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"to fail and fail big" In Action: Are you afraid of failing?

Tue, 2014-04-15 14:53
by Jennifer Wright Cook

Are you afraid of failing?

I am the mid-career, middle-aged leader of a mid-sized, mid-career arts service organization.

I am afraid of failing.

I do many things to protect myself and my organization from failing.

Some of these things are super strategic and 100% in line with how I want to be in the world.

Some of these things are less than 100% in line with how I want to be in the world.  For instance…

I try not to piss of funders.  I hold my tongue.  I go to events when I am too tired but there is someone there I have to schmooze.  I go after grants that aren’t totally appropriate to our mission.  I underbid our work because maybe that will make our bid more competitive.  I squeeze general operating money from every project and every nook and cranny.

Where there is money, there is power.  I am afraid of not having power.  I am afraid of being on the outs.

But I can afford to fail. Here is some full disclosure:

I have a salary and health insurance.  My partner makes more money than I do.  My parents are healthy.  I own my apartment. I have no education debt.  I have no kids.  I will inherit some money.  I have an IRA.

I have financial stability and familial resilience that can protect me from falling off the cliff.  

Still, I am afraid of failing.

Here’s the rub:  I am beginning to think that the ways I protect myself and my organization from failing actually hurt me and us in the long run.

They hurt us because we just keep it all status quo, humming along, everything’s fine and dandy. We aren’t honest about what’s not working.  So no one ever really knows the truth.  We stagnate.

We never really have enough.  Not enough time or money.   Everything is under-resourced.  

We get some things done but never really as bold or big or transformative as we hope.  Good enough, but not HUGE.  Not unbelievably forceful pushy radically HUGE.

The longer I am in this non-profit arts business, the longer that an organization exists, the harder it seems to push against these fears.  Maybe because I/we have more to lose now. Maybe because no one wants to be the one that pulls the plug.

But we all have something to lose, always.  So maybe it’s more about our perspective, or our relationship to losing, or failure, or gain.

What would YOU do if you weren’t afraid of failing? 

What would YOU do if we were unabashedly fearless?

Tell us on FaceBook!

"to fail and fail big" In Action: Let's Get Married!

Tue, 2014-03-18 15:01

-  Jennifer Wright Cook
Our recent blog posts talked about the Funders’ Edition of “to fail and fail big” that we hosted last fall 2013.  There’s a lot to share about that event; so here’s Part Three.
One of the topics we unpacked at the Funders’ Edition was Project Funding (i.e., money that supports a specific artistic project).
Page 24 of “to fail and fail big” suggests that artists can risk more artistically if funders give them multi-year grants that are artist-specific and not project-specific.  What does that mean?  It means that funders should give gen op grants to specific artists/companies for several committed years. What does “gen op” mean? Gen op grants are ones that can be used to pay for your general operations – essentially everything from artists’ fees to rent to health insurance to design fees to your accountant.  Project grants, typically, can only be used for direct project expenses (artists’ fees, space rental, props, costumes, etc).
Gen op grants are kinda like being in a committed stable relationship.
Project specific grants are kinda like dating.  (Ok, stick with me here.)
In dating there can be these big moments of dinner and dancing and moonlit walks. You are wooing and being wooed! It’s huge and thrilling (or sucky and ego-killing). 
But in dating there’s nobody at home to help clean up the cat vomit; no one to hold the chair when you change a light bulb in the ceiling lamp; no one to lie in bed with you and talk about your hopes and fears and kids and dying and politics! 
Project grants tend to support the BIG SEXY STUFF (the premiere! the original score! the uber talented actors!). 
Gen op grants help support the whole shebang of YOU and your art-making world.   They are an investment in you.
Project grants tend to support the artistic product. 
Gen op grants support the artistic process. Like a committed partner, a gen op grant invests in you and your vision, your being.  They are there for you when the going gets rough.
Now, why can multi-year gen op grants help artists risk more, be more resilient, feel more supported and ultimately, maybe, produce “better” work?
You can risk more when you know that someone is in it with you.  
You can risk more when you feel stable. 
You can risk more when you know the rent and health insurance bills can be paid.  You can grow more when you know that someone trusts you and your process.
So what did the funders at our Funders’ Edition table say about when we asked them if they could get married (i.e., give multi-year gen op grants to artists)?  Not so much. 
“We can’t really do that… We can only do one type of grant…..our bylaws, our mission, our Trustees, our processes, etc are strict…..We just can’t.” 
Aha?  Change is hard.  The status quo is easy to maintain. Getting married is scary.  Don’t rock the boat.  Just do what you’ve always done.  Then you don’t have to go out on any limb.  You don’t have to risk critique or judgment.   
Aha again!  Funders are people too!  They are just as afraid of failing (or risking) as the rest of us. They have bosses and Boards etc who can fire them or make their lives difficult.   
But some funders push against this fear and push for change in the grant-making system.  At our Funders’ Edition the perspicacious Ben Cameron of Doris Duke Charitable Foundation reminded funders that they can go HYBRID!  They can offer project grants with some gen op money attached!  MAP Fund does this already!  Duke does it too of course.  The Pew in Philly is doing it now it seems!
Can more funders do it?  Yes, they can!  Or at least they can assert in their applications and budgets that 15-20% expenses should/can be gen op-related.
Now, of course, sometimes dating is key.  You need to test things out, meet lots of people, see who you are in different scenarios.  You need to learn who you are and what you want and feel confident. 
And sometimes getting hitched is key.  But when the world is only dates and no committed relationships it seems really hard to move yourself forward.
So dear reader, our question to you is this: where do you feel like you can grow most? In dating or in a committed relationship?  What’s working for you?Tell us on Facebook!

"to fail and fail big" In Action: Funders’ Edition Part Two; Can I tell you honestly about our failures?

