAP Philadelphia exhibit.

September 18, 12:00 -1:00 pm at NextFab Studio (3711 Market Street, Philadelphia) Special presentation by Christian Meinhardt (VPAP software developer): Practical applications and how to guide for AR enthusiasts

October 7 at City Hall and Science Center locations VPAP Philadelphia launches virtual art exhibit (in collaboration with start of DesignPhiladelphia’s sixth year). Virtual artwork created by Philadelphia artists will be viewable through free smart phone applications at City Hall and Science Center locations.

October 15, 5:00-8:00pm at Breadboard’s Esther Klein Gallery (3600 Market Street, Philadelphia) Opening Reception for The Virtual Public Art Project: an indoor multi-media exhibit that introduces the public to VPAP and the technology behind virtual art. (The EKG exhibit will open in September but the public reception is October 15.)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Inside/Outside - Art by Prison Inmates and Ex-Offenders

Leon Jesse James, "Space Modulator", acrylic on board. SCI Graterford

The Art in City Hall program of the City of Philadelphia has just opened a new exhibition, INSIDE/OUTSIDE - Art by Prison Inmates and Ex-Offenders. This is a wonderful, powerful, and thought-provoking new show and I encourage everyone to see it. It is open until October 29th, on the secod and fourth floors of City Hall. More information is available here. The show involves participating artists from SCI Graterford, The Philadelphia Prison System, Art for Justice, Snyderman-Works Galleries, Connection Training Services, and the Mural Arts Program's Youth Violence Reduction Partnership Guild Program, as well as local ex-offenders.

Thomas Schilk, "Beetle", melted plastic spoons, paint.
When I came to my position in 2008 as Chief Cultural Officer, one of the appeals of the position was the fact that the administration of Mayor Michael Nutter viewed the arts as being integral to virtually all aspects of how we build the best possible Philadelphia for our citizens and visitors. Art is not only a vehicle for attracting tourists, or providing a rich, rewarding environment for our citizens, but also a tool that can be used to heal, to educate, to bring people together, to help us better understand ourselves, and one another. This show highlights an especially powerful value of art - helping prisoners to express themselves, and hopefully provide a measure of rehabilitation as well as self-exploration and self-expression. In addition to prisoners, there is also a role the arts can play with ex-offenders, helping them onto a path that can better integrate them with society, with their community. For some, the most talented, the arts can even provide a valuable skill that can help create an income for them as they leave incarceration.

The artists and arts programs featured in this exhibition paint a rich picture of the incredible power of the arts, and the talent that can than lie within our most troubled, challenged populations. This is not easy stuff. Sometimes art can help prisoners express their anguish, their pain, their anger. Art can be a tool for telling their stories, and it can also be a vehicle for finding peace and solace. Ultimately we all wish for fewer people in prison, less gun violence, less criminal behavior. Art can play a role at both ends of this issue;  in helping young people express themselves, find their inner value and see the possibilities for them outside a life of crime, and also helping those that have gone down that path of crime to find a way back, and sometimes to understand the impact their actions have had on the lives of others.

This issue of the role of the arts in the lives of prisoners and ex-offenders, is so rich and so complex, there is no way it can be fully explored in one exhibition or one blog post. Recently, a documentary film was made called Concrete, Steel and Paint, that explored the issues around an effort by the restorative justive program of Mural Arts to use mural making as a way to bring together and create some healing between prisoners and victims of crime and their families and advocates. I think the movie powerfully conveys the strong emotions that can surface around these issues.(The film is featured as part of this exhibition.)

I was also able to recently visit the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, an extraordinary unique museum. While any attempt to but it into a "box" is doomed to fail, the museum celebrates the work of "outsider" artists, and many of the works in the collection were made by prisoners or by artists who had spent many years - even decades - incarcerated. This puts "prisoner art" in a different context, with other self-taught and nonprofessional artists.And this exhibition can be viewed from that perspective as well.

The origins of this show are interesting. Several months ago, the Mayor visited Graterford prison and was given paintings by many of the inmates who were active in their art program. When he returned he asked me if these could be displayed somewhere in City Hall. Rather than simply exhibit a few disconnected works, it seemed like an opportunity to tell a larger story. I met with the Art in City Hall advisory committee, and with Tu Huynh who directs the program, and a plan was developed to create a full Art in City Hall exhibition working with an array of partners.

The Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, and the Art in City Hall program are proud to have been able to assemble this exhibition that brings art, justice and community together, and that hopefully will raise awareness of the critical role the arts can play in criminal justice and public safety.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Coburn and McCain - Giving the Arts a Starring Role Again

Posted this yesterday to the Huffington Post, where I now blog as well, and wanted to make sure followers of my own blog also had the opportunity to read it. Apologies for those getting notified twice!

Senators Tom Coburn and John McCain have issued their third list of what they present as misuse of stimulus dollars: Summertime Blues, "100 stimulus projects that give taxpayers the blues." Once again they have given arts projects a starring role. Jared Bernstein already wrote a piece about this on the Huffington Post.

Their previous lists included such activities as jazz festivals and Shakespeare theatres, and here in Philadelphia, a couple of theatre companies. The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance spoke out about the inclusion of local arts groups here. I also wrote about it on this blog.

This new list includes, by my count, ten arts-related projects among the 100 they cite. Of particular note is that they include (sharing #98) the Creative Industry Workforce Grant program operated by my Office, in partnership with our Commerce Department, funded through "Community Development Block Grant - Recovery (CDBG-R)" money. A total of $500,000 was granted to eight projects. All grantees were carefully chosen through a rigorous and highly competitive process that looked at both short-term construction jobs (these were all capital projects) to provide an immediate stimulus effect, and longer term generation of low and moderate income jobs through creative industry activity. Funded projects were a mix of for-profit creative industry development and non-profit arts projects. Here are some examples:
  • $60,000 for the creation of artist studio and creative business incubator space to help ex-offenders with creative talents develop micro-enterprises and employable skills.
  • $50,000 towards  the construction of a new 12,000 square foot affordable performance, visual and media arts space combined with mixed-use residential and commercial space.
  • $40,000 towards the creation of artist-in-residence space in a recycling plant that will allow artists to work with materials diverted from the recycling and landfill stream and educate the public about recycling.
All these projects employ construction workers in the short term, and artists, creative industry workers, and support staff as an outgrowth of the construction creating new businesses and jobs. In addition to the Recovery mandate, the CDBG program mandate required us to also ensure we were assisting low and moderate income people and communities.

All of these people employed as a result of this investment spend money, buy groceries, pay rent, make car payments, just like any other citizen. Does their economic activity somehow not count? Is the tax that they pay somehow different from a department store (or a defense contractor)?

As I said in my earlier post, I do not doubt that there are many poorly executed stimulus funded projects that are not working as intended. I think some that is unavoidable given the very nature of distributing huge sums of money quickly, in a decentralized way, combined with enormous red tape and demand for immediate results. And I don't doubt that perhaps some of them might be arts projects. It is clear, however, that in compiling this report arts projects could "do no right" as far as the authors were concerned.  An insect museum in Raleigh NC makes the list because they have too few visitors to justify being funded, while a glass museum in Tacoma makes the list because their visitorship appears to be healthy and they therefore do not merit support.

What I can argue with is the clear intent to single out arts (and historic preservation) projects. And I can certainly object to the characterization of Philadelphia's Creative Industry Workforce grant program as meriting inclusion in the McCain-Coburn report. It may not be perfect, but it was a modest, innovative effort to foster creative businesses and jobs, and help neighborhoods in need of investment. Isn't that something we should be doing?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Making the Ordinary Extraordinary

A number of recent articles and threads of exploration have gotten me thinking about the importance of the role of the arts and design in transforming our everyday life. I think we are moving toward an era where the traditional enjoyment of art (performing or visual) in a passive way in a facility/space constructed expressly for that purpose will not die, but will find itself joined (perhaps surpassed) by art that subversively injects itself into our everyday life - you don't make the choice to participate. It chooses you - it is an intervention that is unexpected. This can be disturbing, delightful, inspiring, sometimes all at the same time. I have written before about the "arts flash mob"phenomenon and its vial arts equivalent, here, and here, and here.

Here are a few of the items that have inspired me to think about this more deeply. Paul Goldberger reviews in the current New Yorker the new Herzog and deMeuron building in Miami. What is this new structure by this great international architecture team? A parking garage! That most ubiquitous of urban structures that is generally accepted as truly deadening to the built environment. Yet H&dM make it a thing of beauty - light, airy, modern, a work of art. So now that most ordinary act of parking your car in an urban garage can in a sense immerse you in an artistic experience. Similarly, one of the new initiatives of the Mural Arts Program is to cover almost the entire exterior of the large (ugly, traditional) parking garage at Philadelphia International Airport in a mural called "How Philly Moves."

