Wednesday Luncheon Plenary

Closing Thoughts (Transcript)

Published in: 2007 Conference Proceedings

Responses to the 2007 conference from Malcolm Margolin, guest editor for the conference essays; Jeff Chang, writer and conference essayist; Dudley Cocke, Bush Foundation; Loris Taylor, Native Public Media; moderated by Lisa Cremin, Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund.

Malcolm Margolin:
It's so beautiful here I wish I were a resident. And it was a joy to edit the essays and to work with Frances and Anna on it all. Being an editor gets you into other people's minds and gets you into other people's souls, and you just end up going from one spot to another spot and shaping it, and it's a gorgeous life.

I'm a publisher, and I characterize my life as coming into the office in the morning and walking up to a river of beauty that flows through the place. And people come and they give you the best of their thoughts, they give you the best of their poetry, they give you the best of their art, they give you the most poignant and deeply felt of their aspirations because they want to do a book.

And my life as a publisher is that every so often I have the wits to dip a ladle into that river of beauty and pull something out and call it a book.

I expected when I came here that I was going to leave that river of beauty behind and I was going to go into the serious business of getting into meetings and conferences and discussing things that would challenge me and I couldn't quite understand. I found instead that my own river of beauty is a mere tributary on the river of beauty that's the world of American art.

I was just so stunned by the variety of art on this whole enterprise. On the poets, on the singers, on the music and the dancers and the performers. On the actual list with which funders were discussing, how to reshape funding. The seriousness of the intent.

And also how the arts were woven into the fabric of the meeting. I've never quite attended a meeting like this, and usually you attend a meeting and there are panels that are serious, and then off to the side is a little performance of some sort that is meant to be marginal. Here it was woven in, and even the food, even the way the whole thing was structured, it was a marvelous artistic trust, and I think trust is the essence of art. That in shaping this journey, if adequate resources were found, then we would all shape our own journey.

And I think what I'm walking away with is a wonderful sense of abundance. A wonderful sense of how a community like Taos has such rich artistic traditions, and the abundance of the people that are working out the grantmaking.

And for those of us that may go back to a world of more scarcity, there's a kind of fall feasting that goes on. And I hope we all come back with that sense of abundance and fullness that this meeting offered.

I'll just say one more thing and I'll try to be quick about it all. We do a lot of publishing on the California Indian culture and history, and I've had the privilege of watching a cultural revival of the first magnitude.

One of the aspects of this revival is the rebuilding of traditional roundhouses in the Sierra. And these roundhouses are underground houses or semi-underground houses, they're dance houses, they're for ceremony, they're for storytelling.

And one of them is at Trusser, east of Jackson, and it was built in the early ‘70s. The roof fell in in 1990, it was rebuilt and it is still being used, and it's kind of a center for culture and for cultural renewal.

I was once talking to the people that built it, and I was talking about how it was built. And what they said was that they could have built it better. They could have used creosote on the posts when they dug the post into the ground, there was nothing in the old rules that said you couldn't use creosote. They didn't have to tie the rafter with grapevine, they could have used metal, there was nothing in the old rules that said you couldn't use metal.

But there was a rule that they had to follow, and that is, you had to build the roundhouse so that it would fall apart every twenty years, so each generation would have the experience of rebuilding it.

And I felt in watching this, that there's a rebuilding of the roundhouse, there's a rebuilding of the structures that house the arts, and there's a deep questioning about audience, about the capacity of 501(c)(3)s, about demand, about the changing of technology, about a change of generation and how to respond to it all.

And I was trying to figure out what I could offer to that dialogue, what I've heard and what I could offer. And I'm not sure what I can offer except perhaps the advice of an editor.

When something comes along that you want to edit, what you see is, everything that's wrong with it. You see all of the incoherencies, all of the inconsistencies, all of the repetitions, all of the clunky phrasing, all of the lack of structure. But if you edit from problems, if you edit this way, then you'd end up doing a lousy job of editing.

What you have to do is edit from strength. What you have to do is go to what the soul of it is, what the strength of it is, and then bring out that soul and bring out that strength, and then the problems go away.

