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Thinking Caps Ignited

Set those thinking caps ablaze impress your friends with newfound knowledge and wit after processing these brain ticklers:

How to have a conversation:

What makes a good conversationalist has changed little over the years. The basics remain the same as when Cicero became the first scholar to write down some rules, which were summarised in 2006 by The Economist: “Speak clearly; speak easily but not too much, especially when others want their turn; do not interrupt; be courteous; deal seriously with serious matters and gracefully with lighter ones; never criticise people behind their backs; stick to subjects of general interest; do not talk about yourself; and, above all, never lose your temper.” But Cicero was lucky: he never went on a first date with someone more interested in their iPhone than his company.

 Future tense, VII: What’s a museum:

Yet if today’s museums are successful cultural caterers with wide-ranging menus, no matter where we find them, their fare manages to taste more and more the same. A handful of the same celebrity architects now designs new wings and even whole museum cities such as Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. Facilities in Spain, Boston, the Middle East, and Los Angeles all look different in the same way. An international class of museum professionals job-hops among Beijing, Paris, New York, and Qatar spreading a common corporate culture, where top directors are expected to command million-dollar salaries, oversee thousands of employees, fund-raise, invest and spend endowments on massive expansions, horse-trade the assets on the walls to create blockbuster shows that can attract headline-making crowds, and spin these activities to the press.

How To Be Creative:

But creativity is not magic, and there’s no such thing as a creative type. Creativity is not a trait that we inherit in our genes or a blessing bestowed by the angels. It’s a skill. Anyone can learn to be creative and to get better at it. New research is shedding light on what allows people to develop world-changing products and to solve the toughest problems. A surprisingly concrete set of lessons has emerged about what creativity is and how to spark it in ourselves and our work.

 Building a Better Apocalypse:

On Chris Hackett’s personal periodic table, the world’s most interesting, and abundant, substance is an element he calls obtainium. Things classified as obtainium might include the discarded teapot that he once turned into a propane burner, or the broken beer bottle he used to make a razor, or the 9-millimeter shell casings he acquired some time ago, melted in a backyard foundry (also made of obtainium) and cast into brass knuckles for a girlfriend.

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You made it to graduate school…now what?

You have made a decision, and perhaps a leap of faith, to go to graduate school. You do your research, visit some schools, talk to faculty and current students, apply and get accepted into your dream program. Voila. You are now a student in an arts management program (in my case, at American University in Washington, D.C.)

Now what?

There is no perfect recipe for success that works for everyone but here are a few tips and advices from some brilliant and passionate arts professionals as well as from my personal (well, professional) experience:

1. START FROM YOUR ACADEMIC PROGRAM

You are likely to meet people from various very interesting professional backgrounds in your graduate program. Start with this inner circle. For example, my classmates include a database manager for a non-profit, a development associate at a museum, an orchestra manager, a stage manager, a music teacher, and an actor/ director of a theatre group etc., and they have 0 to over 20 years of experience in the field. Not only you can learn from their experiences and share your own, you can also meet their friends and colleagues and expand your circle.

Another circle that you might not think of immediately is the alumni network of your program. In our case, we not only have an active email listserv of current students and alumni from the program, we also have an active Facebook group that news articles, arts issues, and events etc are posted by current students, alumni and sometimes professors. These alumni have been in your program and made their interests and passions into their careers. Learn from them – from course recommendations to where to eat in town, from job searches to which conferences to go to, they are a wealth of knowledge that you ought to take advantage of, then you can pay it forward to future students when you are out in the real world (again).

Another “inner circle” not to neglect is your program faculty. Schedule meetings with them or take them out for coffee, then learn about their experiences and tell them what you are interested in. You may not wish to teach in graduate school in the future but these professors most likely have connections in the field or were arts managers prior to becoming professors. They can give great advice in where to begin looking and networking as well as make introductions to help you get to where you wish to be.