If you look at the schedule of the Live Arts-Philly Fringe Festival you will also find that much of the work is breaking the boundaries of "traditional art", not just in form and content, but in location and the very relationship between the art and the audience. The Maine Center for Creativity has initiated a project called Art All Around, that will involve painting the entire surface 8 huge oil storage tanks (plus the tops of 8 more), so now that classic American experience of driving by "tank farms" (think New Jersey Turnpike near Newark Airport) can be transformed into a startling encounter with art. The French artist JR has transformed favelas in Rio De Janeiro, and other poor communities around the world with his photography-based art. There is now an effort underway by the artist team Haas&Hahn, with the Firmeza Foundation to literally transform an entire favela into a work of art. If successful, the poorest most disenfranchised Brazilians will be literally living within one massive work of art. It may not put food on their tables, but it will bring beauty into their lives and attract international attention to their living conditions. In Chicago you have "Art on Track" that since 2008 has annually transformed an entire 8-car Chicago Transit Authority train into a rolling art gallery.

I think a number of factors are driving this phenomenon and will continue to fuel it. One is the democratization of art. New generations of artists and audiences don't want to be elitist, to limit their work or their cultural experience to an ivory tower. or a price point that leaves out a huge section of the population. Another is the growing interest in interactive work, in the process of creation, especially among younger people. And finally I think those that are in the business of making and presenting art are desperate to reach a broad audience and find it increasingly difficult to reach them just in the theatre or in the museum. So they seek ways to put their art in the street, in train stations, in sports stadiums, along the highway, in supermarkets. I for one think this is a healthy trend. This is not just about Web 2.0 and new technology; this is about a whole new approach to the relationship between art and audience. This is about making our everyday life more arts-infused.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Animated Street Art from BLU

Couldn't resist sharing this new video from the graffiti/street artist from Italy, BLU. In this video he uses stop-motion animation techniques to transform street painting into an extraordinary animated film called Big Bang - Big Boom. I think this is especially interesting as it blends multiple art forms - street art, performance art (it is clear that many people had to have watched the creation of this as a work in progress) and eventually a film. When all of this is free, how does the artist make money?  For one, he sells prints, drawings and books via his Web site. This is all part of the convergence going on now: "outsider" artists are now "inside". Renegade street artists are now at the Tate Modern (as was BLU) and are selling coffee table books. Finding the line between "vandalism" and "art" is increasingly difficult. We ran into this in a small way recently with the Philagrafika art fair here in Philadelphia. A participating artist wanted to wheat-paste "broadsides" throughout the historic district on lamposts, benches, etc., as a way of introducing a populist, public art component to this festival of print-making in all its forms. Yet to the City and the local Business Improvement District, this was defacing public property. In the end we found a compromise - the flyers were not wheat-pasted, but tied on with string, which the folks who do the cleaning agreed to leave up. In the old days, the artist would have just wheat-pasted without asking, and the City would have just removed the "vandalism." And graffiti artist Steve Powers has now done A Love Letter For You with the Mural Arts Program, which was originally formed to fight graffiti artists like Powers. This was a brilliant project and another great example of the transformation that has been taking place for many years.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Is There a Creativity Crisis?

An article recently appeared in Newsweek called "The Creativity Crisis" that reported on some really disturbing new research. A test was developed back in 1957, the Torrance test, that is designed to measure creativity in a quantitative way as we also measure IQ. The Torrance test has shown a remarkable correlation between children demonstrating creativity and creative accomplishments in life - the high performers on the Torrance test go on to become inventors, college presidents, authors, diplomats, entrepreneurs, etc. The correlation to lifetime creativity is three times higher for childhood creativity than childhood IQ.

And now - as anyone who reads this blog or follows the news knows - creativity is more highly valued than ever. It is seen as the leading edge of innovation and increasingly critical to global business success. A recent IBM poll of 1500 CEOs found creativity to be the #1 "leadership competency" of the future.

