Monday, January 29, 2007

Waiter there is a fly in my soup.

We are a catalytic organization. Board and staff of the Alliance are passionate about seeing the Central Florida arts and culture community prosper. As I mentioned last week, we have bigger appetites than what we can consume in regards to serving the community we love. Or, as my grandmother used to say "our eyes are bigger than our stomach." Many of you have been patient with the deliverables of the Red Chair Project awareness campaign. Its goal is to increase participation. For most of our arts and culture community, that can't happen fast enough as we all work with tight budgets and limited human resources. Success for us is when a sold-out house witnesses a story well told, either on the stage or on the canvas.

I hope that under my tutelage we have set a tone of openness that you can always bring your suggestions, opinions and even your complaints. We even welcome praise when warranted. Even when it feels like you might be overstating the obvious, like the fly in your soup to the waiter, know that we want to hear from you. Now, the best comments or opinions are those that also carry a solution to said problem, but we are open to all constructive criticism. Recently, an email was sent out to a large portion of the arts and culture community. Artists, patrons and administrators were sent a message that criticized the Red Chair Project. Like I said, I have no problem with constructive criticism. This email, however, was full of assumptions, opinions and numerous incorrect statements that forged the criticism.

I have been down this road before, so it wasn't new, but one thing struck a chord with me that I won't tolerate. We were accused of not being a collaborative organization. You can say many things, but not collaborating is not one of them. Our entire culture, our mission and our accomplishments all point to not only fostering collaboration, but living it from our core. I would always prefer solution-based criticism over empty criticism, but if you are going to tell us how to do something better, don't hit below the belt with school yard name calling.

I have tough skin, but if you don't have the respect and confidence to go to the very source you are criticizing to ask questions before sending out mass emails that are purely false and do more damage than good, you are acting out the very accusation you claim we are not. You are tearing down instead of building up. It is hard enough to survive in our community, but circling the wagons and shooting in is not going to advance anything. If you see a fly in your soup, tell us.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Mile wide, inch deep

I have faults. I know. I know. This comes as a surprise to many of you. But, it is true. In fact, I have more liabilities than one blog has time to reveal (just ask my wife Shantel). Let's just tackle one. In directing the Performing Arts Alliance, one fault particularly rears its ugly head. I love to serve and see our arts and culture community grow. That isn't the problem. The fault lies in my desire and belief that I can do more than resources allow. If I can see how something could progress and ultimately work, then ergo I should be able to accomplish it. Problem is within our emerging cultural community, we have so many needs that I don't know which hole in the dam to plug first and we start to drown. I am extremely confident that we have answered the right call and are headed in the right direction with programs like Red Chair Project and Orlando Arts Getaway, designed to advance our community's awareness and eventual audience development. Here is where my fault comes into play. We haven't let go of so many programs from the past, so we are spread way too thin, not allowing us to go deep into greatness with any one thing. All of the programs are "needed" on some level, but the choice lies in what has the greatest impact when resources are minimal. We still are facility managers for example, acting as landlord over the Theatre Garage and as a mentor to many young performing companies new to producing while using the Studio Theatre. We birthed the Downtown Arts District and should have given all facilities-related programs over to them at that point. We didn't. We did stop producing the Spotlight on Theatre convention, but we kept some of its guts like the Unified Auditions and Play-in-a-Day. We made the decision last year to not produce Play-in-a-Day as it Shakespeare's Playfest is a better place for it. We have attempted to be all things to all people. I take the blame. The adage is that you can't fix a problem unless you first confess that you have a problem. Done. The fixing is in progress and couldn't happen soon enough. Be on the look out for a new vision and mission, along with a new name and branding from the Alliance. We are going to eliminate some things to focus deeper on others. We asked for feedback late last year and much of the feedback from constituents echoed what I am saying. I'll continue pushing our arts and culture community to work together in a positive and solution-based format, but I am also going to be a lot more frugal in accepting what we can do with our very limited resources. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Performing Arts vs. Visual Arts

