Blog Posts for Social Change

Welcome to the Argument in My Head

Posted by Laura Zabel, Dec 03, 2012 3 comments

Laura Zabel

I believe deeply that the best solutions are local.

The work I admire most is deeply rooted in the community it serves. And it often takes years and years to know a community well enough to provide what it needs, to have the right network to make the work accessible to the people who want it and the cultural intuition to make the work resonate.

And I also believe you can always go deeper and always have more impact.

Springboard for the Arts has been in Minnesota for over 21 years and there is still so much more to do here—more ways we can reach new communities, more partners to work with, more issues to understand.

When it comes to cultural experiences I can’t think of an arts organization that should be worried about market saturation (said another way, I think we’ve got a long way to go before we’re reaching everyone, even in our own backyards). Not to mention the great benefit to remaining organizationally small, nimble, and responsive.

And yet. And yet…I also believe deeply in sharing. I know that by collaborating and sharing models that work, or ideas that inspire, we have the capacity to do much more together than we could ever do each toiling away in our own silos. And so, at Springboard we’ve decided we want both. We are both deepening our local presence AND scaling nationally.

We’ve spent the last two years talking, strategizing, experimenting, and piloting. And we’ve decided it’s not replication we’re after—it’s movement building.

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Hope is Vital...But Is It Scalable?

Posted by Michael Rohd, Dec 03, 2012 5 comments

Michael Rohd

In 1991, I founded a theater-based civic dialogue program in Washington, DC called Hope Is Vital. It brought a group of local teens and a group of HIV+ men who were receiving services at a center called Health Care for the Homeless into meaningful, productive collaboration with each other.

For 18 months, we created and conducted performance workshops all over the metro D.C. area for hundreds of young people focused on HIV/AIDS prevention and sexuality education. We worked at schools, youth shelters, correctional facilities, hospital drop-in clinics, churches, and afterschool programs.

After a period of challenging but immensely rewarding work, we felt that our approach—our model—could be useful in other places. The group gave me a mission: take our product, which was in fact a process, and try, at the age of 25, to head out into the world and spread the word.

Pre-email and pre-cellphone, I accepted the recklessly ambitious and well-meaning, impact-based, artistic necessity of scaling up. Community by community, program by program. I spent almost seven years doing that. I learned some things.

First, do the thing

In 1993, one of the first things I did was write Madonna a letter. I asked her to help fund our idea for a national network of programs like ours. Instant scalability via pop star. She was a big funder of HIV/AIDS prevention work back in the day, so it was only a half crazy gesture. Madonna did not write me back.

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Creative Change: Grow with the Flow!

Posted by Betsy Theobald Richards, Dec 03, 2012 2 comments

Betsy Theobald Richards

In the arts & social justice world, a plan for expanding impact is more than good business, it’s our roadmap for changing the world.

Infrastructure and funding for arts-for-change projects may be nascent, but as Jeff Chang and Brian Komar remind us in Culture Before Politics, creativity is the “most renewable, sustainable, and boundless of resources” with which we can capture the American imagination and plant seeds of social transformation.

Artists and cultural producers are the stewards of that renewable resource and we need to look out for and nurture their development as we plan for growth and impact.

On one level, growth can imply physical and financial increase for projects over time (bigger! more money!) but many of our leaders find themselves sleeping on couches, wearing multiple hats, under valuing their worth and staying up all night (you know who you are…) and thus, facing burn out while scaling up.

The other side of scaling up means that we can find ourselves prioritizing meetings, chasing operating support, and losing track of the nimbleness and creativity that is needed in the face of an election, a disaster, or an injustice.

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Does Size Matter? (or Welcome to Our Blog Salon on Scaling Up)

Posted by Joanna Chin, Dec 03, 2012 0 comments

Examples of scaling.

The notion of scaling up has gained currency as arts organizations, artists, and funders seek greater impact from their efforts and investments. The idea of sharing something that is effective so that the benefits can be experienced by more people is attractive, especially when something is producing good results.

One Story of Successful Scaling

A significant example of scaling up for the public good came to us just last week through a news update from one of Animating Democracy’s early grantees. Since its PBS broadcast in June 2008, Katrina Brown’s film, Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North has spawned a nonprofit, the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery, which has engaged thousands of people from all backgrounds in honest, productive dialogues about race, privilege, and the history of slavery, based on the story of Katrina's ancestors’ role in the slave trade in New England.

The news update cites a breathtaking array of ways the organization is reaching people—from a workshop for members of the Connecticut General Assembly and its staff to sharing the film and related work with thousands of attendees at the 77th Episcopal General Convention. Using the film’s narrative, the Center has reached across education, government, faith, and cultural sectors to make a difference on pervasive and persistent issues of race and class in America.

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STEM Promotes Science Instruction at the Expense of Humanities

Posted by Luis Martínez-Fernández, Nov 30, 2012 1 comment

Luis Martínez-Fernández

We need more engineers and scientists. That has become the mantra of promoters of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in education. There is nothing wrong with such a rallying cry, except that investment in STEM education usually comes at the expense of HAS (humanities, arts, and social sciences).

There is no arguing that inadequate science and mathematics education threatens the economic competitiveness of the United States.

It is no less true, however, that the neglect and systematic defunding of education in fields such as history, sociology and art history can have even more damaging repercussions. Damages include the creation of an uninformed citizenry and a concomitant erosion of democracy, and of a workforce unable to understand, communicate, and collaborate with people of different cultures in an increasingly diverse America and globalized world.

This, too, threatens America’s economic competitiveness.

The investment in science and technology, the desire for higher mathematical proficiency among school children, and implementation of programs to increase the number of graduating engineers are important goals but they are not a panacea.

Botanists and geneticists have succeeded at developing pest-resistant, high-yielding food crops but they have not been able to eradicate famine — world hunger is actually on the rise.

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Bold Partnership for Dallas Arts Orgs (from The pARTnership Movement)

Posted by Michael Granberry, Nov 29, 2012 1 comment

Dallas-based AT&T is putting its business acumen to work for five financially challenged arts organizations. The corporation will provide free oversight to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Opera, AT&T Performing Arts Center, Dallas Theater Center, and Dallas Summer Musicals.

The goal of the partnership is to stanch the financial bleeding that has plagued the organizations since the 2008 recession.

“The old economic business models are not working,” DSO chairman Blaine Nelson said. “Revenues are falling far short of costs and expenses.”

Financial woes have besieged the DSO, Dallas Opera, and Dallas Summer Musicals, which recently asked the city for money.

The partnership is designed to help the companies streamline operations and share numerous endeavors, while preserving their independence. It’s also aimed at quelling the fierce competition that has existed at times between the performing arts center and Dallas Summer Musicals, both of which present Broadway shows.

Nelson says that “donor heroics” are no longer a winning strategy. Donors are, he said, increasingly younger givers who have tired of “a bottomless pit” and the absence of a “sustainable business model.” They prefer to be seen, he said, as investors, not donors.

Nelson helped conceive the new model, called the Performing Arts Collaboration, which was first broached six months ago.

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