Here is the rub - the data shows that "intelligence" as measured by IQ scores has consistently risen every year, as enriched environments have led to higher scores. In contrast, these new findings show that since 1990 creativity scores have consistently edged DOWNWARDS. And the decline among the youngest - K-6 - has been the steepest. A likely culprit identified is the hours spent in front of the TV and playing video games rather than being engaged in creative activities. Another possible cause is the almost complete lack of creative development in our schools.Nurturing creativity has become a global focus, with countries such as Britain making it a key national agenda for their school system. Even China, notoriously focused on rote learning, has done a 180, and is now trying to infuse their educational system with a focus on creativity. So what are we doing? Focusing on standardized testing and curriculum more than ever!

Another interesting twist to this research is debunking the idea that creativity is exclusive domain of the arts. While there is certainly a connection between creativity and the arts, creativity can be infused into math, science, virtually all academic areas. And the arts can be taught in such a deadly manner that it kills rather than nurtures creativity.

There is also some interesting exploration of the "right brain-left brain" phenomenon that debunks the idea that creativity is somehow handled only by the right brain. Creativity requires BOTH divergent and convergent thinking, dual activation of right and left brain.

The consensus is that creativity CAN be taught - not overnight - but that techniques do exist that if consistently applied, real improvement can be achieved in work and school.

The decline in creativity scores is alarming, but what do we do? What we need are coalitions that bring together the advocates for arts education with similar groups looking to foster science learning, math, engineering and entrepreneurship. Creativity is not an arts issue - it is an education issue and ultimately about creativity economic opportunity for our young people. A few years ago I sat at a table at a gala dinner with someone from the National Inventor's Hall of Fame, and we realized how much our missions and constituencies had in common - he noted that virtually all of their board members were creative people - musicians, writers, sculptors, who were also applying their creativity to inventions. Ironically, this Newsweek article profiles the new National Inventors Hall of Fame public middle school in Akron. With a fifth grad curriculum focused on creativity and experiential learning, in its first year the school has the third best scores in the city, despite an enrollment that has 42% of its students living in poverty.

But not all the news is bad. The recent Americans for the Arts National Arts Index study showed a modest rise in personal creation, one of the few bright spots in what was a mostly gloomy report. And NAAM, the international association of music merchants seems to be seeing steady increases in sales of musical instruments. The low cost of entry for personal creation and distribution has led to an explosion in development of iPhone apps, YouTube videos, DIY indy music production, self-published books, blogs, etc. How do reconcile these trends?  Is the Torrance test perhaps no longer measuring the right things? Or is it the "canary in the coal mine," pointing out a nascent trend that will only become more serious as those K-6 kids grow into adults?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Greatest Sacrifice Arts Workers Make for the Arts

With all the financial challenges arts workers are facing these days - struggling to balance the budgets of their organizations, or dealing with salary and benefit cuts on compensation that was modest to begin with - it is easy to view the sacrifices people make to work in this field as being entirely financial.

Not to minimize the financial sacrifices - they ARE significant - but I would argue they are probably no more significant than a wide array of professions where people choose to devote themselves to the pursuit of "making the world a better place". This includes early childhood workers, teachers, social workers, the whole world of NGOs working in challenged communities, both domestically and abroad. And the sacrifices all these workers make are also not just financial. We all work long hours, and often under trying and unglamorous circumstances (though to outsiders arts work can seem glamorous).

No, I think the more significant - and unique - sacrifice arts workers make is that we lose the capacity for full, innocent and glorious enjoyment of the very art that our passion for drove us to make our life's work in the first place.  What do I mean by this?  Think about your earliest experiences with the arts, your first encounter with Matisse, or Chuck Close; your first time in the audience for Sondheim, or Verdi; that time you first saw Baryshnikov on stage, or Judith Jamison. Remember that childlike joy - even if you were not a child - that total immersion in the art where the whole world disappeared and you were unaware of time, of the person chewing gum next to you? Now tell, me when was the last time you felt that?  Sure, you are still passionate about the art form or all art forms, you still go to museums, or opera, or theatre, but something has been lost. Admit it.

You watch the other people in the museum, or audience members in the house, and a part of you is jealous of them, jealous of the fact that they can spend a day of doing SOMETHING ELSE - trading stocks, managing a supermarket, teaching 5th grade science - and come into the arts experience and be able to give themselves over to it, over and over, for their entire life.