Fri, 2014-02-21 11:31

Our last blog post talked about the Funders’ Edition of “to fail and fail big” that we hosted last fall 2013.  There’s a lot to share about that event; so here’s Part Two.
My aha moment: can artists really tell their funders that they failed? 
I doubt it.  (I know I can’t). 
Most of the time we all pretend that everything worked perfectly.  We hit all the marks.  There are no problems.  Oh, maybe there are some “challenges” or some “opportunities.”
But rarely, if ever, is there a flat out, full force failure.  
Or maybe we bend or soften the truth.  We say that we will raise twice as much from individuals this year in our sexy new kickstarter campaign.  We say that we have a “deficit reduction plan” that will reduce that ugly negative number.  We say that we will hire extra staff to do that big project (rather than just ask current staff to take on more work and stay late).  
And we keep saying how busy we are and how excited we are about the next big thing and how tired we are.  Because if you aren’t busy, excited and tired, then you must be a failure.  
Aha #2!  All this spinning of reality doesn’t help. In fact it makes it worse.  
Funders start thinking that it really does only cost $15,000 to put up a new play with an Equity cast of 10 with live music.  And donors start thinking that you don’t need money for “overhead” to cover office rent or paperclips or health insurance.   That gets covered elsewhere right? And other artists start feeling like everyone else is getting all the gigs and grants and they are getting nothing.  And funders start thinking that artists really do it just for the love of it and they don’t need to be paid for their creative work.  
And all these secrets and lies keep perpetuating the same old under-resourced, destabilizing paradigm that is the arts in America.  
If we tell the truth, we might just shift the paradigm.  We might shift the system to have MORE resources.  MORE partnership.  MORE good work being done. MORE clarity.  MORE empowerment.
So here I go.  Here are some of my current fears and failings:If I push myself to tell you that I think I failed at APAP with our presentation of “to fail and fail big”, will you think less of me?  If I tell you that actually I am a bit lost right now, that I am not fully satisfied at work, that something’s missing, that I just want to watch Battlestar Gallactica (again).  Will you run far?
Or, do I trust that you don’t need me to lie?  Do I trust that you actually want to see the full and whole messy picture?
Dear reader, where do you lie about your work? where do you hide your failures? And why?  Tell us on facebook!
P.S.  Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that we have to tell the whole truth nothing but the truth so help me ________ in every situation and to every person all the time.  That would be inappropriate and ineffective.  
P.P.S. But I do mean to suggest that we can and should be strategic about our sharing our failures and our challenges.   We can be solution-oriented too! 

to fail and fail big In Action: TheFunders’ Edition (Who is at the table and how did they get invited?)

Thu, 2014-02-06 10:00
by Jennifer Wright Cook

In late September we co-hosted a rabble rousing Funders’ Edition of “to fail and fail big” for 30+ lead arts funders at Mertz Gilmore with our colleagues from Booth Ferris, Lambent Foundation and the New York Community Trust.  All the heavy hitters were there.  It was intense and thrilling.

We asked two artists and two presenters to participate as well: choreographer Yanira Castro, art-maker Miguel Gutierrez, Chocolate Factory Artistic Director Brian Rogers and 651 Artistic Director Shay Wafer.  These four folks were amazingly courageous, honest and generous.  I don’t think they knew how intense it was going to be.  But it was.  And they were stunning.  I am honored by their forthrightness.  (Just imagine that you are sitting at one big 10’x15’ table with all the big arts funders.  What would you say? How would you behave?  What would you be afraid of?)

Thomas Cott, of You’ve Cott Mail, facilitated the conversation.   Funders in attendance included: Ben Cameron (Doris Duke Charitable Trust), Moira Brennan (MAP Fund), Lisa Robb (NYSCA), DCA, New Music USA, Andrew W. Mellon, LMCC and more and more.

Did I say it was intense?

I realized quickly that, ironically enough, The Field and I were poised on a risky ledge. The event itself aimed to challenge the system.  But we are beholden to this system too.  Many of these folks at the event fund us or we want them to fund us.  So if our event “failed” then these gatekeepers had the power to lock us out of potential funds in the future.

Or just ignore us. And we could wither away.

But we have to push against that fear of failure.  We have to step into our vulnerable spot and act out of integrity, courage and transparency.

So, as counseled by Thomas Cott, we asked this intimate group to tackle three core recommendations from “to fail and fail big” specifically related to the funding community.  (see pages 24 -25 of “to fail and fail big”):

  • Invest in the Artist: multi-year artist-specific funding
  • Transparency and Privilege
  • Failure

There were so many huge moments for me but one of my favorite takeaway issues grappled with Transparency and Privilege. Essentially it asked WHO IS AT THE TABLE AND HOW DID THEY GET INVITED?

This is an ongoing question.  Who adjudicates grant panels? Who gets invited to curate? Who speaks on panels? Who gets the shows and the awards?

It often feels like the same ten people.  And whoever is hot at the moment – is everywhere.

Why them?

So who was at our Funders’ Edition table and why? Miguel is in “to fail” and it’s important to us to have at least one study member at every event as appropriate.  Brian was on the Advisory Council for our study and his provocative quote led to the title “to fail and fail big”.  We asked Shay to be on the Advisory Council but she was very busy; so we asked her to be at the Funders’ Edition.  Plus we are committed to gender and racial diversity.  Our 4th participant was Yanira Castro.

Yanira, for me, is one of the smartest, most resilient, savviest and ambitious NY artists.  Her body of work pushes her artistically, she takes risks, she pushes against failure.  She is articulate, generous and rigorous.  She is a mom in a city and a sector that makes parenting challenging.  She’s been a member of The Field for eons and done many events with and for us.

For sure, Yanira gets some decent funding, residencies, gigs and press. For sure.  But I think she should be getting more resources, and more folks should know her work.  So we asked her to participate in the Funders’ Edition to get her in front of more powerbrokers who could move her resources up a notch.

Part of our actionable work with “to fail and fail big” is specifically to push for more equitable distribution of resources. Part of how we can do that is to have a “less visible” artist present at every “to fail” event that we host.  This is one of our “to fail” action items: to give opportunities to artists who don’t get them, to give the non-it kids a chance.

Now we are not naively suggesting that you just ask whomever, whenever, however to do your grant panel or show or whatever.  For sure we have an agenda and we act strategically – but we do it with transparency.  We tell you why we chose someone and how we did it.

