The New Normal

Posted by Ebony McKinney, Apr 06, 2010 3 comments

“… it might be smart if we consider – both as isolated, individual organizations, and as a sector – what a “new normal” for us might actually end up looking like. If things don’t (can’t) go back to the way they were, then to the extent we anticipate what changes might be here to stay, the better we might be able to adjust and adapt to some new paradigm.” --Barry Hessenius in a recent post, Will Current Cuts End Up Permanent

Shifting patterns of cultural creation and consumption, increased digital technology, changing demographics and new leadership (or organizational) models have altered the cultural landscape in permanent and previously unseen ways. The door has been opened more widely for individuals of all ages to create, connect, distribute, and engage in community-based and entrepreneurial work. Many believe that the highly adaptive “Millennials” and “Generation X’ers”, are best suited to address these tectonic shifts.

So, let’s take a minute and imagine the new normal. What does it look and feel like? What are the new rules for our organizations, for the sector, for us? Perhaps, this downturn is an opportunity for broad, creative thinking about change in the arts and culture field, it’s leadership, marketing and financial structures? What are 21st century core competencies?

In the future will employers begin to make up for notoriously modest non-profit paychecks with contracts that include flex time for work that furthers your artistic practice and raises the profile of your employer? Or will wages become more competitive?

How might more sophisticated use of office technology, including virtual file sharing, Google wave, and the Cultural Data Project change the way business is done?

Will the Emerging Leader Network’s “circle of influence” help replace the hierarchies that we are used to, and allow us to have deeper and more meaningful collaborations and partnerships across the country? Will shared leadership or co-leadership models rise in popularity to cope with unwieldy executive director positions? Could two-way, intergenerational mentorship help to bridge knowledge gaps, in both traditional and cutting-edge skills? Is a more holistic culture of learning possible? Achievable? Desirable?

What new organizational models will catch on? Will novel enterprise solutions, like Artists for Humanity (AFH) in Boston, MA  or the Community Rejuvenation Project in Oakland, CA begin to be seen as a grounding element of arts and economic development and community revitalization efforts?* Art Works, right?

Here in the Bay, we look forward to testing ideas through this new network. We”ll experiment with technology, income generation and program models in the months ahead. We’ll also generate related user-generated content as we tap deeper into our social capital. We’ll invest in this energetic coalition of the willing and hopefully they will continue to invest in the network. We believe that support of this type will make a real difference to the long-term success, realignment and evolution of the sector. Now is the time to define our own theory of change, desired role and impact. Ready for a new normal?

Reset. Go.

*Since 1990 AFH has provided creative jobs for creative inner city teens. With AFH, youth apprentices collaborate on creative projects with mentors and learn leadership and entrepreneurial skills. The Community Rejuvenation Project is a squad of muralists and outreach workers who cultivate healthy communities through beautification, education, and celebration.

3 responses for The New Normal


Brian M says
April 07, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Very thought provoking. I agree that the rate of change presents organizations with the opportunity to test different business models and then adapt accordingly.

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Mr. Michael W. Bigley says
April 07, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I'm hopeful that the outcomes of the current economic issues that everyone has faced recently will help to develop this lack of normalcy and start the forward thinking that is so necessary for the nonprofit sector. As a grantmaker, I've been hearing a lot about strategies that are being implemented by groups trying to survive. One theater company told me they needed to slash a good chunk of their budget, and opened themselves up to any staff member who had something to say. It was the "next generation's" ideas that were seen as solutions. Perhaps those voices can continue to shout out to help change the face of nonprofits as we know it.

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April 06, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Perhaps the new normal is a lack of normalcy. Perhaps the future of the arts sector is one of constant change. Perhaps the best way to equip ourselves for the new normal is to become advocates of conceptual change—not just once, but systematically again and again and again and again.

That being the case, what are the cognitive demands that will be placed upon tomorrow's cultural leaders, how do we foster these capacities... and when can we get started already?

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