And if you are honest, if you are a museum professional, you know every museum experience is now clouded by your inability to hold back that piece of your brain that is evaluating the exhibition installation, the lighting, the security guards, the signage, the curatorial decisions. And if you are a theatre professional, you are assessing the box office customer service, the curtain speech, the blocking, the casting. Fill in the blanks for your art form of  choice. If you do this for long enough, that piece of your brain is almost impossible to shut off; only the most truly transcendent arts experience is capable of silencing it, and even then maybe not entirely. Sadly, as one whose work crosses over into all art forms, this affliction haunts virtually EVERY cultural experience for me.

I am reminded of this phenomenon whenever I encounter any of those most passionate arts attenders and patrons - every community is filled with them. You know who I am talking about, that couple, perhaps in their fifties or sixties, who are not wealthy, but comfortable enough that they support many organizations in town at a reasonable - albeit modest - level. You see them at almost every opening night, or exhibition opening. They are passionate and knowledgeable about the arts, or maybe just the one or two art forms that really thrill them. They make their money doing something else, and derive great joy not just from experiencing the arts, but also from using their resources to help enable the arts. Perhaps sometimes their enthusiasm or eagerness seems a little naive or even annoying to you as a professional.

Well, I must admit, I increasingly wonder if I would not have been happier going into business or some other profession, and channeling my passion for the arts to being an avid attender/participant, a patron, a board member. I pine for the lost innocence of the cultural experience unsullied by the incessant yap of my "arts manager" brain. I feel like, relatively speaking, I have been able to make a difference in this profession, and am still energized about my work every day (and for that I am most grateful), but I wonder sometimes if the sacrifice has been too great. Do you?

I talked about this issue to a group of several hundred arts managers in NYC quite a few years ago, and of all the talks I have given over the years on a wide range of topics, this topic seemed to strike a powerful and painful chord. It has repeatedly come up since then in conversations with colleagues, so I thought it was time to write about it here.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New NEA study on technology use and the arts

A new study has just been issued by the National Endowment for the Arts called Audience 2.0: How Technology Influences Arts Participation. There are a few things of special note about this research:

1) The findings: People who participate in the arts through electronic media are nearly THREE times more likely to attend live arts events as non media participants (59% vs. 21%). They also attend TWICE as many live arts events on average  - 6/year vs. 3/year. In other words, active participation in the digital media world does not compete with attendance at live arts activities, it may encourage it. I say "may" because this study once again raises the issue of causation vs. correlation. Certainly there seems to be a correlation between high consumption of art in digital form, and higher consumption of live arts. It could be that people that are passionate about art now seek it out in all formats, NOT that their digital consumption is somehow driving them to participate in live arts at a higher level. I think one can certainly draw the conclusion from this research that digital arts engagement is NOT sapping live arts participation. In other words, if live arts participation is declining, don't blame it on iTunes and YouTube... There are many other interesting findings related to age, rural vs. urban, education levels, etc - strongly encourage reading the full report, which leads me to:

2) The format: For the first time this NEA report is ONLY being issued online in an electronic format that actually includes multimedia content as part of the report, as well as a video greeting from NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman and commentary from Sunil Iyengar, the NEA's Director of Resrearch and Analysis.

Ultimately the message of the report is that arts groups need not view this new digital world where many people consume (and/or make) their art in digital form as a threat. It is only a threat if you do not embrace it. I think it is gratifying that not only is the NEA providing us with this report, but also in a sense modeling behavior in the format by which it is being issued.

PS. Thanks to Tom Cott and his great "You've Cott Mail" e-newsletter for first alerting me to this!

Monday, June 28, 2010

A Blog Entry About Blogging About the Arts

So as many of my readers will now, I spent the last few days at the Americans for the Arts convention in Baltimore (along with many of you!). I spoke at a session on arts blogging, along with Graham Dunstan who oversees the Americans for the Arts ArtsBlog, Barry Hessenius of Barry's Blog, and Chad Bauman of Arts-Marketing. The session was also attended by such widely-read arts bloggers as Andrew Taylor and Ian David Moss. [That's Graham, Chad, me and Barry in the photo - "the arts bloggers posse". I added the photo to this entry after I first posted it, when I discovered this photo on the Americans for the Arts Flicker site.]

