Ack! My Sculpture Is Overdue And I Want To Borrow Some Pottery

Recently saw an article on the BBC website about a gallery in Cambridge, England that has been loaning out art to students for 60 years and has never had a piece damaged or lost.

I have written about this sort of arrangement before. Oberlin College has been doing it since the 1940s and has never had a problem, and they appear to be loaning out pieces with a lot more market value than the gallery in Cambridge.  On the other end of the longevity spectrum, the Akron Art Museum and Akron-Summit County Public Library started teaming up to lend out art works about a year or so ago.

But as I soon discovered, there are quite a number of universities, libraries and visual arts institutions that have been lending out art works for quite some time now. (University of Minnesota as far back as 1934)

Here is a brief list I found in a Hyperallergic post in 2018:

Sure enough, a piece appeared on Hyperallergic about 10 days ago listing or linking to visual art lending programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver,  Braddock Carnegie Library,  Minneapolis Art Lending Library , Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Williams College, Kenyon College, University of Minnesota, Harvard, University of Chicago, University of California, Berkley.

I post about this again because even though this is my fourth post on the subject, it wasn’t long before these programs slipped my mind. These all seem like great efforts to get art into the hands and homes of people who might not have opportunity and access and perhaps reduce the perceptual barriers people have about art not being for them.

Next week, my city is participating in its second community wide On The Table discussion and I want to bring these type of programs up as an idea of something that might be done here. If I hadn’t seen the BBC article, I wouldn’t have remembered. I want to reference my previous posts again to remind my readers and hopefully inspire you into action.

Gradually Finding The Leader Within

Long time readers know I am a fan of Peter Drucker’s short piece, Managing Oneself.  It has been awhile since I have sung its praises so it is timely that a TEDx Talk by Lars Sudmann about self-leadership came across my social media feeds recently.

Actually, it was a written summary of the talk on the TED website that initially came to my attention.

One of the first things I appreciated about Sudmann’s talk was that he acknowledged that good leadership is a lot easier in theory than in practice. As a subordinate, we always have ideas running through our heads about how we would do a better job than our bosses if we were in charge. Then when we are actually put in charge, we get bogged down with all the details and demands for our time.

Sudmann talks about walking in to his first staff meeting, resolved to be an inspiring, dynamic and awesome leader only to have the conversation bogged down by a discussion of email signature files.

Where I really agree with Sudmann is his suggestion that self-reflection and introspection is one of the most important traits of a good leader. It isn’t enough to simply make a list of your strengths and weaknesses and acknowledge them, you have to be in the practice of evaluating your daily decisions and activities.

Drucker covers this in his piece too. He urges people to become aware of their strengths and what they need to become better and encourages people to share how they work best with co-workers as a way of enlisting their in providing materials and opportunities in a manner that aids your improvement.

Sudmann cites Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher recognized as one of the better Roman Emperors, who focused much of his time practicing self-leadership versus trying to lead others.

Sudmann suggests that a little self-examination can result in a realization that we share many of the traits we dislike about those we consider bad leaders. You can do the same thing with the traits you admire in others:

Every day, take 5- 10 minutes to think about the challenges you’ve recently handled and the ones you’ll soon face. While Marcus Aurelius was fond of reflecting in the evening, Sudmann likes doing this over morning coffee. Questions to pose include: “How did my leadership go yesterday? How would the leader I’d like to be have faced the challenges I faced? What about my challenges today? What could I do differently?” Write down your thoughts so you can refer back to them and learn from them.

Prioritizing issues is also an important part of leadership. If you hadn’t guessed it already, a discussion about email signatures shouldn’t occupy important staff meetings.

You should engage with 9s and 10s right away, but you’ll find that many things which shatter your calm will be of lesser importance. With anything that’s a 6 or lower, either excuse yourself physically (“I need to take a quick break; be right back”) or figuratively (“Let me take a minute to go over what you’ve said”). Then, give yourself a moment to think: “How would the leader I aspire to be handle this situation?” The answer will come to you.

There are pretty much direct parallels between strategic plans and developing leadership skills. Just as you shouldn’t put a strategic plan on a shelf after investing time in examining the state of your organization and creating a plan to guide the organization into the future, you don’t want to scrutinize your strengths and weaknesses and do nothing to address them until the next crisis or next scheduled board/supervisor evaluation.

