Is Knowledge in the Right Places?
A Reflection on Assumptions 1
The summer 2005 issue of the GIA Reader contained an article consisting of excerpts from a group blog discussion on ArtsJournal.com titled, "Is There a Better Case for the Arts?"2 The blog was inspired by Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate about the Benefits of the Arts, a study commissioned by the Wallace Foundation "to improve the current understanding of the arts' full range of effects in order to inform public debate and policy."3 Twelve individuals participated in the online discussion as invited, or "distinguished," bloggers, and many other blog readers joined in a second, parallel conversation. The Reader also published two other responses to Gifts of the Muse, one of which was written by Jerry Yoshitomi. At the close of his short piece, Yoshitomi invited response and promised a further reflection, which appears here. Please notice that what appear to be footnotes in the text are sometimes indeed footnotes, but often are a kind of inner dialogue, thoughts that Jerry had as he wrote the piece but opted not to include in the main text to keep it moving.
The "distinguished" bloggers in "Is There a Better Case to Be Made?" devote much of their time to making the case for the arts. It's not surprising that they read Gifts of the Muse and quickly determined its utility (or not) to making the case. At the top, Adrian Ellis tried his best (able consultant he is) to state the purpose of Gifts (a literature review) and to synthesize at the end. Yet when the bloggers seemed to reach con-sensus that Gifts is not the silver bullet for making the case for increased arts support, the dialog seemed to revert, for the most part, to previously invoked positions (some of great value4 ).
Comments from Others
After writing the reflection in the last edition of the Reader, I asked for comments about Gifts from others not among the bloggers. Here's what they said:
Michael Moore, formerly of the Wallace Foundation, who commissioned Gifts:
- It puts the intrinsic and instrumental values of the arts into context that advocates for both in non-exclusionary terms.
- It focuses on areas of research that are weak and need to be strengthened.5
- It forces the central question of where/when status quo advocacy for the nonprofit arts is not in the best interest of the arts or public we hope to serve.
Paul Tracy, Arts Council of Metropolitan Kansas City:
- An important step forward in understanding the relative strengths, weaknesses, and merits of the various rationales advanced for supporting the arts.
- Very useful intellectual framework for quickly understanding and analyzing each course of argument.
Kevin Vaughn-Brubaker, Arizona Arts Commission:
- Extremely valuable. The ideas seem to empower arts workers and artists in expanding their raison d'etre in their own eyes and in the eyes of the public. Promoting the idea that the arts provide instrumental and intuitive benefits to the public — both creators and participants — is appealing to artists and arts organizations.
- Many have been caught in the trap of advocating for the arts in terms of only the instrumental (and often only the financial) benefit the arts provide. The findings allow artists and arts organizations to develop other strategies for communicating their worth to the public and other authorizers.
Sue Anne Holzworth, Ohio Arts Council:
- It serves as a resource (an outline of the literature) and it highlights key areas of focus as well as what's missing, which interests me most.
- It confirmed some of my own findings in adult education and leisure studies, and identified the need for more work, based on studies that were not included.
Why the discrepancy between the two sets of comments? It's understandable that the funder, Michael Moore might have a different take than others, but why such positive responses from three others engaged actively in the arts, particularly Sue Anne and Kevin, who are relatively new and have much less seniority than the invited bloggers?
Knowing and Un-Knowing
Serendipitously, relevant papers and articles came across my desk/laptop while I was writing this:
- Information in most fields increases at the rate of two percent per month. When compounded, this means that information in most fields doubles every three years. Four times as much information is available now than was available six years ago.6
- Too much knowledge can result in “a closed and entrenched perspective, resulting in a person's not moving beyond the way in which he or she has seen problems in the past.”7
- The decision-makers in the system don't see things that fall outside the pattern of their expectation, and they continue not to see them until finally the system breaks and they find themselves in chaos.”8
- The value of organizational forgetting.9
- People will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself...and not by external pressures or inducements.10
- Creative ideas are novel and valuable, but often rejected because the creative innovator stands up to vested interests and defies the crowd.11
- Breakthrough creativity occurs at the intersection of previously unconnected planes of thought.12
Where Is the Disconnect?