When you know how something happens for someone, then you can work to make it happen for yourself too.

When you don’t know how something happens (e.g., “Why did she get that grant?” How did he get on that panel?” “Why did she get that teaching gig?”) you are left to devise your own self-abusing, inflammatory, defensive reasons.

And you may get really bitter really fast.

Oh but folks will say, “Finding new, non-it kids is too hard, it takes too much time! And if an artist is so hot it’s for a reason!  They must be the best!  I don’t have time to explain things to folks.”

Yes, it’s harder and yes it takes more time.  Yes, it involves stretching yourself and your organization farther and harder.  It’s risky to work with folks who aren’t hot.  It involves working with the unknown.  It involves taking a stand and saying “this is why we chose this person.  This is why it’s important.”

It’s so much easier to go with the herd.  And pick the same ten folks.

It’s even more limited with diversity.  It’s as if the sector suddenly decides that this one Asian-American playwright is the one for 2014.  And this one black choreographer is the one for this year.  And this one xyz artist fills this check box and this one….…… And as long as we have one of every “kind” of person then we are good to go.  We are done with diversity.


Who is at the table changes the nature of the room and the work of the world.

Who is at the table changes us.  For the better.

Yes, we have to start somewhere. So here some things you can experiment with: allocate more time to find panelists and staff members. Yes, you can, if it’s important to you, you can. Cast a wider net.  Use all your social networks and search more broadly.  Clarify the “why” underneath your actions and your choices.  Be prepared to say “why” you chose someone.  Be transparent about it.

And then keep going.  Push harder.

At The Field we try in fits and starts to do these things. We make mistakes for sure.  We try again.  It’s ongoing work. We keep trying.

Our question to you dear reader: How do you cast a wider net? Where do you stretch yourself to include folks who aren’t part of your usual table?  And if not, why?

to fail and fail big In Action: APAP failure: a crisis of courage

Thu, 2014-01-30 10:00
On Sunday, January 19th The Field was privileged to curate (oh yes we did!) a session at APAP on failure, success and privilege with 10 stellar artists and presenters/producers.

I had many aha moments but the one that is still sticking with me came from the unbelievably smart Kristy Edmunds of UCLA.

There’s a crisis of courage.

It takes deep courage to make art.  It takes crazy courage to put it up publicly and risk critique, opprobrium, humiliation, disdain and even boredom.  It takes courage to ask friends, family and strangers for money to support your art.

It takes courage to present artists too.  It takes courage to say to your Board, your boss, your audience “Yes, this work is important to see.  It’s not easy, it’s intense, it’s smart, it’s odd, it’s provocative – and yes, we will present it.”

It even takes courage to run an arts service organization like The Field.   Every choice we make is based either in courage or in fear.  And every choice, one way or another is a moral choice.  Meaning, for instance, I put a line item in our 2014 budget for health insurance for our staff (and me!).   Our current health insurance is mediocre at best.  And it’s going up 20% from $567 to $682 a month per staff member.  We can’t afford this.  We just can’t.  After all, our funding hasn’t gone up 20%.  Nor have our fees.  So in order to afford this increase, we would need to cut other expenses (like rent? like our audit? Nope.  They don’t budge down either).

So I get afraid.  As a leader.  How can we do this?  Do we choose (again) mediocre health insurance for our staff (and myself!) or do I ask staff (and myself) to pay a higher percentage of it (currently staff pay 10%)?

These are moral decisions.

A budget is a moral stance.

A presenter’s season is a moral offering.

A funder’s grant is a moral relationship.

When we say yes to one thing, we say no to another.  And this says something about us and our values.

I have crises of courage on a daily basis.   But I try hard to push myself, and The Field, toward courage, toward abundance, toward transparency.

My question to you dear reader: what’s your crisis of courage?  Tell us on Facebook.

P.S.  There has been a huge conversation online that brings up questions of courage in the arts.  I am not commenting yet  but if you haven’t read it, you should, with a glass of whiskey perhaps.

Steve Gross: Prison Psychology and the Arts

Fri, 2014-01-17 14:11
I've always been the type of person (and artist) who imports from one arena/discipline/set of experiences into the other - and find that there's often a synergy that can happen as a result.  The series of talks I will be doing through The Field is my first formal attempt to bring my experience of working in the prison setting back into the community and community of artists. During the past five years, however, I haven't been idle regarding this cross pollination...I've been doing most of the importing in the other direction, from my Field experiences into my work as a psychologist, therapist, and supervisor.  I wrote the following short essay for the newsletter that is disseminated among the psychologists who provide mental health services in prisons throughout New York State.When I practice, one of the experiences I refer back to on a regular basis is facilitating feedback groups for choreographers.  In these groups, called Fieldwork, artists show their work in progress before putting it in front of the public.The basic rule for showing work in Fieldwork is that the artist can't talk.  She can't tell the group what came before the section she is showing.  She can't say the intended meaning of the work, what influenced her choices, or what artistic tradition served as inspiration.  She can't describe the music or the lighting to come.  She can't say how unprepared she is because the heat in the studio where she rehearsed was out.Not only do artists showing work have a boundary – viewers do as well: don't ask questions, don't make suggestions, just tell the artist what you get from the work.  “Get” covers an enormous range, well beyond what actually happens on stage.  “Get” includes what meaning the viewer thinks the artist is trying to convey, what rings true (or doesn't) onstage, what seems to be going on under the surface, what comes across as meat and what comes across as filler.As therapists, we are both artist and audience.  As the artist, we don’t really talk about our work.  We don’t announce our interventions (unless that is part of the intervention, which it can be).  We don’t ply our patients with explanations of how they should feel or think (unless that is part of the intervention, which it sometimes is).  We don’t convince patients of our effectiveness.  Instead, we do – we embody the work, through modeling, through interaction, through our relationship with our audience.  If we mess up, we don’t provide all kinds of excuses, we own them and weave them into the work: (“I feel like I went down the wrong track with you during our last session – did you sense that?  What was it like for you?”).We are also the audience.  We “see” what’s on stage – our patients show us themselves all the time (in session, in groups, in the bull pen, on the walkways, in notes they send us and poetry they share).  Their explicit words and behaviors are only one stream of information – ideally we are set to receive on all channels, ranging from our “gut,” to historical patterns, to familiarity with inmate dynamics in our facility.  In fact, what our patients display is rarely the critical part, the part that leads to the most effective interventions, whether that’s a crisis unit admission or placid, steady attention.Seen in this light, treatment is a dance, an interplay of seeing and being seen, no matter what the costume or lighting.  The most powerful art usually translates, whether robed in the red velvet of an opera house or the zigzag of cinderblock.