I also attended a session on utilizing new social media (like Twitter, blogs and Facebook) that featured Brian Reich, whose company is little m media. His mother, an Americans for the Arts board member who I am friendly with calls him "the next Dan Pink."  Now while this may be to some extent parental bias, I wouldn't rule it out. Brian is a great presenter and writer with really insightful and refreshing perspectives on social media. I think the arts community ignores his advice at its peril.He is blunt and irreverent and not afraid to puncture our illusions - I think we need that. I can't begin to capture Brian in this entry - read his book, hear him speak if you get the chance, follow him.

So, needless to say, the whole issue of blogging is very much on my mind - Why did I started this blog, and why do I do it? How do I choose what to write about? How often do I wrote?  Is it too infrequent - quality versus quantity?  How to get people to actually read it, and when I do, how to know that they are - or even WHO they are?

This blog is really a hybrid - I write about stuff my Office is doing as way of shamelessly using the blog as a communications tool to share our work, locally and nationally. I also use it as a tool to sometimes share information on interesting work some of our local Philadelphia arts groups are doing - again, both to spread the work locally, as well as to let readers not in Philadelphia know about projects I think are notable. BUT, I also use the blog as a  way to write about arts/creative economy issues that are bouncing around my head and need to be let out or they will drive me crazy, or to share interesting arts/creativity studies or stories from around the country or around the world. I try to balance the personal and professional.

One issue talked about in the blogging session was the issue of frequency - the importance of blogging when something is really important to you, rather than forcing yourself to stick to a schedule of, for example. two entries a week. Seemed to be no consensus on this. Quality definitely more important than quantity, yet Barry sees a value in people knowing that, say, every Monday morning they will get a blog entry. Some talked about seeing a marked increase in readership when their blog entries went over a certain threshold, say two entries a week.

Another issue was how people read blogs now, and the challenge of building readership and attention. It seems that commenting on blogs is really waning, so blogs are much less the interactive forum some thought they might be. Also, with the proliferation of blogs out there, most people don't regularly go directly to the blog sites to read them. People are subscribing to get the blog entries via email, people are subscribing for RSS feeds, and people are getting the blog updates via Facebook and Twitter. Essentially because of information overload the blog entries need to be "pushed" in front of people.

The issue was also raised of whether bloggers are journalists, and there were a couple of interesting  perspectives on this. Someone from the PR side said she divided bloggers into three categories (if I am remembering them correctly): those that do fall in a journalist-like category, those that are respected thought or opinion leaders, and the third category for the ranters and the wackos. Someone else, who had a long career on the journalism side, said most recognized bloggers seem to her to be like newspaper columnists, but without the control of oversight of editors. I suppose there is some truth in that. I, for one, have had the capacity to write about things that interest me for a good part of my career - starting with Theatre Times, a newspaper that used to be published by ART/NY that I founded and served as Executive Editor of, and that I often wrote for; the Arts & Business Quarterly of the national Arts & Business Council that began as a print publication and shifted to digital, and then through the many Americans for the Arts vehicles - newsletters, ArtsBlog, etc.

For me, blogging is just an extension of the first-person sort of writing I have been doing throughout my career on other platforms. But even though this blog has a linkage to my job, I do feel like I am now truly writing for myself. If NOBODY read it I would still write, because it has become a form of journal-keeping ("Dear Diary, today I had an interesting policy discussion about international cultural was neato") that often helps me vent, helps me organize my thinking, whether it is read or not. Also, frankly after about 15 years of working at the national and international level on cultural policy, arts management and creative economy issues, the Blog gives me the vehicle for continuing to participate in those debates and perhaps bring that dialogue to a Philadelphia audience.

So, in the interest of helping me - and others (I will share the input I get via email, but feel free to use the relatively under-utilized COMMENT feature for your answers; if you are going to comment, please comment on the blog directly and not on Facebook so we can keep them all in one place), please let me know...

  1. Do you feel that the frequency of my blog entries is about right, too infrequent, (or even too frequent - maybe you just want me to shut up!)?
  2. What do you think about the balance between personal and professional?  Is it OK that I do both in one blog?
  3. What do you think about the local vs. national balance? Are you a reader from outside Philly, in which case do you mind the more locally-directed entries?  Or are you a local Philly reader, in which case do you mind the non-Philly-centric entries?
  4. Do you like it better when I embed links and visual content like photos and video clips?
  5. How do you get to the blog? Do you hear about new entries via Feedburner subscription, Facebook, Twitter, word of mouth, Google alerts, other? If you end up getting multiple notices, because we are connected on multiple platforms, does it annoy you? {NOTE: I just recently added a simple e-mail subscription link at the top on the right side of the page - if you want to get updates via email, please sign up!)
  6. What other arts-related blogs do you read that I should know about that are NOT already on my "recommended blogs list" on my site?
  7. Any other advice or guidance?