Over the past several years, I've been a participant in the START (State Arts Agencies) Initiative coordinated by Arts Midwest and funded by the Wallace Foundation. By connecting previously unconnected planes of thought from other fields, from research, and through trial and error at the agency and organizational level, we've been able to develop understandings of the personal benefits and public value of arts participation; of robust new methods to broaden, deepen, and diversify participation; and of methods to engage and increase support from the entities that authorize the agencies' work.13
The arts agency leaders received Gifts of the Muse as the literature review it is and are using it to better understand the types of benefits of arts participation. It's part of their toolkit to reveal the benefits already established and to create more of them. Of particular value is the intrinsic/instrumental continuum described in the reports. Kevin Vaughn-Brubaker and Sue Anne Holzworth are key colleagues in two of those SAA's and are using this new knowledge in their daily work.
What underlying assumptions might have misled ArtsJournal's invited bloggers or its editor Douglas McLennan to think that Gifts was meant to be “A Better Case for the Arts?” Did the knowledge, expertise, and previous success of peers and longtime colleagues get in the way of their using this new knowledge quickly and effectively? I remembered being asked when still executive director of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Los Angeles, “What books are you reading?” I responded that I didn't have time to read any books as I was up to my eyeballs in trying to keep the JACCC afloat. As I look back, I realize that there wasn't any room for new knowledge. Even though it was a time when public funding, the effectiveness of fundraising events, and corporate sponsorships were declining, I was trying to effectively use my old knowledge and capacities — writing grants, planning fundraising events, seeking corporate sponsorships, etc. I didn't have time to gain the new knowledge necessary to operate an arts organization in a rapidly changing environment.
Acquiring New Knowledge
One of the skills of mature thinking is to be able to quickly assess the “domain relevance” of new knowledge. Think of sorting through your junk postal mail or email inbox. It takes less than a minute to sort through piles of material. The downside is that an envelope that looks like all others OR an email message from an unknown voice OR the commentary from a younger staff member OR a practice that's outside our current understanding is quickly rejected.14 By not inviting younger or unfamiliar voices to be included in our forums, blogs among them, we're hurting ourselves by keeping valuable perspectives out of the conversation.15
Another perspective following a meeting a few years back with Jim Royce, Center Theatre Group's (LA) marketing and communications director. Jim was going back to his office to write copy for the new e-newsletter the CTG was creating. I asked why he hadn't delegated the work to someone on his staff, as at that point in his distinguished career, he rarely wrote copy. He primarily reviewed and approved copy written by younger staff. Jim replied: “We've never had an E-newsletter and I've never written copy for an e-newsletter. I think I need to learn how to write e-newsletter copy before I can review, approve, and supervise someone who does.” Jim created space in his day to gain new knowledge.
In a similar vein, a recent report on the innovative uses of technology, Power to the Edges — Trends and Opportunities in Online Civic Engagement, “people who are hired to implement technological solutions are hired by people who do not understand the problem; they're neither able to hire the right people nor able to evaluate their work.”16
Redefining new roles is also possible for public arts agencies. The Arizona Commission on the Arts (ACA) acknowledges that in its Understanding Participation (UP) Project, it was a “co-learner” with its partners in researching, understanding, and applying new knowledge in cooperation with other partners (arts organizations who also received grants and technical assistance). It became crucial for the ACA to understand its new role and to effectively communicate to constituents when it was operating in this new role rather than roles more familiar to them.
To learn new knowledge, we need to unlearn old knowledge that no longer serves us. “Intentional forgetting can benefit an organization by helping to rid it of knowledge that has been producing dysfunctional outcomes”17 For example, contemporary marketing theory espouses precision marketing, where the correct message is delivered at the right time, e.g. reminding me to have my oil changed or have my annual physical. Receiving a reminder several months in advance becomes noise that I discard, but timely reminders are valued and appreciated.18 Some arts presenters are beginning to think that large omnibus season brochures become too much noise for the person who's primarily interested in just world music and dance and are moving to create electronic brochures that can be specifically tailored to the needs of specific audiences. They recognize the need to unlearn some old methods to learn new ones. I wonder what other things we need to unlearn?