Steve Gross began making dance/performance art in the late 1980s. His work was shown at various downtown venues including Performance Space 122 and Dance Theater Workshop and supported by various funders including the NEA, NYSCA, and Art Matters. Simultaneously, he transformed The Field from a fledgling performance space into a service organization for performing artists. Having been spoiled by 19 years with the best arts administration job on the planet, he went back to school to become a psychologist. He currently is the Chief Psychologist for Corrections-based Operations of Central New York Psychiatric Center - the organization that provides mental health services to New York State's 56,000 prisoners. He also practices privately. 

Click here to sign up to attend any of Steve's three talks at The Field! 

to fail and fail big In Action: the revolution will not be funded?

Thu, 2014-01-09 13:49

In September 2013, I met twice with the superb folks from the Brooklyn Commune to talk about our study, “to fail and fail big”. From this point of view, they interviewed me about the funding landscape and the challenges therein.  In November I attended their opening night event and participated in a rousing, discussion about MFA debt and its huge impact on artists, the onerous structure of the 501c3 model and the lack of transparency about money in the arts.   Stay tuned for their white paper that tells it all.  

One big aha that strikes me hard with the Commune and over the past few years: “can the revolution be funded?”  (Terrible to admit but I’ve only read the reviews and summaries of the 2007 book that pushed this question forward for me, “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex” – but it’s on my list and I think I get the basic jist.  It scares me.)
The non-profit sector can be a dirty world. You have to work with honed clarity, great governance and nuanced reflection to keep focused on your mission and its delivery in an ever changing and über competitive world. You can easily be pulled off mission and off integrity.  Sometimes, taking charitable dollars can pull you down a rabbit hole where your politics and your work are worlds apart.  
In our regular lives, however, many of us make strategic life and consumer choices based on fair trade processes, green choices, humane labor practices, etc.  We align our politics with our actions and our purchases.  We aim to stay on mission and on integrity. It’s not always easy and it takes more time but we try.
What if we did the same in our non-profit work when offered philanthropic dollars?  Could we, for instance, say no to a grant from (Insert Questionable Company here)?  Some folks did just that back in the day when Philip Morris was one of the biggest NYC arts funders.  Some folks said nope, no thanks. I am not okay with tobacco money.  Other folks said yes, my work is worth it and the money can be put to good purpose now.  And one group right now is having an amazing conversation about funding from Exxon/Mobile and their dilemma about accepting money from sources they find questionable.
Do you know where your money comes from? Are you ok with how it was made?  Can your work remain “clean” if the money to fund it is dirty?
On top of all the “dirty money” that can stall a revolution, the revolution won’t be funded because the non-profit machine grows so fast and mission delivery is often left behind.  Fundraising begets more fundraising begets more fundraising…and which requires more administration of stuff and people and things.: Yyou have to hire more development staff to keep up with all the grants you have to write; you have to pay them competitively because they are expensive; you have to hire more admin staff to fill out even more paperwork for all the oversight and compliance you have to do for all that money.  And there are scandalously few grants to pay for any of these things because they aren’t very sexy. 
So suddenly you are squeezing money from YOUR MISSION WORK to pay for for the administration of it all its management.  
So the revolution you aimed to start is dead. 
Now Now maybe the play you are working on or the dance you are creating is not a revolution per se.  Maybe it’s just a play or a dance.  your art work may not be aimed at starting a revolution. At The Field ours isn’t. But it is aimed at changing an artist’s life and the artist’s landscape for the better. 
And money has changed us over the years. And The Field, our work, is not really a pursuing a revolution either. 
As the crazy smart Diane Ragsdale wrote in her September Jumper blog “…what happens in the psyche of a grantee when a little bit of money comes in and when it, inevitably, goes away. In response to the question, Would it have been better not to have received these grants than to have received them and lost them? I find[ing] myself wanting to shout back at the page, “Yes! You would have been better off never having received the money!” 
I love this idea.  I fear it. I love it.  Taking the money changes you. It forces you to comply with larger systems you might not agree with. It creates dependency. It forces you to compromise to survive. 
But I am not sure I am courageous enough to say no to money.  
Our question to you: Are you funding your revolution? 
P.S.  I am not at all a hater of in full support of hiring amazing development or administrative staff (to write grants and fill out all the paperwork).   I do think we need, ironically enough,But, I think we need more unrestricted grants that FUND the administration of and fundraising for programs and the general operations that undergird all of this non profit machinery.  Lastly, the ongoing frustration: why are artists often paid way less than administrators?  

to fail and fail big In Action: Getting Lost in the Loss?

Tue, 2013-12-17 17:44
The Field hosted a free public panel in July for our National Network Conference with Octavio Campos (dance theater artist and queer activist), previous long-term Field director Dr. Steve Gross, Melanie Cohn (Executive Director of Staten Island Arts) and Sacha Yanow (Director of Art Matters Foundation).  The panel was focused on resilience and building artists’ capacity for resilience, and thus, building their capacity for risk!

The astute Melanie Cohn (whose Sandy and post-Sandy work in the arts is deep and strong) reflected on how artists deal with devastation and their resilience in light of this: "Some people get lost in the loss... and other people are able to envision where they go next."

As artists (and as people) we experience loss all the time, small losses and big losses: the loss of a grant or a gig; a bad review (or no review at all!); insufficient recognition and visibility; seeing our peers succeed where we feel invisible; or deciding to stop making work because we are just too darn tired of feeling rejected or invisible or broke.