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Arts and Sports

Going back to my childhood as an aspiring (at the time) artist, but also someone who was a bit of a jock/gym rat, there always seem to be a disconnect between the two worlds - the artist and the jock. This was the stereotype, that for the most part seemed to hold true in practice. I went to LaGuardia High School of the Arts in New York, and even though we had school teams, athletics was never really celebrated or encouraged. I played on the tennis team and don't think we ever had a single spectator from our school. Even though I was an avid basketball player, I am not even sure if we had a basketball team - if we did I certainly never heard about it or attended a game.

When I got to college - the State University of New York at Purchase, which was primarily an arts conservatory with music, dance, theatre, film and visual arts programs - there were NO intercollegiate sports programs. The school was just getting started, so perhaps we can cut them some slack, but aside from building a state-of-the-art gymnasium (that became the practice site for the Knicks), nobody had given any thought to their "artsy" students actually caring about sports. A group of us basketball players lobbied for and successfully created a certified Division III basketball program. Even though it was very low-level by NCAA standards, playing college ball was a great experience for me, and we actually had many of those"artsy" types in the stands cheering us on for the home games. Basketball and sports have been a part of my life ever since.

Since then, I have thought often of this seeming disconnect between the two worlds, when stories run about football players taking ballet to improve their grace, or of Bernie Williams and his guitar skill, or Kareem Abdul Jabbar and his jazz scholarship. I have also though of this connection when we cite the fact that more people attend arts events than sporting events. I also remember an article a few years ago by a newspaper editor (in San Diego?) responding to arts groups moaning about how little ink they get compared to sports, given the attendance stats. He noted that sports teams provide pretty much open access to the process - reporters cover spring training, they interview players in the locker room after every game, and as a result the public gets excited not just by what happens on the field, on the court, but also by the human dimension, the back-story, to quote Wide World of Sports, "the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat." So, he asked, how often are reporters allowed backstage before the show, or afterwards, to help the public really understand how a work of art happens? The answer, rarely, if ever. We like the process to be a mystery, magic, we like to preserve "the fourth wall."  Of course these are generalizations, but there is an undercurrent of hard truth here.

Two things made me think of this issue today. First, a great  article in the Wall Street Journal about the growing trend of sports programs at arts colleges that traditionally never had them - Arts and Varsity Letters - The Painter as Pitcher. Second, the jocks vs. glee club theme of the wildly successful TV program Glee. Now, while the jocks still hate the glee clubbers, and the teasing and harassment is ever-present, the star football player is in fact the star male lead, and the star cheerleaders have also crossed over. The barriers seem to have broken down - the stereotype is being intentionally undercut.

Is there something in the air now?  Can we finally get rid of this foolish assumption that artists and jocks are somehow on opposite sides of a great social chasm?  And how do those of us working in arts advocacy, policy and funding turn this into broader popular support for the arts? Can we do a better job of engaging our wildly popular sports superstars as spokespersons, or even philanthropists?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Supporting Effective Arts Education Programs

Philadelphia has traditionally (at least for the last couple of decades) provided all its grant funding of the arts through the Philadelphia Cultural Fund - an independent 501c3 funded by the City - as general operating support. This year, the Cultural Fund's Board agreed to allocate a portion of its grant funds - $350,000 out of $3.2 million - to for the first time make project support grants, specifically grants for arts programming targeted to Philadelphia's youth. Today we announced the first recipients of this new project grants program – the Youth Arts Enrichment Grants – created to support projects that use the arts to enrich the lives of young people both in and outside of school. The inaugural round of grants, totaling $357,700, was awarded to nine youth-focused organizations. [Photo at left from a ceramics class at West Park Cultural Center, one of the grantees] The extra $7,700 available for grant-making was made possible by City employees who made payroll contributions to the Philadelphia Cultural Fund as part of our Employee Combined Campaign - another first this year! All grantees were evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Providing high quality arts instruction, training and participatory experiences that serve those young people most in need, who are unlikely to have access to cultural enrichment;
  • Providing consistent programming that directly impacts the reduction of youth violence, truancy and drop out rates, while increasing the number of graduations and college-bound students;
  • Encouraging arts and cultural programming as an alternative activity for youth in after-school, weekend and summer programs.
“The Youth Arts Enrichment Grants go to the heart of what’s needed across our city and region – the opportunity to provide exposure and knowledge of arts and culture to those who will benefit most – our youth,” said Mayor Nutter. “It’s just this kind of experience that has the capacity to change lives. And as the next generation, it’s that exposure and knowledge which will ultimately give Philadelphia the greatest payback – enabling underserved young people to follow their dream and keep our cultural community vital, thriving and exciting.”