Arts consultant Alan Brown suggests that the most important new innovations in arts marketing will be peer-to-peer strategies — invite a friend, “viral” forwarding, etc.19 However many of us have difficulty moving from increasingly costly print advertising (which we understand and can manage) to virtual and viral strategies.
One of the advantages of the younger generation is that they don't need to unlearn some things. Innovative visual arts jury processes are using digital systems developed by WESTAF to select artists, while others are feverishly attempting to maintain slide projection methods, even though Kodak stopped making slide projectors and replacement parts in 2004. Heterarchical (vs. hierarchical) processes suggest that those with the most knowledge take leadership roles — so X-gens lead X-gen marketing task forces, Asian Americans develop marketing plans to reach Asian Americans, etc.
Young people20 have knowledge and strength that is invigorating. However, their strengths are almost archetypal, threatening the status quo as senior leaders try to hold on to past values, positions, and ways of operating. To use a meta-phor from Joseph Campbell — might we be seeing young knights (male and female) challenging seasoned veterans and elders?
I'm not implying that all the new knowledge is held by younger leaders. In recent years, I'm been very impressed by the importance of the following:21
- Alan Brown's work on values;
- Neill Archer Roan on branding and revenue maximization;
- Adrian Ellis's Planning in a Cold Climate;
- Maxwell Anderson's Metrics of Success in Art Museums;
- Bill Phillips (Rensselaerville Institute), Outcome Frameworks: An Overview for Practitioners;
- Suzanne Callahan, Singing Our Praises: Case Studies in the Art of Evaluation;
- Kay Sprinkel Grace, Transformational Fundraising;
- Kinshasha Conwill, Culture Counts: Strategies for a More Vibrant Life — A Cultural Blueprint for New York City;
- Eduardo DÃaz's work in identifying Latino audiences in California and Texas
- And many others.
However, unless one is fortunate enough to take a workshop from one of these colleagues or to be one of their clients, the new knowledge often stays in the publication or in their brilliant minds.
Knowledge management literature posits the importance of making tangible and external the tacit knowledge of some, so that it can be shared and then internalized by others.22
How do we bridge old and new — world views, knowledge, and leadership?
- What practices should we unlearn?
- Who should we listen to less?
- Who should we listen to more?
- How do we improve our listening skills?
- How do we create prototypes for new ways of doing our work?
- How do we learn together from all this and implement substantive changes?
Complexity theory suggests the value of not holding on intractably to old methods but rather to progress from what's known (how we did business in the past) to what's knowable (research, systems thinking), and, then beyond the knowable, to a complexity where we can begin to develop methods that are effective in complex new work environments.23
This is what the state arts agencies in the START Initiative have done as they've moved from merely thinking about what they do, to thinking about how artists and arts organizations can improve the lives of the residents of their states. This new world is unknown and more complex than the world in which they've operated previously. But moving to consider the complex and unknown is better than just staying in the known. Complexity theory suggests that staying only in what we know is comparable to the Catholic Church's denial that the earth revolved around the sun, punishing Galileo instead of acknowledging the new knowledge. Staying too long trying to hold on to the old known order can result in chaos.24
Methods to Externalize/Internalize New Knowledge
What methods are available to us that we can use to take new knowledge, develop it, and put it to work?
- The GIA Reader is a forum through which ideas can be shared and vetted in a collegial environment.
- START agencies have begun various practices that allow them to discuss and learn new concepts. North Carolina, for example, began a “Not a Book Club,” in which participants read a key chapter in a book (the entire book is not required reading), and discuss it over brown bag lunches. Arizona had staff do book reports to summarize key points for others.
- National conferences, like GIA's, are being designed as places of discourse for new ideas.