It’s no joke that artists speak about having postpartum depression after they close a show.  The show’s end, (or any ending) can be devastating.

The list of losses is not short. 

So our question to you, dear reader, is how do you grapple with loss? Tell us on Facebook if you like.

One of our answers and our aha moment: reflection and goal-setting are key to our capacities to hold loss (and to hold “gain” too!).  Reflection on failure (or success, or even stagnation) is key to our growth and our sense of contentment.  Reflection and goal-setting build our awareness of who we are, what we want and how we can try to get it. 

Reflection builds our resilience.

But one of my failures as Executive Director at The Field is that I convince myself that I am too busy to reflect, to analyze, to set goals.  I gotta get things done! Now!  I prioritize action and product over process. 

Many of us do this in our art-making too: the show is somehow more important than the process of making of the show. 

The rub?  The creative product often reflects this rushed, unclear, unreflected creative process.

So here are some questions for you to provoke your reflection and goal setting:
What do you want to achieve with your art-making?
What’s realistic? Really realistic?
What is essential to your vision and its implementation?
Why was something successful for you?
Why was another thing not successful?
What can you change or work on?
Do you have a trusted colleague with whom you can speak honestly about your work, goals, process and product?

"to fail and fail big" in Action

Tue, 2013-12-10 13:30
In keeping with our focus on live arts, over the past six months The Field took “to fail and fail big: a study of mid-career artists, success and failure” from the page to the stage and into action.  As we promised in “to fail” we are aiming to talk with every prong of “the big we” in the arts sector so that we can move the work in “to fail” forward. 

And we are doing it. 

And we want to be über transparent about what we are learning, what we are risking and where we are headed…..So over the next few months we will unveil a few of our most titilating takeaways and ahas.  We will include provocative questions and actionable tactics about what YOU (artist, art-lover, arts administrator, Board member, donor, etc) can do to fail and fail big too.  So here we go….

Who’s hot and who’s not? The Field did a public launch panel at SITI Company on May 1st with artist Okwui Okpokwasili, producer Tommy Kriegsman, funder Moira Brennan and artist Somi - facilitated by the crazy smart Georgiana Pickett of Baryshnikov Arts Center.   An aha moment from an artist in the audience (paraphrased), “I am mid-career and I’ve been somewhat successful but I feel invisible now.  I am not in the ‘it club’ that gets the Doris Duke money, the Genius grants or the European tours.  Do I have to change my work and my self to be in the ‘it club?’”

The question to you, dear reader: What ways do you contort yourself or spin your work so that you get a gig, a grant or a review?  Is it worth it?  Do you end up feeling like you aren’t being honest about your work?  Or is it all just part of the game?  We've started you off with our answer below. Join the conversation with us on our Facebook page.

Our answer: We’ve contorted ourselves at The Field for sure!  Five years ago the “it club” in funding was all about innovation.  We didn’t really do “innovation” per se but we had a big dream for a re-grant program called ERPA.  So we applied to the Rockefeller Foundation Cultural Innovation Fund and amazingly we got two big grants!  We were in the “it club”! 

Now “innovation” is over it seems.  It’s all about creative placemaking.  We don’t do that. And we have no big dream programs that are contort-able to fit into creative placemaking.  So are we out of the “it club”?  What do you do when your work is out of fashion?  Do you contort and spin? Do you let go and wait for the next round?

Share your thoughts with us!

Thomas Kriegsmann: Teacher of Touring 101

Tue, 2013-11-05 17:18

In this installment of our teacher profiles, we asked THOMAS KRIEGSMANN, founder of ArKtype and  teacher of this fall's Touring 101, about his thoughts on Resilience and how it relates to being a touring artist.

"On the topic of resilience and its place in a touring model, I would say that developing a viable touring model requires the artist to incorporate a touring repertoire that fits the markets they wish to access from a creative and community engagement perspective, and following that a marketing strategy that invites multiple communities in a few different ways, and gives the presenter tools to strategize toward those markets effectively.

"Resilience in the touring market is a matter of continuously moving work to new opportunities while coaxing former supporters into support for new ideas. This constant shape-shifting, internal and external dialogue, self-motivation and openness to community needs, and exploring what different opportunities offer you creatively and professionally and the dialogue and effect that has on the art is inherent to the practicalities above and will be a general theme we discuss." 

On a practical level, you can expect Thomas to address "developing a viable touring budget that is within the present fee structure of touring venues in the US and beyond, staffing, venue specifications and technical specifications as relates to viable tour budgets, what to expect from marketplace pricing and how to get what you need."

Click here to sign up for Touring 101!

Producer, manager and curator who founded ArKtype in 2006 toward the long-term development, production and touring of new internationally based performance work on various scales. His work includes projects with venues worldwide and renowned artists including Mikhail Baryshnikov, Peter Brook, Yael Farber, Annie-B Parsons & Paul Lazar, Lisa Peterson, Jay Scheib, Julie Taymor, and Tony Taccone. For three seasons he produced the Ringling International Arts Festival in Sarasota, FL and recently premiered Big Dance Theater / Mikhail Baryshnikov’s MAN IN A CASE and the U.S. premiere of Nalaga’at Deaf-Blind Theater’s NOT BY BREAD ALONE. Current collaborations include Jay Scheib (Cambridge); Baryshnikov Productions (New York); Denis O’Hare & Lisa Peterson (New York); Nalaga’at Deaf-Blind Theater (Tel Aviv); Big Dance Theater (New York); Byron Au Yong & Aaron Jafferis (Seattle/New Haven); Phantom Limb (New York); Jessica Blank & Erik Jensen (New York); Sam Green / Yo La Tengo (Brooklyn / Hoboken); Compagnia T.P.O. (Italy); Aurélia & Victoria Thiérrée-Chaplin (France); Joshua Light Show (New York); Dayna Hanson (Seattle); KMA (London); Ethan Lipton & His Orchestra (Brooklyn); Rude Mechs (Austin, TX); and Theatre for a New Audience (New York). Upcoming premieres include Jay Scheib’s PLATONOV from the story by Anton Chekhov (La Jolla Playhouse, September 2013), Dayna Hanson’s THE CLAY DUKE (Summer 2013) Jessica Black & Erik Jensen’s LESTER BANGS PROJECT (Spring 2014).