In this conference I heard a lot about problems. I heard about the problems of audience, the problems of demand, the problems of lack of money, the problems of lack of data, of lack of quantifiable evaluation criteria.

I didn't hear much about the strength of the arts movement. And I was talking earlier to Emily Todd of the Houston Endowment, and she said something that I told her I was going to steal, and I'm a man of my word, I'm going to steal it.

She said that the arts have difficulties, but it's not a crisis. If you want crisis you can look at other American institutions like education has a crisis. Health has a crisis. Politics has a crisis. There are other institutions that are absolutely non-functional in some ways.

The arts have been doing absolutely splendid work, delivering value with very little money. They've got abundance, they've got beauty, they've got diversity, they've got spontaneity. They roll along, they're reflexive, they're responsive, they're adaptable.

And in coming to this conference I felt the strength of the arts community. And I think that in redesigning the world of the future, that redesigning it from strength, that understanding, deeply meditating upon what works, deeply understanding what the soul of American art is, and then designing the new roundhouse from that, will give us a roundhouse we can all dance in.

So thank you.


Jeff Chang:
Well I've been a guest here for the last six days, so as a guest I should be… Well what I want to do is to express my gratitude. And it might be a Hawaiian thing to do, but I definitely want to say thank you to the people at Taos and the Taos Pueblo, who welcomed us here to their place, shared with us their food. Thank you very much. And thank you to Frances and Anne and Tommer and the entire staff of GIA that looked after us, took care of our many little needs, thank you very much. And thank you to all of you for sharing with me, sharing with each other, sharing with everybody here, knowledge and also pearls of wisdom.

What I wanted to do was to kind of go back through some of those – just some, because there are too many to talk about in five minutes – and all weekend I've been kind of looking for synthesis, because it's kind of like you have these head-explosions every once in awhile. All these ideas are coming in, your head explodes, and you're trying to synthesize it back in and get them back into your brain. I think it's going to take a little while to do that, but let me just throw some stuff out.

I was really inspired on the first night by Michael Morgan's statement, his aphorism that our job is to eradicate ugliness. It was powerful, it was a really powerful thing. And I've been able to see it, because I've got two kids in the East Bay, in a very direct kind of way, you know, what his particular way of eradicating ugliness is. And it made me also think, too, that part of the way that we eradicate ugliness is actually to surface a slot of that ugliness that's out there.

On Saturday we got to see the Los Desaparacitos exhibition in Santa Fe, which was unbelievably moving and left us all in tears. And I thought to of what Art Corps had done in El Salvador to get the locals there to begin to discuss, to break the silence around the bloody massacre that occurred in their town. As well as Alternate Roots, who is out there providing a place for displaced New Orleans' residents to release their pain. And as well for folks from the communities to be able to find a point of empathy with New Orleans residents.

I thought too of Hal Canon's beautiful Blue Mountain song and the Taos Public Dancers last night, and Super Anno de Jilos (?) use of the saw, that was a beautiful thing.

And also, Judy Jennings pointing out that the Cabbage Head Romance, that there's an exact equivalent in Appalachia. That it's the exact same song, the exact same lyric, the exact same melody.

I was really moved by Juan Estevan Arellano's speech and the etymologies of ingredients and recipes, and the connections, the idea that globalization is really ancient in that sense.

And I was also moved by Crissy Orr and Lucy Lippard's discussion of what it means to be a local, what it means to be a tourist. And to think about the fact that in a sense, all artists are actually outsiders in a way. And so it was really, really moving when Crissy was talking about her work in rural Georgia and said that the highest compliment that could be paid to her was somebody saying to her that “You've reminded us of things that we've forgotten.”

And this brings me around to Diem Jones who cornered me on the bus on the way to Taos Pueblo before the multiculturalism conversation yesterday, and he said, “Well you know, I have a thing to say to you, and that's that I think that discussions of culture, discussions of art, are often divisive. But one of the things that I try to do is to look at the connections, to look at the points that we come together on, the empathies and the coincidences.”