- One of the most innovative concepts being discussed is the work of the Center for Cultural Innovation in Los Angeles. The Center has established an incubator process where ideas, prototypes, and new concepts will be incubated, that is, given a place to be explored, and then shared with others, and fully developed. It's seen as a collaborative effort amongst practitioners, researchers, funders, and consultants.
- What other methods would you suggest?
Innovation and Change
This suggests an intentional process of innovation and change for each individual, organization, and the nonprofit arts field as a whole. As we move from current practice to new practice, we'll need a “shuttle zone” space, a space in which we can move from current to new practices, spaces where we can create prototypes and experiments. The Wallace START initiative was one of these spaces. We'll also need to acknowledge that there will be a limited number of innovators and early adopters who will be at the edge of the field, not at the center. And we'll need strategies for change. Here are some steps I think could be key to this strategy. They come from John Kotter's Leading Change.25
- Establish a sense of urgency to sustain the social values/mission critical to your organization.
- Build a powerful guiding coalition to ensure you have others who feel a sense of ownership for the change as well.
- Create a compelling vision of what the future can be for your organization.
- Communicate the vision by demonstrating your determination and commitment to making the vision work.
- Empower others to act on the vision by transferring ownership to a working team. Remove obstacles that impede success. Get others to take responsibility/credit for successful implementation.
- Plan for and create short-term wins so others will remain optimistic and see evidence that your vision for change is possible to achieve.
- Integrate improvement into the day-to-day actions of the organization so the organization can see the benefits of the change as the effort continues.
- Institutionalize new approaches — model new behavior needed with the changes.
Gifts of the Muse, then, can be seen as part of a structured change to increase support for the arts, an important part of a system of learning about the work we do and the benefits it provides to people and their communities. From that learning, we will be able to better craft messages that encourage increased individual participation and greater public support. I want to encourage us to make certain that we leave room in our brains for this new knowledge.
or Jerry's parallel dialogue
1. With all due respect for the experience and intelligence of each of the “distinguished bloggers” and the tremendous daily resource of ArtsJournal.com, this article is more than just a response to Better Case for Arts. It responds more broadly to a common tendency — seemingly typified by the blog — to talk about something without allowing new knowledge into the conversation. I mean to offer a piece that “practices what it preaches,” that uses new learning while sharing my view of related developments across the nonprofit arts field. This is the riskiest piece I've ever written, challenging assumptions and practices I've known and worked with for years. I ask colleagues to receive my remarks with the reflective spirit in which they are intended, and I invite responses and further discussion.
2. The article appeared in the Reader, volume 16, issue 2, page 13. Copies are available from Grantmakers in the Arts, email@example.com, 206-624-2312, and the article is posted on GIA's web site. The complete archive of the Weblog, “Is There a Better Case for the Arts,” can be found on ArtsJournal's web site, in “Blog Heaven,” under AJ Blog Central.
3. Gifts of the Muse: Reframing the Debate About the Benefits of the Arts, Kevin F. McCarthy, Elizabeth Heneghan Ondaatje, Laura Zakaras and Arthur Brooks. February 2005, 105 pages. RAND Research in the Arts, 310-451-6915, www.rand.org/publications/MG/MG218/ or www.wallacefoundation.org.
4. Particularly Bill Ivey's discussion about the relationship between commercial and nonprofit.
5. Michael says, “Better for us to do this than our critics.”
6. Bill Jensen, Simplicity and Simplicity Survival Handbooks.
7. A few years ago (I thought it was a few, it was actually ten), I wrote an article for this publication entitled “We are now the elders.” For GIA's 2005 conference, I've helped Diane Ragsdale (Andrew W. Mellon Foundation) facilitate a session entitled “Boomer Go Bye Bye? Or Is It Time to Retire Retirement? (Maybe it should have been called “NOW, we REALLY are the ELDERS.”) It'll be about generational transition and how we keep collective wisdom in the field while gaining from the new perspectives of the next generation of leadership. I've learned much from this younger generation and have been stunned when executive directors (often peers who I've known for years) reject the new, creative and often paradigm-shifting ideas of the younger leaders. The “Boomer” session has been in my mind while writing this article.