SHAWN RENÉ GRAHAM: Individual Giving Appeals Workshop Teacher

Tue, 2013-11-05 17:17

We recently asked SHAWN RENE GRAHAM, teacher of Individual Giving Appeals, and Artist Services Manager at The Field for her thoughts on how to stay resilient when asking for what you need as an artist:

"Well first:
Stop saying ‘I am not good at asking for money.’  Develop some techniques that make you better.

You can’t be afraid of ‘NO’ or take it personally.  You have to learn to move to the next prospect and not let the ‘NO’ be positive and not negative.  Maybe it just means you should re-examine your message or strategy, be clearer about who you are and what you are asking for exactly.

You need to examine your own inhibitions about asking.  Part of the work is understanding your own relationship to money and your own hang-ups.  We tend to project those onto other people, when what you think may not be true at all for the person you are asking.

Know that fundraising involves cultivation.  Learn something about your donors as individuals or funding sources other than the fact they have money to give and appeal to that.  If you are meeting one-on-one, show an interest in them that isn’t just about the money.  This means you may have to step up your game and do some research.  What appeals to that individual may not appeal to you in the same way, but you still need to engage them before saying ‘give me all your money.’

Click here to sign up for Individual Giving Appeals! 

Find other ways to get stuff that is not just monetary.  Maybe you can exchange skills with someone.  You provide something for someone and they help you develop marketing materials, or grant applications or whatever.  This is about surrounding yourself with people who do some things better than you and learning from them, but making the exchange fair."

Ms. Graham is a freelance writer and dramaturg from San Jose, California who has worked with many writers including, Kia Corthron, Nilo Cruz, Steve Harper, Eduardo Machado, Walter Mosley, Lynn Nottage, Suzan Lori Parks, John Henry Redwood, Guillermo Reyes, Paul Rudnick, Steve Harper, Susan Sontag, Dominic A. Taylor, Edwin Sanchez, Judy Tate, and Naomi Wallace.
She has been a guest dramaturg at the O'Neill Playwrights Conference, the Crossroads Theatre Company's Genesis Festival, the New Professional Theatre, and African American Women's New Play Festival and on many panels including, National Endowments for the Arts/Theatre Communications Group Theatre Residency Program for Playwrights, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Artist Grants Panel in Playwriting and the Mark Taper Forum's New Works Festival and is currently the resident dramaturg of The American Slavery Project's: Unheard Voices collaboration.

Ms. Graham has worked in dance, serving as dramaturg for The Errol Grimes Dance Group's RED, Mrs. Robeson in Moscow, Sunday Day, Prism to a Dream and By the Sea at the Henry Street Settlement's Harry De Jur Playhouse. She is the Producing Coordinator for the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Future Classics Series and Playwright’s Playground, and founder of All Creative Writes, an artistic assistance service designed to provide individual artists and performing arts organizations with administrative, fundraising and writing support.

Ms. Graham holds degrees from the California State University, Los Angeles and the American Repertory Theatre Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University. She lives in Harlem, NY.

Fran Kirmser: Marketing and Communications Strategies Teacher

Tue, 2013-11-05 16:53

The Field is thrilled to have FRAN KIRMSER, a two time Tony Award Winner, back as our teacher of Marketing and Communication Strategies this fall.

Fran has worked for over twelve years, producing, promoting and fundraising for dance and theater, and has been working with The Field for several years!
Collectively she has raised millions of dollars in institutional funding and corporate sponsorships for hundreds of companies. She has held positions in Development, Public Relations, Management, or Booking and Representation with the following organizations: Ellis Wood Dance, Isadora Duncan Dance Foundation, Lisa Giobbi Movement Theater, Shen Wei, Pascal Rioult Dance Theater, Doug Varone and Dancers, Sandra Cameron Dance Center, Pentacle.

She was a founder of manhattan theatre source 1999-2011 where she served as Producing Artistic Director and in 2002 founded Made to Move, Inc. - a non-profit dedicated to the advancement of public knowledge of the art of dance and theatre that still thrives today.

Fran produced August Wilson's Radio Golf on Broadway nominated for four Tony Awards. She holds two Tony Awards for the 2009 Best Musical Revival Hair and this year's 2013 Best Play Revival Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. In 2010 Fran conceived a sports series for stage including the 2011 longest running Broadway play Lombardi, Magic/Bird and now Bronx Bombers.

She is a graduate of Skidmore College with continuing education at NYU Tisch School of Dance and Columbia University.

Our Marketing and Communications Strategies workshop will take place at The Field on Tuesday October 29, at 6:30pm and in the vein of our fall theme of resilience, will address creating a communication strategy that adapts to your needs over time! For more info, visit us here!

Amy Cova: Fall 2013 Fieldwork Facilitator Profile

Tue, 2013-11-05 16:51

This Fall, Fieldwork is being facilitated by AMY COVA, the Founder/Artistic Director of Amy Cova Dance. 
Amy's choreography has been commissioned by numerous institutions including the Detroit Institute of Art. Her company has been seen at Jacob’s Pillow Inside/Out, the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, The Alvin Ailey Studio Theatre, TriskelionArts, The Flea Theater and Dance New Amsterdam. 
Most recently Cova premiered her evening length work Spinal Streets and a Straw as part of FLIC fest 2013. 
Having been a faculty member/guest artist at numerous universities including Oakland University and the University of Michigan, Cova is currently a Groundwork Artist in Residence at Shannon Hummel's Cora Dance and performs with Nadia Tykulsker/Spark(edit) Arts. 
We recently asked Amy why she wanted to facilitate Fieldwork,

"Fieldwork is a welcome and safe environment in which I can share my work. More importantly, it is a space that inspires learning, about one's own process and the process of experiencing the work of others. The process of offering feedback is generous and rich for both the artist sharing AND the artist witnessing and offering feedback." 

