More Reminders About Importance of Libraries

I was reading a story about the earthquake that hit Christchurch, NZ ten years ago today which damaged large parts of the city. According to the article there was a significant effort by the local government which collected more than 100,000 ideas from over 10,000 people about how Christchurch should be rebuilt, but those plans and ideas were discarded by the national government of the time. The basic theme of the article is that much of the development which has occurred in the last 10 years hasn’t revitalized Christchurch.

The one place where local input was included in the plan generated by the national government was Tūranga, a library and community space which looks pretty dang awesome. Not only are there cafes and play areas, but there is a lot of focus on indigenous Maori culture and art as well as a digital wall depicting Christchurch’s features, history and stories. It is easy to see why the facility is well-regarded by residents.

Before I took a deeper look at the library in Christchurch, I was immediately reminded of the State Library of Queensland in Australia which Nina Simon had spoken about in a TED talk about 4 years ago. I summarized her story in a blog post at the time.

…State Library of Queensland which built a gorgeous new white building and then invited aboriginal elders in to help them design an indigenous knowledge center. The elders noted that for them, knowledge wasn’t shared through books, but rather through music, dance and storytelling in a setting that wasn’t so sterile looking, most importantly around a fire. The librarians, true to their intent renovated a space for music, dance and storytelling and infused it with color. And they built a firepit (away from the flammable archives, of course).

Part of the reason I checked out the floor plan of the library in Christchurch is because I wanted to see if they had included anything like a fire pit at their library. It doesn’t appear that there is, but there are plenty of other facilities and equipment for sharing ideas and stories.

By the way, if you want to see pictures of the fire pit area in Queensland, they are on the library’s webpage. Scroll down to “Story Circle” heading. It almost doesn’t look like it is outside, but I found some YouTube videos of events and while it is nicely enclosed there is definitely a lot fresh air flow through the space.

The lesson here may be not to give libraries short shrift in the economizing that may come now or as we emerge from Covid restrictions because they are important community spaces.

One specifically arts related thing I wanted to note was the significant role the article said it played in helping people transition post-earthquake in Christchurch:

If you don’t live in New Zealand and you read about Christchurch in those years, most likely it was about the creative, guerrilla projects that popped up in the immediate aftermath of the quakes. Temporary site activations—Gap Fillers—brought life back to the empty gravel lots with music, performance, art, and community participation. These were almost spontaneous events, a community responding to challenging times however it could. They represented the best of the city, and inspired residents and visitors to believe that the new Christchurch that grew from the rubble of the old could be eclectic, engaging, and exciting.

 

Some Questions To Help You Enjoy The Show

Nod to Dan Pink who linked to a study conducted among German university students which found that when students were provided a question to consider while learning material or were asked to create their own test questions on the material, they were better able to retain knowledge versus those who were asked to review their notes. The small sample size in the study requires that more detailed research is required.

But the weakness of the study doesn’t have much bearing on my post because it was only the starting point from which my brain made some wild leaps.

In considering how this might be applied in an arts and culture situation I recalled that many organizations already put out study guides which include questions to consider as you watch a performance. I know there is similar content in program books for shows.

And I pretty much ignore all of it. Maybe it is out of ego, thinking I can come to my own conclusions regarding what I am about to see or not wanting someone else to shape my perceptions.

Overall I suspect many other people might ignore/not see those questions as well. I likewise suspect that people might enjoy and understand unfamiliar content if they had some questions to consider bouncing around their head.

I started wondering if having questions posted on lobby monitors or on signs posted in restrooms or other strategic places might be the answer. Just one question or prompt to a screen or page in big font to catch the eye. There might be multiple questions peppered throughout the spaces, but no more than 3-4 in total. They should be focused on helping people understand and enjoy the show in a broad general sense rather than trying to focus on academic minutiae (i.e. “What do you think the color brown signifies?” )

Anyone have any thoughts about it? There has been conversation that a post-Covid world would eliminate printed program materials in favor of display screen/projected/virtual delivery so this somewhat dovetails with that as a potential practice.

Open Arms With Grasping Fists Not A Welcoming Appearance

So by now you have probably heard about the ill-advised job posting made by the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields which said they were “…seeking a director who would work not only to attract a more diverse audience but to maintain its “traditional, core, white art audience.’”

My first thought was, this the type of faux pas that is bound to occur more often because organizations know they need to be more diverse but don’t have someone to advise them on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Or if the company does, the staff member’s advice is either not heeded or the person doesn’t feel empowered to point out how problematic this type of language is.

Even though they were making a mess of it, I viewed it as a sign of progress that people were starting to say the quiet part aloud as it were, and admitting they needed to actively pursue creating a welcoming environment instead of claiming everyone is welcome and they don’t discriminate.

While the museum has revised the job description to omit the word “white,” I don’t think it helped matters that the CEO of the museum was quoted in the NY Times article saying that the use of “white” was “..intended to indicate that the museum would not abandon its existing audience as part of its efforts toward greater diversity, equity and inclusion.”

That makes DEI efforts sound like a zero sum game where one group must lose out if another group is to gain something. For years the message has been that arts and culture enriches everyone’s lives so theoretically diversifying programming should offer a broader range of opportunities for enrichment, correct? So why is there an automatic assumption and implication that someone is going to lose?

I think back to the talks Nina Simon has given where she talks about creating new doorways through which people can experience a cultural institution. She does mention that not everything is for everyone. Certainly given the limits of time, space and resources there is a good chance there will be less of some content. But if it was assumed everyone had the capacity to enjoy the content that was previously offered, they are likely equally capable of enjoying new content.

So of course, I should have known Nina would be able to summarize all of this in just a couple tweets.

 

What Do You Perceive As Biggest Impediment to Equity Efforts?

Advisory Board for the Arts had sent out a survey on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Access (DEI&A) efforts that non-profit organizations were undertaking. They released the results in infographic form this week.

Keeping in mind that the respondents were self-selected so there wasn’t a lot of rigor behind the process, the results are still an interesting preliminary view of what organizations perceive is going on with their efforts.

I was particularly interested in the pressures and challenges section where respondents indicated there was a lot of pressure to do more in relation to DEI&A across a number of internal and external constituencies. The biggest perceived source of pressure to do less is among board members and individual donors. Still there wasn’t perceived pressure either way from unions, donors, corporate sponsors, and audience members.

This all makes me yearn for a more complete study of the question. My suspicion is that groups who were already very interested in implementing DEI&A chose to answer the survey and so they were either inclined to view their efforts favorably or their constituencies were aligned toward DEI&A efforts to begin with.

However, it would be great if these results were close to reality because that would mean the impediment to change couldn’t necessarily be blamed on external groups. They are shown as largely indifferent in this area. Even board members who were seen as most in opposition to DEI&A efforts were more likely to be for or indifferent to them rather than against.

In terms of challenges and hurdles, the survey found that developing an authentic, rather than performative, stance and creating meaningful metrics to hold the organizational accountable were among the top concerns people had.

Stuff to ponder so take a look.

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