 

2. EMERGING (INSERT FIELD) PROFESSIONAL GROUPS

For some people, going to graduate school requires moving to a new city or even a new country. If that is the case, networking is like killing two birds with one stone. You meet a group of like-minded professionals who most likely understand your pains and gains of working (or the desire to do so) in the arts. They have been there and done that. Introduce yourself to them (do you have an elevator speech yet?) and ask them about how they get to where they are. They are usually happy to share with you their experiences and give advice, and sometimes lend a hand in making introductions and even letting you know about job openings in their institutions.

In Washington D.C., networking opportunities are endless. Emerging Arts Leaders DC(in affliation with Americans for the Arts) and, if you are interested in working in museums, the D.C. Emerging Museum Professionals are two of the many active professional groups in town with multiple events each month. Get involved!

Although there isn’t a school requirement for you to go to an EALDC networking First Friday lunch or a DCEMP happy hour, I suggest you to go whenever you can as these informal conversations often lead you to people and opportunities that you might not have expected.

Feeling a little too shy for impromptu conversations at happy hours? Go to the career development events with less talking and more listening then. I recently attended a DCEMP career development workshop on interview skills – not only I learnt a lot about interviewing, I also got to meet some great people, most of them either looking for their first jobs out of graduate school or those who are looking to transition into a new area in the field.

 

3. CONFERENCES, SYMPOSIUMS, LECTURES, WEBINARS…YOU NAME IT

Are you more of a listener and need a little warming up before you feel like networking? You have got plenty of options as well! Look for conferences, symposiums, webinars and colloquia online and ask around for recommendations. Good places to start looking are websites of Americans for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums, and other graduate programs in your area.

I have attended and volunteered at many of such events and have met so many great people and learnt so much that I cannot possibly explain in one blog entry. Many conferences offer student discounts, scholarships and fellowships so do not let the registration price tag deter you. If all else fails, there is always the option of volunteering for a conference. Trust me, it never hurts to ask, the worst answer you can get is a “no” but you might just met your new friend or mentor from that conversation. You can often volunteer for one day of a conference to be able to register for a discounted price or for free for the rest of the conference. My experiences from these conferences have always been very positive, and I highly recommend volunteering to anyone new to the arts world.

Got a full-time job and a big student loan or simply don’t have time to travel? Again, fret not, there are still many ways to get involved. There are often affordable (or free) webinars, webcasts of panels and conferences, webchats, tweetups and slideshows available for view online. Good places to look are Guidestar, Foundation Center, idealist, National Arts Marketing Project etc, in addition to the websites mentioned above.

The arts management program at American University hosts the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium annually right before Americans for the Arts’ Arts Advocacy Days. This year, the Symposium will be held on Sunday, April 15, 2012. Participants from DC and around the country have always said it’s a great opportunity to meet current leaders in the field (who are usually speakers and panelists) as well as to network with other emerging professionals.  Registration is currently available online here and we sure hope to see you this April!   

 

4. INFORMATIONAL INTERVIEWS

If you are ready for some one-on-one time with people in positions you dream to be in, it is time for some informational interviews. For example, if you aspire to be a gallery director, visit galleries and do research on directors and managers of these galleries. Meet them at an open house or send them an email to ask if you can meet them for coffee or in their office to ask a few (well-prepared) questions about their professional experiences.

I recently did an informational interview with a director of a gallery that I would love to work for in the future and it was just a great experience chatting with him and learning about how he got to where he is now. These chats will help you prepare for better-focused job searches and better-prepared interviews. Although I do not see myself being a registrar or collections manager of a museum in the future, I had an informational interview with a collections manager at one of the art museums at the Smithsonian (whom I met at one of the conferences) to better understand the work of her department, as well as how it fits into the greater picture of museum management. And I came out of the meeting having learnt those things and more. In short, keep an open mind and do not let someone’s job title determine your interest – you might learn something you do not expect in each encounter!

Hopefully these tips are helpful to you, my fellow colleagues-in-training. Do share your experiences in networking in the comments below. Good luck with your journey ahead and hope to see you at the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium this April 15!