The nine inaugural Youth Arts Enrichment Grants recipients were chosen from a pool of 82 applicants, all of whom were required to have been a 2010 recipient of PCF general operating support and have a budget in excess of $50,000. As with PCF’s established annual grants, a dedicated panel of peers reviewed all applications. In addition to the Cultural Fund Grants Committee and PCF board members who offered to serve, the Youth Arts Enrichment Grants panel also included four guest panelists who are noted experts in Arts Education.

From my perspective, this grant program represents an important attempt to provide significant support to some of our most exemplary programs working with the City's youth population. We know that quality arts experiences and training can make a profound difference in the lives of our young people. In a City that - like many other communities - is struggling with teen violence, truancy, too-high dropout rates, relatively low percentages of kids going onto and graduating from college, ethnic tensions among our youth, etc., making this extra investment in arts groups doing this vital work is really an investment in the future of our City; especially now when so many of these programs are threatened by declining private and public support. In addition, while general support grants remain important and the vast majority of City funding, these grants also provide some specific tangible outcomes in terms of impact that is hard to quanity with the widely distributed general support grants. This is why these grants were intentionally kept of fairly significant size - up to $50,000 each - to make sure that this funding can truly make a difference in support of these worthy programs.

Following  is a list of all grantees

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Resources on Business and the Arts

In 2005 a special issue of the Journal of Business Strategy was published on arts-based learning for business (Vol. 26, No.5), co-edited by Ted Buswick and Harvey Seifter. Ted is head of the BCG History program at Boston Consulting Group, and also Executive-in-Residence for Leadership and the Arts in the Graduate School of Management at Clark University. Harvey is CEO of Seifter Associates and has done extensive work in the area of arts-based learning for business. Now, about five years later, a second special arts-themed issue of JBS has been released, with the same co-editors.

The Journal normally is available only by subscription, but now for a limited time this issue is available for free. Click on this link to the issue. When you enter the site use the following log-in information to get your free download of the content:  Username: JBS2010; Password: emerald

In their "Editor's Note" Buswick and Seifter comment on how the past few years have seem a dramatic rise in the credibility and widespread application of arts-based learning in business, as well as a growing recognition in the business community that business competitiveness is increasingly fueled by creativity and innovation. They also note the disturbing trend of the last 18 months as the economy has been in turmoil, that resources for arts-based learning programs have become much scarcer. Nonprofits like Americans for the Arts have had to scale back on such programs that were expensive but not generating sufficient revenue, and businesses have been trimming training budgets, especially those - like arts-based training - targeting the longer-term benefits of creativity as opposed to shorter-term skills focused training programs.

The issue is filled with many valuable articles. In the interests of space I will only single out one: a succinct overview of arts-based learning in business by Nick Nissley, who is the Executive Director of Leadership Development at the Banff Centre in Banff Canada. This article alone really provides a great introduction to the issue and creates an excellent platform for the essays that follow.

Finally, for those in or near Philadelphia, don't miss "Cultivating a Creative Workforce" being presented by Arts & Business Council of Greater Philadelphia on June 24th. This is a rare and special opportunity to hear Robert Redford (yes, THAT Bob Redford) talk about cultivating a culture of risk-taking, collaboration and creativity to achieve business success. Redford will be interviewed by Bob Lynch, CEO of Americans for the Arts. Registration information here. 8:30 breakfast, followed by program at 9-10:30 at Philadelphia Theatre Company. Here is a great article about Redford and business creativity from INC magazine a few years ago.