I also see parallels between the approach Sudmann  espouses and Arts Midwest’s Creating Connection initiative.  (You knew I was going to tie something back to that sooner or later!)  Just as building public will for arts and culture is a long term plan focused on continuous improvement and consistent messaging, so too is the process of becoming a better leader.

 

Let Me Tell You What You Can Do With That Phone

Hat tip to Howard Sherman for calling attention to a New York Times article about cell phone use at live performances that the paper has set up as an study guide/student discussion resource.

The article opens with a video of Joshua Henry taking a phone from an audience member and tossing it under the seating riser (without missing a note in his song), noting that Henry had already been indicating his disapproval with being recorded for three songs.

It also mentions the recent incident in Cincinnati when violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter stopped in the middle of a Beethoven concerto to call out a woman recording her performance.

The New York Times article poses a number of questions for students to consider and discuss.  While I feel the questions are a little leading toward certain answers, they, or questions like them, could prove useful as a starting point for arts & cultural organizations as part of a conversation with younger audiences (or potential audiences) about their expectations.

I will say, of the student responses made in the article comments section, there were more inclined against the use of phones than I had expected. Many of the commenters were from the same school so perhaps they were generated by like-minded friends.

There is also an opportunity to have those participating in a discussion you host do a little more research on whatever scenario is being discussed.

For example, when I first learned about Annie-Sophie Mutter stopping the performance, my impression was that the person in the audience had only just started recording a short snippet. In later interviews, Mutter said the woman recorded the whole first movement and then pulled out another phone and an external power source and started recording the second movement. This adds a little more context for a discussion.

Making audiences of all ages feel welcome at performances and other cultural events will inevitably require addressing the issue of recording. I suspect that other than luck and perceptive ability, the more constructive policies will result from having conversations with audiences rather than by straight fiat or debating about it in the comments section of websites.

Is The Violence And Sorrow Of The World Too Strong For Art?

Somewhat apropos of the whole value of arts theme of my posts this week, novelist Michael Chabon had a letter titled “What’s the Point,” printed in The Paris Review announcing that he would be stepping down after 9 years as Chairman of the Board at the MacDowell Colony.

When he starts out, he basically sounds defeated, observing that despite overcoming his introverted tendencies to advance the slogan that, “MacDowell makes a place in the world for artists, because art makes the world a better place,” the world is much worse now than 9 years ago.

Or, I wonder if it’s possible that I was wrong, that I’ve always been wrong, that art has no power at all over the world and its brutalities, over the minds that conceive them and the systems that institutionalize them.

[,,,]

Maybe the world in its violent turning is too strong for art. Maybe art is a kind of winning streak, a hot hand at the table, articulating a vision of truth and possibility that, while real, simply cannot endure. Over time, the odds grind you down, and in the end the house always wins.

Or maybe the purpose of art, the blessing of art, has nothing to do with improvement, with amelioration, with making this heartbreaking world, this savage and dopey nation, a better place.

As he goes on, his tone shifts:

All the world’s power over us lies in its ability to persuade us that we are powerless to understand each other, to feel and see and love each other, and that therefore it is pointless for us to try. Art knows better, which is why the world tries so hard to make art impossible, to immiserate artists, to ban their work, silence their voices, and why it’s so important for all of us to, quite simply, make art possible.

The metaphors he uses defending the value of art revolve around the personal experience and connection. This dovetails with the concept raised in yesterday’s post that people don’t believe in the value of arts and culture in their lives unless they or a loved or a loved one has a direct experience.

I don’t know why, but there was something about his prose that put me in mind of the “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus” letter. My inner monologue commented, “Yes, but the situation is much darker and more cynical than back then.”

I looked up the Yes, Virginia letter and found it had a lot of parallels to my recent posts.

I forgot the letter started out referencing, “the skepticism of a skeptical age.”  And maybe I subliminally made a connection with the idea of people only giving credence to things they personally experienced because Francis Church continues, “They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.”

And then of course, the passage that pretty much describes the aspirations of those in the arts, culture and creative field:

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

I have to say, I didn’t start out to write an optimistic post. I actually felt Chabon moved to feel-good sentimentality out of a sense of obligation to end on a higher note.

That his letter evoked memories of another letter I was moved to seek out and I was delighted to find alignment in everything I talked about this week sort of proves Chabon’s point I guess.

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