Gallery Artist Elizabeth Grusin-Howe

Artist Elizabeth Grusin-Howe

The Studio Gallery on R St has graciously allowed the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium to host a benefit for the past two years.  In doing so, they have exposed our patrons to the wonderful world of local artists.  The Studio Gallery features American and International artists residing in the greater Washington, DC Metro Area who are as diverse as they are talented.  The Gallery also takes part in First Fridays, a coordinated open house of the galleries on R St.

I had the opportunity to attend this past month’s open house and to my delight found a new medium of visual artistry.  I also met the artist who created these works which will be exhibited during our EALS Benefit Reception.  Featured on the first floor of the Gallery, Elizabeth Grusin-Howe’s work is, from every angle and lighting possible, in a word: stunning.

Basillica de San Marco, 2011 - Courtesy of E. Grusin-Howe

Although I am not myself a visual artist, I know true art when I see it (or should I say feel).  Her collection of prints inspire and remind without unnecessary nostalgia attached.  The works are created starting with a photograph, then are transformed with a process involving layers of wax and powders.  This layering and finishing gives the prints the appearance of eternity, an otherworldly effect that relates not to your outright self, but the inward expressive self.

View from the Campanile, Venice, 2012 - Courtesy of E. Grusin-Howe

 

Pictures of these works do not do justice to the emotive quality and vibrancy they produce.  While there are many prints of the same original photograph, the treatment with which Grusin-Howe applies varies the feeling and the purpose of the piece.  A few works are done in burnt-orange and sienna wax and powder that you see to the left, and above – which give these an unusual quality of familiarity while remaining intangible.

Basilica di San Marco, 2011 - Courtesy of E. Grusin-Howe

Grusin-Howe’s work invites the audience to transport themselves to an alternate reality.  I can remember as a child wanting to make the old new again, whether that be by polishing silver until it shone or repurposing old clothing.  What Grusin-Howe has done is similar – making the old new but in a not so gentle fashion.  Her work, though incredibly pleasing to the eye is challenging to thought.  With the introduction of blues and silvers, Grusin-Howe opens a world of stark contrast and transparency.

Laguna Veneta, 2012 - Courtesy of E. Grusin-Howe

 

I had the chance to chat with Elizabeth about her work and the upcoming EALS Benefit Reception.  When I spoke to her I asked what her favorite work in the exhibition was.  (To me that would have been impossible to decide).  Her answer was, “They’re all my babies, but if I had to chose, it would be this one [featured at left].  It’s serene.”  And serene it is, this piece along with many others are immersive.  She has created dreamscapes from reality and asked us to step into them.  The subtlety of her inquiry is not light, as it is impossible to be disenchanted by these prints.

You can see all of these prints and many others from the collection at the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium Benefit coming up on February 25th from 8PM – 10PM.  Tickets include an open wine bar, hor d’oeuvres, live jazz, creative conversation, and of course access to a collection of art that you will remember for years to come.

Please purchase your tickets now at: http://ealsbenefit.eventbrite.com/

All proceeds support EALS.

Turning bad behavior in your favor

Artists want their work to stir emotion, to inspire or to captivate. But, what do we do when our art inspires negative reactions? How should art managers handle turmoil?

This question was recently brought to mind after reading an unbelievable story that unfolded at the Clyfford Still Museum. This incident happened in my Colorado homeland; the same state that brought you a woman who drove all the way from Montana to Northern Colorado to take a crowbar to a controversial lithograph.

The Denver Post describes the bizarre turn of events that happened in late December: “A 36-year-old Denver woman, apparently drunk, leaned against an iconic Clyfford Still painting worth more than $30 million last week, punched it, slid down it and urinated on herself, according to a criminal case against Carmen Lucette Tisch.”

Now, this is not the stand-back-in-awe response most gallery owners hope their attendees have. In response to this off-the-map behavior, the museum issued a professional statement about the event. Now the lingering question I had was, was this reticence the best response? The museum, which just opened in 2011, received national coverage because of the horrific incident. Was there a way they could have spun the story in their own favor to encourage more people to experience Still’s masterpieces first-hand –  with hopefully more favorable responses?