Moving beyond a “closed perspective” is an idea from The Development of Creativity as a Decision-Making Process by Robert J. Sternberg. He says several factors impact on creativity and innovation: 1) Knowledge. One needs to know enough about a field to move it forward. On the other hand, knowledge can result in a closed and entrenched perspective, resulting in a person's not moving beyond the way in which he or she has seen problems in the past. 2) Motivation. Intrinsic motivation vs. extrinsic motivation. 3) Environment. One needs an environment that is supportive and rewarding of creative ideas.
8. C. F. Kurtz and D. J. Snowden, The New Dynamics of Strategy: Sense-making in a complex and complicated world. IBM Systems Journal, 2003. “Organizations settle into stable symmetric relationships in known space and fail to recognize that the dynamics of the environment have changed until it is too late. The longer the period of stability and the more stable the system, the more likely it is for asymmetric threats or other factors to precipitate a move into chaos.
This phenomenon of grasping at order is common in people, governments, academia, and organizations of all sizes. Often the strongest dominant player in a market will continue with behavior long after its utility, perceived from a different perspective, is exhausted. Also, senior decision-makers and their policy advisors will find ways to fit reality into their existing models and will punish dissent, rather than face the fact that their models are outdated.”
9. Pablo Martin de Holan, Nelson Phillips, and Thomas B. Lawrence, Managing Organizational Forgetting, MIT Sloan Management Review, Winter 2004.
10. Amabile, Teresa M. The Intrinsic Motivation Theory of Creativity
11. Sternberg, ibid. “Creative ideas are novel and valuable, but often rejected because the creative innovator stands up to vested interests and defies the crowd. The crowd does not maliciously or willfully reject creative notions. Rather, it does not realize, and often does not want to realize, that the proposed idea represents a valid and advanced way of thinking; perceiving opposition to the status quo as annoying, offensive, and reason enough to ignore innovative ideas.”
12. Dorothy Leonard, Harvard Business School Faculty, in Fast Company Magazine.
13. Creating Public Value through State Arts Agencies, Mark H. Moore and Gaylen Williams Moore, 2005. If you'd like to have a copy of a summarized version of this work (Jerry's Notes), please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
14. “He's only 35, what could he know?” I was asked recently to speak at a conference to a group of arts leaders who I've known for years. I declined because of a conflict, but suggested several people (mostly younger) who've co-presented with me in the last few years. The planners decided to wait until I was available. While they knew that these younger speakers could present the material as effectively as I could, they did not think my peers would listen to someone younger or of lower stature in the field. (Jerry Yoshitomi was thirty-three years old when he became the executive director of the JACCC.)
15. Younger people may have also been more familiar with blog technology and might have used the format in a different way.
16. Power to the Edges — Trends and Opportunities in Online Civic Engagement, The E-Volve Foundation, http://www.atlantasymphony.org/calendar/ticketinfo/orbit.html
20. Anyone more than ten years younger than Jerry's fifty-seven years.
21. More information for each can be found at the following web sites:
Neill Archer Roan, http://www.neillarcherroan.com
Adrian Ellis, http://www.getty.edu/leadership/downloads/ellis.pdf
Maxwell Anderson, http://www.getty.edu/leadership/leader.html#metrics
Bill Phillips, http://www.rinstitute.org/Center4Outcomes/Publications.htm
Suzanne Callahan, http://www.forthearts.org/book.shtml
Kay Sprinkel Grace, http://stations.cpb.org/tv/grants/ff/02_pbs_dev_conf_keynote.html
Kinshasha Conwill, http://www.nyfa.org/files_uploaded/Pages_1-10.pdf
22. Enabling Knowledge Creation: How to Unlock the Mystery of Tacit Knowledge and Release the Power of Innovation, Georg Von Krogh, Ikujiro Nonaka, Kazuo Ichijo.
23. Kurtz and Snowden, ibid.
24. Kurtz and Snowden, ibid.
25. Leading Change, John Kotter. When I first saw this list, I photocopied it and taped it to my wall. Even before reading the book, this short list became a checklist for change.