From CEO Dayna Del Val
This morning, I was reading this article in Forbes by Michael C. Wenderoth, and I was particularly struck, again, by how often the arts sector parallels the corporate one but is rarely afforded the same level of admiration for doing work that seems commonplace to our sector’s day to day lives. Mr Wenderoth notes, “Constraints are, counterintuitively, critical for creativity, which is why they are an integral part of how the most innovative people and organizations operate.”
Covid-19 has surely created the greatest constraint, regardless our line of work or time in life, in the modern era. And it has had myriad devastating effects in ways we are likely to feel for years to come, perhaps even generations.
But it has also done something incredible: it has forced our collective hand. It has taken away our ability to say, “But we’ve always done it this way.” Covid-19 has removed our capacity to gather, mindlessly, accidentally and intentionally. And that means it has shattered how arts organizations do just about every single aspect of their missions because nearly every arts nonprofit is charged with creating community, whether through classes, workshops, lectures, openings, performances, fundraisers and more.
So what can be done when community, as we’ve always defined it, is cut off at the knees?
The arts have taken the constraints Covid-19 threw at us all and redefined community; they are not only showing up, they are often building the plane as they are flying it. Go online and you will see local arts organizations performing readers’ theatre with actors from all over the country and plays from playwrights interested in seeing their work interpreted in unusual ways. You’ll watch individual performers in their fanciest clothes playing a solo in their back yard. You can be up close and personal inside galleries providing virtual tours. Download packets of art to make at home. Try an adaptive barre ballet class using your kitchen counter. Weep as multiple performers play individually and harmoniously to comfort those in deep mourning.
And the list goes on and on.
Because artists look at constraints and say, “That’s no problem.” And they set about finding yet another creative solution to a seemingly unsolvable equation.
Mr Wenderoth goes on to say, “Since the initial shock of the pandemic, I’ve seen creativity unleashed at an unprecedented pace, and in unsuspecting places.”
I heartily agree with the first part of his sentence, but where I differ is that this is what happens, day after day after day, in the arts sector, pandemic or not. Because this is what artists do. Artists show up. They identify a problem. They ask weird, sometimes seemingly unrelated or naive, questions. Artists provide solutions that others don’t. And they appear to do it almost effortlessly. Because their magic, the allure of the artistic mind, is that artists often live Captain Kirk’s response to The Kobayashi Maru : they don’t believe in a no-win scenario.
The simulated Kobayashi Maru training from Star Trek II:The Wrath of Khan.
Captain Kirk’s answer.
Where others see an impossible scenario, true artists change the lens from which they approach it and develop an unexpected solution. Time and again. That’s what artists do because that’s who artists are.
Covid-19 has wrought havoc on the world, but the arts have consistently shown up and provided a modicum of peace, joy, beauty and delight. And they’ve done it by accepting this massive constraint and simply saying, “We don’t believe in a no-win scenario.” And by changing the conditions, they have won the day. And we are all saved because of it.