How would you have handled it?

Rose Parade 2012 – Art Promoting Art

After waking up at 3:15AM this morning, driving 2 hours to Pasadena, and waiting in a 57 minute line for a cup of Starbucks coffee; I enjoyed two hours of full sunshine in the Grandstands on Colorado Blvd.  That’s right, basking in the 80 degree weather at the 123rd Annual Rose Parade.

First let me say that the Parade was wonderful, and as a California native, it was on my bucket list.  The bands were awesome, the spirits were high, and the floats were far enough away as to not set off my allergies.  There were a total of 44 floats this year and 23 trophies (it is a competition after all).  While there were floats that were obviously marketing their sponsor’s product (ahem – Paramount and XBox), others went more toward the theme of imagining – one included a wave pool for doggie surfers (that won the Extraordinaire Trophy).

LA Concept Drawing

The cities in the upper LA basin usually enter a float each year in support of the parade and to encourage tourism.  With the budget cuts in the SoCal area, I sadly report that there were fewer cities represented this year than in all previous years.  To give you an idea of the floats, La Canada had three pigs in a wooden rocket ship which won the Bob Hope Humor Award and the City of Glendale had a pretty elephant harnessed to a carriage, but both had nothing to do with the events of either city.

LA Parade Float

The City of Los Angeles, in stark contrast, chose to promote the new (and amazing) dinosaur exhibit at the LA Natural History Museum.  The float prominently featured the LANHM building, the logo, and three fantastical dinosaurs (also the only of the parade).  The float went on to win the Crown City Innovation Trophy for best use of imagination and innovation to advance the art of float design.  Not only advancing the art of float design, but advancing art itself – even if it is prehistoric.

My question is:  How many of you saw the dino’s this morning?

That’s effective marketing.

Getting Naked in the Nude

In today’s NYTimes article “An Unblushing Career of Undressing Women” Karen Rosenberg takes a look at the show “Degas and the Nude,” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She suggests the show explores how to Degas, “the academic nude, the prostitute, the dancer and the bather were essentially the same woman. The naked body was a constant; what changed, from picture to picture, was society.”

Society continues to change and as time marches on the historical art relics we hold so dear begin to change to us. Any student of Art History 101 knows in the art world context is used to explain everything. We absorb details about the lives, times and technology that these past great minds lived and operated in. What we increasingly fail to look at, however, is how theses pieces can still speak to us without the trappings of “meaning” or the rationalization of history.

How will we as emerging arts leaders deal with our artistic past? When we present complicated or historic works that were created in times so different from our own are we required to present extra information to explain to our audiences how to react? What to feel?

I’m glad for a glimpse at this side of Degas, often we allow our audiences to pigeon hole great artists past by their most popular and palatable work instead of viewing them within the context of our time as well as theirs.

Visitor Participation

Back in March the fabulous Nina Simon posted in her fantastic blog Museum 2.0 about the San Diego Museum of Natural History‘s simple participatory post-it note experiment by guest posters,  the museum’s exhibit team—Kim Blackford, Cary Canning, Margi Dykens, Michael Field, Erica Kelly, Jim Melli, Mary Lou Morreal, Tim Murray, Josh Payne, and Michael Wall.

The premise of “Case by Case” is pretty simple: put objects on display with no label and provide the visitor with an opportunity to ask questions and/or make observations about the objects. Our exhibits group knocked around ideas for mechanisms of audience feedback. In the end, we went with sticky notes, pencils and plenty of wall space. We knew that we risked off-topic and off-color remarks but felt that the feedback would be more genuine (and useful) than mechanisms that controlled vocabulary (i.e., magnetic poetry). Plus, the implementation is dead simple.
As emerging arts leaders we’re always looking for ways to invite our visitors in, increase participation, think this is a successful method?

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