At the close of 2013, I want to say thank you for your support, your business and your encouragement over the past year. It’s been very busy with many exciting changes, but I’m happy to report that Tuxedo Revolt continues to grow in new directions.
This year’s artistic ventures included recording projects with jazz singer Chris McNulty and singer song-writer Gabriel Rios, a second collaborative recital with the Harlem Sound Project on the music of Paul Hindemith, and the completion of my first solo CD.
By far, the greatest change this year was my joining the faculty at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. It was a big decision for me, but the opportunity to help emerging artists and young professionals find sure footing for their careers is more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. From coaching my “Music + Multimedia” mixed chamber ensembles, to presenting community engagement concerts at the Huntington’s Disease ward at a nearby long-term care facility– I never cease to be amazed at the bridges music can build or the new perspectives it can introduce. I’m amazed at the ideas and level of perception students in my Arts Admin/Entrepreneurship class demonstrated as well. I’ve learned from my students that innovation is more than possible and that great ideas, well, are the stuff of magic. They really can transform our cultural perceptions.
Throughout this fall, I’ve been gathering material to post on the Tuxedo Revolt blog after the new year. In addition to new writing, stay tuned for several Tuxedo Revolt speaking engagements that might be happening near you this winter. In January, I’ll be a guest on a panel discussion about “Audience Engagement Strategies for the 21st Century” at the 2014 Chamber Music America Conference. Then in March, I’m presenting a workshop on engaging communities through social media at the 2014 American String Teacher’s Association National Conference. 2014 will be about Tuxedo Revolt attempting to reach more people than ever before.
When the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, for me, it will be off to the races. But for now, I’d like to pause to say thank you once more. I couldn’t do all this without your interest, your readership, and most importantly– the actions you personally take to keep the performing arts relevant and accessible.
Wishing you the happiest of holidays,
Your mission statement, either your personal one or the one used by your organization, should be the guiding force behind all your decision making.
It’s usually when I make a grand and sweeping statement like this when my clients start to get their tail feathers ruffled. You might think we where shooting a toilet paper commercial because of the parade of “buts” that follow. For example, in this case, I might hear something along the lines of “But if times are constantly changing, then shouldn’t we bend our mission from time to time?” or my favorite, “But my budget won’t allow me/us to do the work of our stated mission?”
Simmer down folks and listen up. It’s time we had a heart to heart about what mission statements are and how they are intended to be used. Mission statements are supposed to be your North Star when it comes to decision making in your career or for your organization. Here are a few helpful thoughts to consider when examining your mission statement:
1.) Listen to the buts. If you find yourself constantly trying to reason your way around your organizational or personal stated mission– then maybe you need to re-examine the mission itself. In order to do take a second look at your mission statement and successfully determine whether or not your mission is effective, you will need to ask some important questions.
2.) What is the work we/I do? This is where you’ll need to get serious and specific. For this program, or specific organization– what exactly is the artistic work you are doing? Spell it out. You might feel that you are limiting yourself, but I’d like for you to reframe your specificity as a way of focusing your efforts and putting the odds for success more in your favor.
3.) Determine who are your real stakeholders. That means not just the people you think you are working with such as audience members and your performers. I mean EVERYBODY. Vendors, audience members by different types, local businesses associated with you, people in your outreach/engagement work, coworkers, friends, spouses and family— create a brainstorm map with you at the center and everyone else your work is connected to radiating from it. You’ll be surprised to discover that your artistic work may affect many more people than you had originally considered.
4.) Make sure the nuts and bolts are all there. Your mission statement is not like Ikea furniture, and thus it should be made for the long term and not the short term. Your mission statement should include your unchanging values about the work you are doing, as well as a clearly defined purpose for your organization’s existence. (Or more simply, why do you do the work you do?). Here’s a hint– don’t be vague or ambiguous. If you can’t articulate how the artistic work you do fills a specific need, no one else will be able to guess it for you. You might also want to include a brief statement about the vision you have for how your work will impact the need you have outlined over the course of the future. This helps others to imagine the logical progression of the work you are doing.
5. Lastly, stick to the plan. Your refined mission statement can now act as a litmus test for all your other decisions. Consider your mission and ask yourself, “If I choose A, does this serve my stakeholders? Is it directly related to the work we do? Is this decision in line with my values?” Sticking to your mission helps you to make strong and decisive answers to the questions you will face in your path, even when the right answer may be uncomfortable.
So remember folks, your mission is what it’s all about.
Whether you support new practices in the performing arts, whether you encourage entrepreneurial practices amongst performing artists—we can all agree that for better or worse, the performing arts world is changing. It’s changing fast.
I think we are all conscious of how the changes in global culture, society, and technology have “some sort of” impact on our art. But part of the problem is that many are unwilling to analyze how change and growth in these areas can directly impact your artistic work. There is a reluctance with many performing artists to study these challenges and find ways to adapt to them.
Think of Brad Pitt’s line in World War Z when he says “Movement is life”. Of course, he’s talking about getting away from millions of newly converted flesh-eating zombies. However, that statement has a powerful corollary to the responsibility musician’s and artists have when trying to keep our art forms alive in the 21st Century. Similar to the world World War Z, our world has changed more in the last 10 years than in the previous twenty, thirty, or 40 years before that. Everyday there is a new app or social platform that can change your life. Moreover, we interact with technology in a deeply more personal and distinct way. Technology has literally become an extension of the human mind. All these changes have come so fast that if you are standing still, you will simply be overcome by the hungry mob.
Evolution, flexibility and adaptation are the factors that will now insulate us against decline. In order not to be fatally bitten by the onslaught of social media, tweets, glutted market of free high-quality media, incredibly low cost of entertainment, etc.— we have to be able to adapt and change to each and every circumstance we encounter while staying true to our artistic mission.