Fieldwork is a unique forum for artists to share developing works and exchange feedback, peer to peer. As a method for giving feedback, Fieldwork reveals how each piece is perceived by others and fosters a detailed information exchange. Incisive and stimulating critiques are guided by an experienced facilitator. Participants will meet weekly to share their developing works. To learn more, or sign up, click here.

Tweets from "to fail and fail big."

Mon, 2013-11-04 15:06
ImageOn Wednesday, May 1, 2013, The Field hosted a Panel Event, "to fail and fail big: A case study of Mid-career artists, Success, and Failure," at SITI Company. The panel was facilitated by Georgiana Pickett, Executive Director, Baryshnikov Arts Center. Panelists included award-winning performer and art-maker, Okwui Okpokwasili; Moira Brennan, Program Director, The MAP Fund; producer Thomas O. Kriegsmann and critically acclaimed musician, Somi. The following is a chronological record of tweets that were posted real time during the event: Image5/1/13 3:36 PMGearing up for To Fail and Fail Big our panel event at SITI Company tonight. See you there 5/1/13 7:14 PMHere we go! Will it be frightening? Will we fail? Will we succeed? Will we move the field forward? Let's find out!5/1/13 7:23 PMWhy are we having this conversation? To discern the conditions that help artists thrive so the sector can help more artists thrive!5/1/13 7:31 PMFrom Okwui Okpokwasili, "Do I feel successful? No. But I feel really f**king lucky."5/1/13 7:41 PMSeems to me that many successful artists are failing regularly! How? Work-in-progress showings as an integral piece of creative practice.5/1/13 7:45 PM"The only opposition is the mindset of the culture at large. Until this shifts, we will never have enough money for experimental art."5/1/13 8:07 PM"The best presenters are the best bc of their plasticity...their ability to break the mold." Producer, Tommy Kriegsmann5/1/13 8:14 PMChoreographer, Kimberly Bartosik, was told, "Being a white woman right now is really not working in your favor."5/1/13 8:22 PMDoes the system that created established artists even exist anymore? Great question.
Tweet #9 - retweeted by Kerry McCarthy and commented on by Karen Harvey "Maybe it's an illusion - because maybe the established artists were actually the beginning of the 'system' they thrive within?"
5/1/13 8:25 PMYou keep on going. You develop a certain skin. Your success or failure cannot be what is reflected back at you from anybody.5/1/13 8:28 PMThere's a sense of entitlement to be creative in the younger generation that's not in line with our economic culture.5/1/13 8:36 PMSo many of you said it's not necessarily about failure, it's more about risk-taking and building an environment that champions those risks.Image

Edward McKeaney: JumpstART 2013 Teacher

Tue, 2013-09-17 15:49

EDWARD MCKEANY, who is teaching The Field's arts management intensive, JumpstART, moved to New York City in 2003 and has served as the Director of Development & External Relations for Elevator Repair Service Theater since September 2011.
Ed worked as the General Manager of The Wooster Group from 2008-2011 and the Director of Special Events at BAM from 2005-2008. 
He's also been the Managing Producer for PearlDamour and Banana Bag & Bodice, and Director of Development at Abingdon Theatre Company. Before moving to New York, he spent many seasons at the Contemporary American Theater Festival in Shepherdstown, WV. 
We asked Ed how our Fall theme of Resilience connected to his curriculum for JumpstART, 
"Resilience is the key to surviving today's cultural environment; whether having resilience in your creation process as an artist or in your management style as an administrator. I am thrilled to participate in The Field's JumpstART workshop this fall and continue a conversation about effective uses of resiliency in world of performing and visual arts." 

JumpstART is a 3-part intensive that will cover  fundraising, budget creation, contracts, production management, marketing and press, and how to plan for the future life of your production. To sign learn more or sign up for this program, visit us here.

A letter on social practice by Caroline Woodard

Thu, 2013-07-11 12:30

This guest-blog comes from Caroline Woodard, a Brooklyn-based artist and organizer. The following was a letter written to MacDowell on supporting social practice . For more information on Caroline, please visit
Dear John,
MacDowell was my first major residency, so I am thrilled that you are expanding your understanding of contemporary art to include long-term, process-heavy, socially engaged art. When I made a project for other Fellows, I felt a bit out of place, so I want to humbly offer the following suggestions for supporting what are now called social practices, as I think this working style deserves the time and commitment that MacDowell offers.
To clarify the types of projects that might get support, I have outlined 3 types of social practices as I see them today, from short-term engagement to long-term engagement, with recommendations tailored to these approaches.
1. The Stranger Approach: this is where an artist/group act as a catalyst for unconventional interactions and/or conversations. The artist serves as an “excuse” for otherwise difficult partnerships, meetings, or actions. The artist remains separate from the group, community, or site that s/he interacts with. For example, the Ghana Think Tank connects groups in conflict by creating platforms for dialog and action:
To support the Stranger Approach, you could ask artists to submit a Letter of Inquiry, and then ask the top 5 artists to submit site-specific proposals. If you want to lead the field and model this after architectural proposals, you should pay these artists to submit well-researched, site-specific proposals.
2. The Embedded Approach: this is where the artist/group work in contexts that are not sanctioned or codified as art-contexts, where s/he slowly builds relationships or has previously established relationships.
To support the Embedded Approach, you could solicit artists who are interested in doing a weekend, week-long, or month-long retreat with the group that they s/he is already embedded within. This would mean housing the group as they visit MacDowell together. Alternatively, you could ask artists if they are interested in embedding themselves in the Garden, Kitchen, Administration, or other existing social format at MacDowell. For example, Maureen Connor embedded herself in the Queens Museum and Ukeles is artist is residence in the Sanitation Dept of NYC:
CUP option: ask Peterborough groups what kind of artists they might want to work with, or what their issues are, and then make a call to artists based on what your local groups actually want.
3. The Lifetime Approach: this is where the artist/group build long-term projects in/with/for participants, often blurring the line between art/life completely. These artists are so embedding in the location and/or group they work in/with/fpr that there would be no way for this artist/group to do the project at MacDowell. Often, their projects become housing options or institutions of their own right. For example: or or
To support the Lifetime Approach, you could offer the artist/group a residency of a weekend, week, or month to reflect upon the work done so far. Clearly, they cannot do a whole project at MacDowell or in NH (unless they are already from the area), as these are lifetime projects, not short term interventions. Outcomes might include a publication, sanity and clarity for improved work, and group strengthening (if it’s a collective or participants, non-organizers can be invited). For example:
General recommendations:
- TIME: Social practices take time to develop. Do not think you are going to get a Lifetime project if you invite someone for a month. A month will give you a Stranger approach only.
- LOCATION: If you house this artist downtown in an apartment, rather than in a space away from the community they are working in/with/for, chances of deep relationship building will be improved.
- PARTICIPANTS: Social practices must incorporate ethical considerations. Please ask artists engaged in social practices to submit recommendation letters from prior participants, and consider bringing in participants of past projects as part of the reflection process or retreat for the Lifetime Approach. Please read Ben Kinmont’s work with Laurel George and students: Towards Ethics in Project Art (a free PDF is available online)
- INTENTIONS: If you are looking to work with social practice artists as a kind of community outreach for your institution, please enumerate your expectations and goals in advance. Artists are not necessarily going to fulfill your goals, and you can be more clear about this if you have a direct conversation about it.
Thank you so much for your time and consideration,
Caroline Woolard
2008 MacDowell Fellow

