Over Heads or Under the Table
The way I think through and solve problems is different. Good, but different, apparently. My contribution to boardroom meetings and planning sessions is either over heads or under the table. What does that mean? It really boils down to whether or not I am in a position to work through each element of an idea and illustrate how the idea attempts to solve the problem at hand, or if I propose an idea using general terms that avoid the mechanics of implementation. Maybe the best way to describe this ever-occurring event is through example.
A little over a year ago I sat in the basement of city hall, eagerly awaiting my turn to propose an idea for how the public art commission that I had recently joined could better engage the community. I suggested providing public art updates and information through various social media channels like Twitter and Facebook. I spent the next 15 minutes describing what a “tweet” was and how the “hashtag” or “pound” symbol could be used to virtually catalog and archive content. That suggestion was over many of my fellow commissioners’ heads. Had I simply suggested that we “explore alternative forms of communication to connect with members of the community,” I might have received a few smiles and nods in agreement and the next person would have been able to proceed with their suggestion. That would have been an under the table approach – a stealthy way of gauging support for a Twitter or Instagram account without having to spend time explaining what they are and how they work.
Of course, I became the designated “Tweeter,” which was fine for that particular instance. However, proposing an idea and taking the lead on implementation of that idea are not the same thing. I’ve had conversations with art administrators in their twenties about the internal conflict we sometimes face when being asked to contribute our ideas to older or more traditional-thinking groups. On one hand, there is a sense of pride in knowing that your novel opinion or perspective is valuable. Alternatively, an unusual or novel perspective can result in an automatic assumption that you are the leader, teacher, or implementer with regard to that idea. Knowing something and teaching something to someone else require very different skills and capacity.
So, yes, over heads or under the table. Young arts administrators have had to adapt to often being the youngest person in the room, the only digital native. If we’re quiet in the staff or board meeting during a discussion you might think is right up our alley, chances are we’re assessing the best way to chime in. Sometimes, I’m happy to teach and well caffeinated and found a close parking spot so I didn’t have to walk too far to the meeting. Those might be the times where I don’t mind explaining the meaning of “TBT” and “FBF” and “RG” on Instagram. Other times, I might withhold an idea for fear its implementation will be added to my already-heavy workload for that month since no one else would know where to start. Of course, I’d never say these things out loud. I might post a snarky photo on my Instagram coupled with a hashtag that only my friends and I know the meaning of, though.
The Emerging Leaders in Public Art Blog Salon is generously sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University.