My question to you is this: in what specific ways are you trying to adapt your art to the changes in culture? How are you evolving and changing to stay culturally relevant to your audiences? If you haven’t been asking yourself these kinds of questions, it’s never too late to start.
As I teach my arts administration course this fall at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, you’ll be able to follow the journey along with my students right here on the Tuxedo Revolt Blog. Prior to each class, I hope to write a post that will give insight and depth to the issues we are going to cover. However, before we begin this sojourn of understanding what makes a successful arts organization in the 21st Century, I wanted to first explore the changes that must happen within ourselves before we can begin to change the world around us.
Change begins in you.
That’s the first major realization that is necessary for you to find success in any entrepreneurial venture. It doesn’t matter if you want to start a new chamber ensemble, re-envision an existing orchestra, start a rock band, or even a non-music business– your project will reflect your personal views, both conscious and subconscious. You must truly believe in the change you are willing to implement.
Let’s be honest, it is much, much easier to comply with the status quo than to lead change. It takes far less energy, less critical thinking and less time. But I believe when one identifies both a need for improvement AND a solid plan that would help that improvement’s realization, then we are obligated to bring the issue to the surface and argue for the change. In so many ways, this notion of identifying issues, planning out how to fix them, and taking responsibility for their realization is at the heart of what we call progress.
You have to believe that your plan to bring about change will work. Right now, many artists, musicians, and teachers see “music or arts entrepreneurship” as a buzz word. They often think that if they can find a use for this buzz word then they’ve done their due diligence– one more box can be checked off of the resume or todo list. This isn’t what entrepreneurship is about. The drive to break to go out on a limb, to differ from mainstream opinion, to prove something for yourself has to come from within you. No amount of in-class strategizing or note taking can replace that.
Entrepreneurship is about taking charge of your life, your art, or your organization and going it alone because you know deep down that you can do it better. It’s a deep kind of knowing oneself, knowing that you are capable of making your mark. Like in music performance, it’s very similar to the kind of craftsmanship that goes into crafting a beautiful solo, it becomes distinctly your own creation. Your voice shines through.
As we explore what it takes to create new kinds of programs, organizations, and experiences– we will take some time to get to know ourselves as well. What do you value? What problems have you identified in the arts for which you now have ideas how to fix them? From what kind of artistic work do you derive the greatest satisfaction? How far are you willing to go to see your idea all the way from a fleeting thought in your mind to real people, taking action in real time, doing real work, in the real world.
To see an entrepreneurial project all the way through is a long process. There are very few shortcuts, and I promise that I’ll share with you the ones that I know. But as I write this post, I doubt that the challenge is too much for you. You would never have become a performing artist, or ever worked in the performing arts industry if you didn’t already understand that in our area of expertise, adversity is to be expected.
I’ll also wager that because you’ve made it this far, to my blog, that your are already toying about with the idea of going solo and breaking off from the herd to do things your way. While I’ve previously mentioned that the work involved in entrepreneurship is nothing to take lightly, I am also obligated to say that the freedom to do what you want is incomparable to anything else. For me, that’s where my true creativity lives.
I’ve found that the brightest creative impulses I’ve have had coincide with my personal freedom and my disregard for the confines of the establishment. Over the next few months we will explore how our beliefs manifest themselves in our personal and artistic missions, in the effectiveness of our organization and in our ability to make a positive impact– and you’ll have the freedom to do it your way.
So let’s begin. Listen to yourself. Listen to the silent alarms that go off around you, the ones you sense and feel. Believe, even for an instant, that nothing is set in stone, that the world is play-dough you could mold with your bare hands— for indeed, it can be. Let that thought wash over you for just a moment. Make no mistake. You can change the world with your vision, your art, and yes, even with your bare hands.
I was playing Scrabble with my wife last weekend while on our outing to Bear Mountain in upstate New York. As I stared at the game board, I realized that nearly all board games have a starting point. It’s usually a place where the first game piece is placed after a tile is anonymously drawn from a black bag, or a role of the dice determines which player will make their move first. In some games, like Candy Land or Jumanji, everyone starts at the same place. Though in those games, chance and luck may determine who will make it to the “finish” square first. Staring at the game board, it made me wonder, are game boards a metaphor for our lives, our careers or our relationships?
From the center tile of the scrabble board, the calculations of spaces, possible point scores, and words upon words spiral out. Is this not unlike the decisions we as musicians have to make each and every day? What is your “center tile”? For some it is when they play the first note of the day. For others, it is the first event that happens to them, from which they will react all day long. For me, it is the moment I open my eyes in the morning. In that moment, I can pre-empt whatever is going to happen to me that day, I can start laying the words I want across the game board.
But what about the part that luck plays in games? It’s not tile we draw that is as important as seeing all the options we have once we have drawn it from the bag. In all fairness, you can’t see which tile you are grabbing in the game of life (no pun intended). You don’t always have control there—but you do have control over what you do with it. For musicians and other creatives, this is especially important in the way we approach our careers and the creative work we do. Will we be proactive or reactive? Will you plan ahead, or be a calculation in someone else’s plan?
When we are dealt the next hand of the game in our lives and in our careers, our ability to excel or recover, advance or retreat is all about how far into the future we are willing to forecast. How much risk will you take when the outcome may be unknown? That’s a looming question for many. But I feel that’s where the reward is.
As we in the collective music community begin a new season, I encourage you to start planning and forecasting from the moment you lay down the very first tile of your game. Imagine the extent of what you could do if you extended yourself as far as possible and took the necesary risks. Remember after all, it’s just a game.