Jan
09

Tipping The Arts Into a Seismic Shift

This past week I have been thinking a lot about tipping points in the arts and how they may be about to set into motion a seismic shift of sweeping change.

By definition, a Tipping Point is the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.

It seems, three different boiling points concurrently are emerging in the arts. As I see it, these three can best be described through the lenses of physics, sociology and climatology.

In physics, a tipping point is the point at which an object is displaced from a state of stable equilibrium into a new, different state. The arts have been experiencing a growing displacement from a stable state into an extremely unstable one. The creation of You Tube, Facebook, itunes, Reality Television, and the Kindle and the Nook alone are replacing the need for live performance, the need for face to face interaction, diluting the value of music down from the purchase of “an album” to a .99 cent download, destroying quality art and cultural programing on television and transforming the publishing industry. And the list goes on.

And yet, I believe the instability and raging impact of the destabilization of the arts, much like the impact of deregulation to many industries, has lead us to another tipping point through the lens of sociology. In sociology a tipping point occurs when an event, which was considered previously a rare phenomenon, becomes dramatically more common. The arts are so routinely viewed as unstable that it has become a commonly held belief that they will never be the same and the only constant is change. Ben Cameron speaks eloquently to this very point as do Ken Robinson, Richard Florida, Dan Pink and others trying to respond with ways to create a new kind of stability- a new kind of normal.

My response has been to focus on arts entrepreneurship. And look at all the arts entrepreneurship courses and workshops springing up? Every day I get a google alert around the key words arts entrepreneurship. 4 years ago the alert generated more or less one a week, 3 years ago there was a few a week, 2 years ago there were several a week and today I receive a list of at least 25.

So, can we stabilize all this massive change and uncertainty into a stable state again? And to do this, does it require a seismic shift to create a new center for calm to exist? Is it even possible ever again to achieve?

I believe, to accomplish this requires a tipping point in climatology. This is the point in which the “global climate” changes irreversibly from one state to a new state.

Climatology to the arts, seems like the most important tipping point because it will produce a new stable global climate built on a broad base of consensus from funding sources as to what will support its creation and evolution.

And indeed this final tipping point has too recently begun to tip. Funding not for profits is tipping from charitable donating to investing. This tipping point, as it grows, will irreversibly alter our thinking (as well as vocabulary and actions) about how funders think about who we are and what they want us to accomplish with their funds. In the past, people were “donors” and their money was given as a charitable gift or contribution. Today, people invest (rather than donate) their philanthropic dollars. Consequently, this global climate shift is creating investors in the arts who are looking for the greatest return on their investment. This was clearly illustrated at this years Grantmakers in the Arts Conference, where Joi Ito, Creative Commons, delivered the lead keynote for the conference on how venture capital relates to grantmaking in the arts, and what lessons can be learned from VC’s habits of mind and the investments they make.

In fact, I believe it may be this tipping point of climatology, in combination with physics and sociology, that might be creating “the perfect storm” to lead us right now into a seismic shift for the arts.

On the 31st of January, The IAE will be meeting in Washington with folks from State Department, The Aspen Institute, Americans for The Arts, The Beckman Institute for Interdisciplinary Research and The University of Illinois School of Art+Design to discuss how to set in motion the mission/vision statement of The IAE. While no one organization alone can transform the arts, the powerful impact of this team could be seismic.

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