And so these are some of the things that I'll take away, these are some of the pearls of wisdom that I'll take away. Thank you very much for allowing me to be a part of this.


Dudley Cocke
Well I got an urgent email from Mayor Bobby that those of you were at the opening welcoming plenary, and he just said, have a safe trip and that he hoped your wallets were thinner.

I experienced this conference as a time of questioning. I just heard so many—maybe more than other conferences, a lot of questioning going on, questions raised. For example, these were a few that came right off the top of my head, but there are so many.

One, who defines culture? That was a whole session or two around that question.

Where does creativity come from? And are we supporting it at its source?

How conscious are we of the politics of arts distribution?

Are we as funders adequately supporting and developing our intellectual core of thinkers, writers, multimedia discourse producers?

Well with all these questions, and I'm sure we could make quite a long list, it might be interesting, all this content, really, and discussion around the questions for me raises the issue for us as a group. How do we organize all this content and knowledge? How do we organize it in a way that we can deepen the discourse around any given one of the hundreds of questions raised?

So I don't know the answer to that. But I'm very keen on us as a group trying to focus on that in the next number of years. And the reason is that you often hear the criticism that at conferences the conversation just goes around and around on the same plane and it never plumbs. And when that happens then of course we never move to any action.

So I'm interested in how we can organize our knowledge and thinking and move it to action.

So one of the questions…and I think we have some tools at GIA to do this, the Reader being one of them, just want to give you an example. One of the questions I heard in multiple sessions was, “How did the current set of artistic categories come into being, and who do they serve?”

And then I remembered in the spring Reader, that one of the writers really took this question up, and this is Nick Rabkin, and he says:

“There is an utterly natural human tendency to create fixed categories for comprehending the world and insisting that everything in it must fit into one or another of them. Funders construct their world by first naming their programs categorically. This has two benefits: it helps funders stay focused so their money can be most effective; and it enables potential grantees to decide whether a funder is a good prospect, so they don't waste their time with the wrong one. In another sense, program categories are motes that limit the number of proposals funders must review thoroughly. The problem is that program categories by design are not well suited to recognize innovation and creativity. This is a fundamental concern for the arts in spheres orbiting around poverty and inequality. The spheres that are encompassed by these categories are typically understood by philanthropy in economic terms. So it should come as no surprise that funders find it difficult to grasp the role of the arts in them. Arts advocates may have actually added to the muddle by accepting the economic definition of the problem and arguing that the arts are a powerful economic strategy.”

Well I just cite that as an example of the sort of depth of content that we as a group have created, and I'm just wondering how we can use it in a more powerful way.

So two questions came to the fore for me that I'm going to take back to think about a lot more and really reflect on. My role in philanthropy as Frances described it, is as an insider/outsider, because I am known to rattle the cup for Roadside Theater Apple Shop where I've worked 30+ years. And also to fill the cup as a trustee of the Bush Foundation.

So I have this sort of dual perspective, and as I leave, here are two outstanding questions for me:

In what ways are foundations addressing the inherent power imbalance between grantor and grantee?

And secondly, how effectively are foundations perpetuating, including taking to scale, their successes? And how effectively are foundations communicating their failures?

So I'm going to just say something briefly about the two questions.

The paradox of power, it seems to me, is that to oppose power, one has to exert power. And even when power is exerted for good, it corrupts. So that seems to me a fundamental paradox, human paradox, that we as grantmakers confront.

I think the typical grantor/grantee relationship could be described as that between a buyer – the grantor; and the seller – the grantee. And of course, what happens in that buyer/seller relationship is that the seller has to learn everything about the buyer, because it is such a buyer's market.

I mean this phenomenon in philanthropy of the buyer's market I think is something we should think about. I've known of instances where foundations would receive something like 350 proposals, and they would be able to fund ten, and you know, parenthetically, what a waste of everybody's energy!

