Professionals and Pro Ams

In her column in this month’s American Theatre, Theatre Communications group Executive Director, Teresa Eyring talks about the recognizing the growing number of Professional Amateurs in our society. Now this topic is nothing new. I have posted on the subject of Pro Ams. Andrew Taylor has done so on a number of occasions. His students did a research project on the topic. Charles Leadbetter and Paul Miller who coined the Pro Am term, wrote a book on the subject.

What makes Teresa Eyring’s comments special is that she leads a major service organization and therefore is in a position to exert greater influence when she says it is worthwhile to heed a trend. (Though she was certainly influenced by all this discussion of Pro Ams.) What she has to say hasn’t impacted my thoughts about Pro Ams in any direction. But it is good to see an arts leader like her encouraging people to explore the possibilities.

So if the words of all the aforementioned folks haven’t gotten you to ponder the concept, maybe Eyring’s will. She acknowledges that a transition that embraces Pro Ams can be difficult.

“If these shifts are irreversible and true, the question for professional arts organizations is how most effectively to embrace and respect audiences and potential audiences as they self-identify as creators, with a capacity for meaningful involvement in the artistic process that has often been closely held by professional theatre artists and organizations.”…

“…For theatres and theatre artists, this trend presents questions that are both practical and semantic, such as: What do we do with the word “professional”? In the 20th-century arts world, this word has often been used to instruct the public, critics and funders to expect an experience qualitatively superior to that which is non-professional or amateur…”

“…However, with the growth of a pro-am culture that goes beyond art into science, technology and other realms, the power of a professionals-only province continues to fade—or at the very least, the nomenclature is less effective and meaningful. Some of the teeth-gnashing over this development has to do with how the public will know the difference between what is excellent creative expression and what is merely average…”

“…if theatres can find ways to tap into the growing interest among individuals in participating in the actual creation of art and the arts experience, perhaps we can move this trend to a tipping point of sorts, bringing theatre into a new period of cultural ferocity and ascendancy.”

Prisoners Creating Our Own Dilemmas

Taking a gander over at the TED website to see what talks have been released since last I visited. Apropos to yesterday’s entry is this talk from Howard Rheingold about collaboration and cooperation. It is a short piece, only 20 minutes, but if you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, move the handle down to the Cooperate=Wealth section of the index that pops up when you move the cursor across the bottom of the video.

He addresses the idea that if survival is all about competition, there wouldn’t be so many humans. At some point, humans began to cooperate and that helped them thrive. The benefits of cooperation are generally understood, even across cultural lines. He speaks of how players of the ultimatum game seem to innately know that proposing a 50/50 split offers the most likely path of greatest reward. (At least among Americans, Europeans and Japanese. Rheingold notes that slash and burn folks in the Amazon, pastoral herders in Central Asia and other countries proved to have different sense of fairness when playing the game.)

He also briefly addresses the Tragedy of the Commons, the idea that unless there is a way to restrain overuse, humans will exhaust a commonly held resource. He cites a counter study that found that people are only captives of what is essentially a multi-player prisoner’s dilemma if they view themselves as such. Those who are able to successfully break out do so by “creating institutions for collective action” with common design principles.

As his talk draws to a close, he cites the example of how some of the most cutthroat competitive corporations like IBM, HP and Sun Microsystems are open sourcing their software and some of their patents to be worked on by the commons. He mentions that Eli Lilly has “created a market for solutions for pharmaceutical problems.” Though he doesn’t mention it, I assume that is also an open source type effort. He also cites Toyota which works to make their suppliers more effective even though it means increasing supply efficiency for Toyota’s competitors. EBay has solved the prisoner’s dilemma by introducing a mechanism by which two people who can’t necessarily trust each other can make an exchange. He says they are doing it because they have realized that a certain degree of cooperation is beneficial for the bottom line.

So my obvious question is, if multinational corporations can extend a little trust to cooperate, can’t arts entities from the service organizations down to the smallest theatre/dance/music/visual art company find a way to do it as well? While large organizations might be most immediately influential by providing an example for many others to emulate, technology allows the successes of smaller to be disseminated as they couldn’t even a handful of years ago.

I Just Invented the Wheel! Whadda You Mean You Did Too?

My thanks to David Dombrowsky of the Center for Arts Management and Technology at Carnegie Mellon who commented on a recent entry. In response to my entry on how well things were developing for the Emerging Leadership Institute, he suggested that instead of independently inventing the wheel arts organizations like APAP, Americans for the Arts and the Southern Arts Federation which all have leadership programs combine their efforts to offer greater opportunities for learning and conversation.

He isn’t the first to express this sentiment. Andrew Taylor said the same thing two years ago when I did an entry on Southern Arts Federation’s National Arts Leadership Institute. As Andrew noted, there are many such programs throughout the country. I listed a sampling here.

Someone in my Emerging Leaders meeting at APAP suggested that it might be logical and beneficial to open a channel of communication with the American for the Arts Emerging Leaders program alumni.

I had a brief email exchange with David about causes and solutions. We generally both agreed a little bit of ego and territoriality came into play. As Andrew Taylor noted in his comment, we are often enjoined to partner and collaborate by these service organizations but they may not be providing a good example for their constituents.

One thing I mentioned to David was that change in outlook might have to come at the grassroots level and technology made such things possible where it hadn’t been before. I will make no promises or idealistic statements about success at this juncture, but I am going to talk to some people and do some research and see what develops. Given that I don’t know exactly what success will look like other than people engaging in effective communication and exchange of ideas, I can’t be more committal about what my plans are. If people have any suggestions about who to speak with or want to get involved in organizing an effort, as nebulous as it might be at this point, drop me an email.