Last week I was re-reading a Brain Pickings post I had bookmarked months ago about the book, This Idea Must Die: Some of the World’s Greatest Thinkers Each Select a Major Misconception Holding Us Back.
I planned a post asking my readers what idea they thought was holding the arts back. But before I did, I wanted to get a handle on what I thought was holding us back.
Even though it is in the news often these days, I don’t think forbidding people to use their phones, etc in a performance is holding things back. While it is certainly a point of contention right now, societal expectations of behavior in a performing arts space have evolved over time. I think we are in one of those transitional phases right now and suspect things will stabilize around a set of norms in the next decade or so.
The same with the idea that a performance must happen in a dedicated space or a physical space at all now that virtual options are available. Performances have happened in amphitheaters, pageant wagons, tennis courts, saloons, theater/concert halls, site specific spaces, warehouses, etc, etc. Again while there is currently a lot of angst about the setting, timing and modes of delivery, these factors have been acknowledged and things seem to be progressing, albeit with fits and starts.
Something that did occur to me as a factor holding the arts back was the idea that an arts organization must be a non-profit. There has been a lot of talk about alternative models that are available, but few people have pursued them. While some people will organize themselves as a for-profit entertainment company, the vast majority of people who dream of starting a company seem to default to non-profit.
In that respect, Drew McManus’ Venture Arts Incubator is one of the few places that is specifically saying we will help you develop your arts related business as anything but a non-profit.
With all this percolating around in my head, I had something of an ah-ha moment with Vu Le’s Nonprofit with Balls post about changing the term non-profit sector to something else.
Some of his ideas are more appealing than others. I am partial to the terms “Mission-Driven Sector,” “Public Benefit Sector” or “Community Benefit Sector.”
In the end, Vu suggests the non-profit sector faces more pressing concerns like mismatches between funding priorities and actual needs, overhead and poor work-life balance to be worrying about what the sector is called.
While this is true, a number of the other problems he mentions are related to perception and can be at least partially alleviated by a change. For example, for-profit sector discounts the work of non-profit organizations; people think non-profits–and their employees–aren’t allowed to make money.
Then there is the corresponding belief by non-profit staff that anything less than an 16 hour day shows lack of commitment. Besides, lack of free time helps you save what little money you make since you are too exhausted to do anything.
Yes, superficial changes by itself is not meaningful change.
Except those of us in the arts know that superficial illusion can be absolutely convincing and influence perception. After all, we have people trying to plug their phones into fake outlets. And how many actors who have played doctors have been asked for their medical opinions by fans?
For those who follow politics, I probably don’t need to tell you how many misnomers are applied to laws, policies and positions to make them sound more appealing.
The perceptual issues associated with the terms non-profit or not-for-profit certainly aren’t the only ideas that we need to have die. But if nothing else, a more effective marketing and PR campaign is needed, if only to convince our current and future selves/employees that we are deserving.
So while we are on the subject, what other ideas must die?