So in this sort of extreme buyer's market, you have the seller having to learn everything about the buyer, and the buyer only having to learn as much as time and interest and due-diligence permit, about the seller. So this leads to knowledge gaps and a power imbalance, and it goes beyond that, I mean that's just to give a little touch of it. I think you can spread that balance out and take it through the course of your work. So that's one question.

And so what it raises is how do we make the grantee/grantor relationship more equitable, more meaningful, and more productive? So that's what I'm going to be continuing to think about.

My second question was about success in scale. And I often think that particularly in that part of philanthropy that is concerned with social justice and cultural equity, poverty, etcetera…arts philanthropy, that that part of the field we have littered with our successes. And by that I mean we have figured out so many things that for some reason we then do not follow through with or take to scale.

So laying aside conspiracy theory, the question for me is, you know, why is it that we can't, for example, recognize success and then in recognizing it, be able to take it to a larger scale? So I'm wondering what constitutes the scales that stops us from seeing? So that's a question that I'm going to take with me as I leave.

And then finally, let me just posit this for your consideration, because in some ways I'm thinking, and I heard all of this discussed at the conference in different ways, but this is the way I formulate it. That we will see more clearly when foundations become transparent, about the outcomes and impacts for which they take responsibility.

So what I'm sort of positing is that as we become more transparent about the outcomes and impacts for which we take responsibility, that we will be able to see more clearly. Now, don't get me wrong, when I say this I'm not advocating for super metrics in philanthropy. Because one of the outcomes, for example, could be, how do we put more passion in the concert hall or in the theater?

So I believe that such clarity will not only help the scales fall from our eyes so that we can recognize success and failure, but also bring a new self-consciousness about this paradox of power that I've described, and our role of privilege.

I think finally the question for us at GIA is how can we support each other as we take an important leadership role for the arts and philanthropy. Thanks.


Loris Taylor
Good afternoon. Loris Taylor from Native Public Media, so my report's going to be just a tad different. I took sound-bites, is what I did.

Sense of place. Journey. Musical journey. Written journey. Reader. Operatic tones of a saw. Roasted corn. The many faces of New Mexico. A Mayor's welcome. Our power to change. Perception of the American nothing. Have I dreamed this place before? Are we breaking the molds? Where are we starting? Art and place. Who defines culture? Scanning the horizon. First freeze. First snowfall. Breakout for more thinking. Think together. Work together. Interlocutors. Building our over long distance. Fresh oven bread. Food for the soul. Storytelling. Naked lady. Romance. Our inner Caribbean woman. Yay ho! Yay Ho! Lift the sky together! Storytelling. Using art to convey messages. Many definitions. Art and social justice. Manifestation. Alternate routs. Performance pushing issues forward. Katrina displacement. Story-circles. Create space for healing. Overcoming façade. Double mortgages. Poor people. Poor people overload creates tension. Creating one piece that connects all the stories. Who defines culture? Threshold requirements. Peer panels. Reviews. Feminist arts for social change. Inherent tensions. Succession for women lawyers. Art meets activism. Insecure young female artists. What is quality art? And who is the artist? What does it mean to do art for social justice? Documentation. Who, funder or grantee? Developing countries. Environment. Health and human rights. Social action. Communities coming together around issues. Arts and culture is a bridge. Proposals on napkins. Legacy and continuity. If it is just for our generation, it isn't good enough. Mapping our places. Legal rights. Land rights. Oral history. Funder focus on product creates tension. Some of the current funder structures need to be changed. New paradigms. Community access and participation. How is it defined? Art for art's sake. Creative power. Self expression. Seeking the balance. Value versus quality. Figuring out relationships. How and when does the art release, create, sustain in transformative power for social change? I believe in food. Gracias! Nourish by tacos. Cultural memories of grief. Many Mexican food injuries go unreported. Be shameless! A taco history. A tin of lard for Tommer. Chili for Anne. Money ends. Program ends. Sustainability as the adaptive capacity of an organization. Stewardship as part of the sustainability conversation. Mission drift issues. Stabilization grants. Advocacy on non-arts issues. Characteristics of high performing non-profits. Multi-year funding. Survival of the fittest. Land use policy becomes cultural policy. Capacity building and policy are elements of sustainability. Public good. Supply and demand. Parallel economics. Exceeding resource supply. Funders as market forces us work. Whose job is it to build demand? Return on investments. No money in saving the world! Developing local measures of success. New metrics. My art speaks for itself. Creating long-term relationships. General operating support. Funds tend to be prescriptive. The politics of sustainability. Are funders complicit? Risk factor. Working capital. Multiculturalism is so natural. Corporate-ize and commercialize. _____. Artists wanting to be freed from the debate of race. Culture wars. Post-blackness. Incorporating multiculturalism with new identities. Cultural specificity. Historic minorities versus immigrants. Racial migrations and tension. Is multiculturalism a growth phase? Globalization. Refusal to look beyond race. Black artists. Gay artists. Post colonial informant. Renouncing political correctness. Co-opting multiculturalism is not a solution. Identity politics is a phase. It is not a post-race war. California dreaming and cellphones. Multiracial myths of level playing fields. Organizing along justice lines. Changing the language. Acceptance of difference in food, fashion, festival, famous people. Majority cultural funding patterns. Funders accountability to the public good. Increasing the capacity of foundations. Diversity of viewpoints. Class-ism. Giving up power. Ethical identities. Adopting the emerging majority mentality. Formal and informal systems. Ethnic media. Fertile ground for new media. Have we achieved cultural identity? Inequality? Multi-prong resources. Alliance building. Utopian post-white. My house is a Crayola box. Race as a cultural context. Aesthetic diversity, including white. Cultural orientation. Redlining rural communities. Sorting. Unequal distribution of resources. Look at the impact of corporate mass media. The dangers of concentrated media and mass electronics. Categorical views. International voices. Carrying the conversation forward. Blogs. Links. Getting the discourse beyond the first ring. Monographs. Providing points of entry. Atlanta, Georgia. New city. GIA. 2008.