Recap: Special Events Career Workshop with Zanetta Addams-Pilgrim (May 30, 2013)

Thu, 2013-06-20 15:39
by Susan Oetgen, Interim Program Manager, The Field
Working late at the office is not usually something I look forward to, but three weeks ago, on a balmy May evening, I was pretty psyched to stick around to host The Field's Special Events Career Workshop.  As the rest of the Financial District was emptying out and shutting down, I was gearing up to spend a few more hours in The Field's sweet new conference room, taking notes from fundraising and special events consultant Zanetta Addams-Pilgrim, along with a similarly jazzed group of fellow go-getter artists.
As even a quick glance at her bio will attest, Zanetta's track record as a fundraiser and special events planner is impressive, to say the least. Equally important, however, she's an experienced and adept teacher, so those of us in the workshop definitely got our specific special events questions answered.   While she dropped plenty of pearls of wisdom here and there, she also had a straightforward, well-conceived methodology, which you can find more of in the Special Events Toolbox she authored with Laura Goldstein, during her tenure as Program Director at Cause Effective, a business development and management consultant firm for non-profits.  Meanwhile, I'll do my best to recap some of it here.
After a round of introductions so we could all meet and greet each other as colleagues, the first thing she did was to break down the definition of a special event.  Basically, any event outside the purview of your regular programming is a special event, according to Zanetta.  Let's say you're a dancer.  That means pretty much anything that isn't a dance performance you put on for the public.  It could be an open rehearsal that you invite potential donors to.  It could be an ice cream social on your best friend's rooftop that you invite all your friends to in order to raise $1,000 for your latest self-produced project at Dixon Place.  It could be a dinner party at your new Board Chair's fancy apartment where you and your entire Board of Directors are celebrating and honoring your outgoing Board Chair.  In other words, if it's not a straight-up performance, it's a special event.
Next Zanetta introduced three practical tools that are indispensable to producing a successful special event: OBJECTIVES, TIMELINES, and BUDGETS.  Since you might have many good reasons to throw a special event, it's important to know what your primary OBJECTIVE is.  Maybe you're inviting potential donors and Board members to your ice cream social.  Is the event first and foremost a fundraising event, a cultivation event or a recruitment event?  Using a worksheet, Zanetta walked us through a process of determining all of our potential objectives, and then we discussed as a group why it is important to have consensus and clarity among the special events team members about the primaryobjective.  By the way, what if you don't have a 'special events team' because your organization has a 'staff' of one, a.k.a yourself?  The lesson still applies.  Even if it's just you on the 'team', best practice means listing out all the possible objectives for your special event, and choosing the most important one.
With that clarity around objective as your guiding light, you can turn your focus to creating a TIMELINE, the second of the tools Zanetta offered us.  This tool is about information-sharing and accountability.  Producing a special event is exactly like producing a performance: there are weeks and weeks of advance work that go into it.  Zanetta's timeline tool is a spreadsheet that breaks out each step you need to take, when you need to take it, who is accountable for it, and what the status is, so that at any given point in time, you know how the event planning is coming along.  Seems like a lot of work to create this timeline, rather than just diving into the steps you need to take, but according to Zanetta, you will be glad you have it when it comes time to evaluate your special event after the fact.
But there's a BUDGET to develop.  Most of us typically draft budgets that simply list income and expenses.  Zanetta encouraged us to take this third tool further and make low, medium and high projections on both the income and expense side.  That way, we cover the bases as far as what we can expect to gain (or lose) financially from our special event and in the process of laying it all out on paper, we can make an informed decision about whether the special event is even worth doing!  That's right!  Zanetta stressed the importance of deciding againstproducing a special event if it isn't financially feasible!  Or if you can meet your primary objective in a more cost and time-effective manner.
If your budget looks good and you decide to go forth with your special event, Zanetta emphasized the importance of making time shortly afterward to EVALUATE the success of it.  Did you meet your objective?  Why or why not?  Having a detailed reflection session on what you would differently or the same next time is the best way to build your capacity to meet your special events objectives in the future.
It was so worth staying late at the office to benefit from Zanetta Addams-Pilgrim's excellent workshop, and I hope the above is a helpful recap for those of you who missed it!  Probably the biggest take-away for me personally was the notion that you can use those three tools (OBJECTIVES, TIMELINES, BUDGETS) to assess the feasibility of the special event you're planning before you even decide to host it.  Drop a line to if you have questions or comments, or post them below!  And keep your eye on this space for upcoming posts about the Career Workshops we have planned for the fall…