Performing Arts clearly is better and deserves more attention than the visual arts. Right? I mean we must take full advantage of our strength of drawing more people to our performances than visual arts attract to a gallery opening or museum exhibit. We have stronger economic impact and thus should stop this idea of working together and simply muscle our way into the position of attracting more money from both public and private sources. This is the rally call. Our time is over due! O.K., enough with the poor attempt for over-the-top humor. If you haven't read the Orlando Sentinel story "Groups differ on artistic vision" from January 7, where Betsey Maupin updates the status of the Downtown Arts District, you may not even understand why I am bringing up this subject. Betsey did a great job summarizing the Downtown Arts District and its major project, the CityArts Factory, but apparently to some it came across that I was drawing a line saying performing arts deserves more attention than visual arts. As a point of clarification, my point was not about which art is better or worse in the capacity of content or preference, but instead my comments focused on building an arts district. I have studied and been intimately involved in working on building an arts district in downtown Orlando for over five years and know that building arts districts are specific to each city. Some arts districts are focused entirely on the visual arts with blocks dedicated to galleries. Some have a mixture of both performing arts venues and galleries. My point is that from a pure audience development stand point, the performing arts by their very nature draw more people to their venue than a gallery. Museums are a different discussion. My other point is that the Downtown Arts District has spent money forming and building galleries disproportional to the performing arts in downtown Orlando when the audiences from SAK, the Studio Theatre and Mad Cow far outweigh the audiences from visual arts downtown to date. That doesn’t even include the Bob Carr performances. The Alliance works from the heartbeat of figuring out ways to work collaboratively on everything it pursues. We are in fact going to be expanding our vision to include all arts and culture which is evident from our focus on the Red Chair Project and Orlando Arts Getaway. The Alliance and OVAL had a joint Holiday party recently that was great at bringing together artists from all sectors. It clearly isn't about who is better or worse as art and culture speak stories into humanity on various levels. We will continue to work on ways to sustain and grow arts participation in arts and culture in our region. The focus should be on convincing both the public and private sectors of the value of growing participation in the arts and culture community. The resources are extremely limited right now, so it is easy to fight over the pieces of pie. Let's work on making the pie bigger. Did somebody say pie? It must be lunch time.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Why dad?

Dylan, my 3 1/2 year-old is in the "why" mode of life. I attempt on many occasions to be the omniscient dad only to realize each time that the cycle has no end, not to mention that attempting to fill the Almighty's role is tiring. I can only imagine how fascinating the world must be to my son right now as he soaks up information like a sponge. Everything is fresh. We all know how hard it is to keep that fresh quest for knowledge as we encounter set backs and disappointments during our lifetimes. Personally, I know I have a bent toward the cynical, so I surround myself with 0ptimistic people. The best decision I ever made was to marry the most positive person I have ever met, so she truly keeps me in check. My son is actually teaching me to look at the world from a more novel perspective. When looking at our emerging arts community, my biggest "why"question is why more of our arts groups don't ask more questions? Oh, we have plenty of opinions (me included) and assumptions, but truly asking the questions not only to obtain the right answers, but to truly get closer as a community could improve greatly. An artistic director at one of our theatres said that he hasn't seen the audience base for theatre patrons grow since he has been here for 10 years and doesn't expect that it will grow. When I asked him why he thought that was, he just said that he felt that this market just isn't arts savvy. Is that true or have we not used the right channels to reach a new and broader audience? The old adage is if we keep acting in the same manner that we can't expect change. It is like the person who expects to lose weight, but doesn't change poor eating habits. We just launched It is one step to use a different approach to cmmunicate the assets we have as arts community. My biggest disappointment is that instead of engaging the possibilities with questions, many arts groups have chosen to engage in assumptions or not engage at all. Recently seven groups got together to offer a Real Orlando Real Art, a "hopper pass" type package to their events to give potential new audiences a way to experience several types of organizations. That is the fantastic result of asking a question and then searching for a new approach to address it. That is the novel approach. Let's take a page from a 3 1/2 year-olds perspective. Ask questions.