Adapting to Massive Cultural Change

What is the purpose of art if we don’t have audiences who embrace us? Art only exists in relation to the audiences we serve. We need to stop thinking the world is not good enough for “us.”  Listen to this great key note speech by Diane Ragsdale,  at the Arts Alliance Illinois 2010 Members’ Meeting and Reception on June 21 at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, Illinois. Diane offers some great ideas of ways arts organizations can survive and thrive in today’s cultural environment.

Diane served until July, 2010, as associate program officer in the Performing Arts Program at The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, overseeing all theater and dance grants. This speech has lots of great content. Its 41 minutes. If you prefer to read it click here.

About Diane
Prior to joining the Mellon foundation in 2004, Ragsdale served as managing director of the contemporary performing arts center, On the Boards (Seattle, WA) and executive director of a destination music festival in Sandpoint, ID, leading both organizations through successful turnarounds. Prior work also includes stints at several film and live arts festivals, including the Sundance Film Festival; the Seattle Film Festival; Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD USA; and Bumbershoot, Seattle’s Arts Festival. Ragsdale has worked as a communications and planning consultant for both nonprofits and for-profits, as adjunct faculty at Boise State University (in the Department of Theater Arts), and, early in her career, as an actor, director, and independent producer. She earned a B.S. in psychology and B.F.A. in theater from Tulane University, an M.F.A. in acting and directing from the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and attended the 2002 Executive Program for Nonprofit Leaders at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business (a program of National Arts Strategies). She is currently enrolled part-time as a PhD student (in cultural economics) at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and has recently begun researching the impact of economic forces on U.S. nonprofit regional theaters since the early 80s. Her article “Recreating Fine Arts Institutions,” was published in the fall 2009 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review.
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  • Joan

    The talk was clear, thank god for a non-massaged arts talk. I have a few thoughts.

    Governments are the ones that slashed financing for the arts in public schools everywhere therefore creating in 30 years, societies that had NO intention of helping the “common” person speak in or understand the conscious meaningful language of the arts. It would be part of the education of the rich and powerful. That is the ONLY cultural change in the past 30 years, and it is a cold, calculated, political, subtraction, not a cultural evolution.

    The addition of computing and cyberspace should have added and pushed forward serious arts education IF they were still being taught practically and seriously from Kindergarten on up to grade 12. By college it would be presumed that students would be practicing their own personal art making and might receive gigantic student reductions on all their arts tickets. The relevence of a work of art is up to the composers, writers, painters, and not up to the actors, instrumentalists, managers or marketers. A building is a building, and in a pinch,
    anything with 4 walls and a roof will do. In a pinch. But putting money into a great theatre or concert hall doesn’t change the nature of what art is. Preventing people from doing it does.

    Maybe one could say that arts managers need to take more risks in the arts they program, pay attention to how people are communicating these days. But as I said, those are additional pieces of info. The BIG gigantic task now is to, once again, gently teach children (by doing) to speak their own meaning or anxieties into journals, music making, drama, dance and painting, ask them to paint or sing or write poetic solutions to the crises in their worlds, and gradually teach them the more technically and universally “built” works of expression in the arts as they get older. Then, when these kindergarten kids are adults, NO ONE will have to market the arts to them. They will know in their hearts and in their guts and in their limbs and in their minds how to say those things which money cannot buy or make. they will want to see what the professionals have to say and they will not be uncomfortable with the languages, the buildings, or the messages. There is no iceberg and no future accident because there currently is no Titanic, no passenger ship. It’s almost disappeared as though it never was. If there was an iceberg, it was the political slash and burn that hit the ship of arts 30 years ago, and, to mix a metaphor, like the frog in boiling water, we never noticed the collision until now.

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