Lisa Cremin
Well I have to say that experiencing a conference knowing that you're in the headlights for next year is a very different experience than experiencing the conference when you just have to worry about getting back to your email at home.

So as I think about my experience here and what it's like to be here, to me in many ways it was an opportunity to discuss issues and also to reflect on them. And in the process of doing that, for me, it also allowed me to feel the issues instead of just think them. I found the informality of the structure and the place really a beautiful thing, and it allowed us I think all to have a more genuine, as well as informal connection with one another. I think it was one big side-bar conversation, and in many ways created extremely valuable new relationships between and among people.

I think that this conference kind of opened up some new spaces, the whole design of the conference did that for us. It opened up spaces between and among cultures. It opened up spaces as we are just beginning, I think, effectively, to start to think about nonprofit and for-profit arts and cultures.

It brought us to some new spaces in thinking about time. In thinking about food. And those are some things that I'll be taking away with me. And I'm assured in my informal surveys that people want to eat Southern food for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I also really experienced in an interesting way the use of time, and I felt a brand new kind of validity in taking time off in this conference, and I think that that was incredibly productive, and that's something that I look to bringing into what we do in Atlanta. You know, I'll take Dudley Spires' market on a different level.

And I think what we will try to do is see how we can allow you to take time off with your colleagues in doing things that may not have to do with your direct work, but allow you time to be together in a way that's okay. And refreshes you to come back for the next session and the next gathering together.

For me, I think this sets us up very beautifully for breaking some things apart, and for being a little bit more aggressive into thinking about how to do our work differently and in terms of thinking about the field very differently. And working above and below and next to where we are right now. And I don't think we've done a very good job of that yet.

I think as we talk about our power relationships I think that we have to remember again that in the scheme of things and in our ability to impact arts and culture, we're not that powerful. And I think we need to understand where the power really is and get better at that. And I'm hoping we can interact with some of those people who may be able to influence that.

So, you know, are we skiing into Atlanta? Well, Frances said that we're not snow-skiing, and I don't think we'll be water-skiing, but I think that we'll be zooming into this new, young market with a lot of new ideas and I look forward to seeing you all in Atlanta. Thank you.

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