Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I am happy to see a day in the holiday season designed to ask people to stop and consider others. I do have to laugh that Americans gather on a special day to give thanks for all the blessings and abundance we have, and then the very next day they madly run out to buy more stuff as if what we were thankful for the previous day was not enough. So now Black Friday, Grey Thursday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday are  being followed by Giving Tuesday. Still a little out of whack – consumption gets four days and selflessness gets one. It’s a start.

NPR aired a nice story about this possible trend. 'Giving Tuesday': The Start of a Holiday Tradition?

We recognize the need for social service giving. The MAC has long partnered with the People’s Resource Center during our Christmas Carol and Orchestras Feeding America food drives. In years past we have hosted their annual Gavin Coyle Christmas Concert. This year with the MAC under renovation the concert has moved to North Central College’s Pfeiffer Auditorium this Saturday Dec 1. Ticket information for Songs of the Season: A Gavin Coyle Christmas can be found at the PRC website.

The McAninch Arts Center and many arts organizations hope our patrons remember us during this season. Support for arts and culture has always depended on the generosity of others. Beethoven depended on royal patronage and commissions to support his family. Shakespeare wrote plays for the Queen’s court, works that otherwise might never have been enjoyed by the common man for one pence. It is the patronage of a few people with means that allow the masses access to the arts. 

The troubling trend for people in my position is that just as audiences for classical music, theater, and the more challenging fine arts are aging and shrinking so are the donor dollars. Grantmakers in the Arts has published several reports noting that arts giving is down and that most markedly affected are the small and medium sized organizations. The CSO, Goodman, Art Institute and the Lyric Opera are storied institutions that are part of the bedrock of Chicago cultural and civic life. Even in down times their patron-donor base rises to the occasion. But what impact does it have on a community when the storefront theater, the hamlet's only art gallery, or the small civic orchestra is forced to close its doors? 

Please remember the small arts organization this season and to our friends on this "Giving Tuesday" we say thank you.

Be well

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


After literally years of planning, beginning with a referendum on the ballot in 2010 through designs by Wight & Company Architecture and plans by Mortenson Construction, the McAninch Arts Center is being renovated. In the mainstage the seats are gone, the wall paneling removed and the carpet pulled up leaving bare concrete. Next will come scaffolding  to the roof to remove the ceiling and the old heating/ cooling duct work. All this in preparation for a fantastic face lift.

We too in the front office are preparing for a transition. Asking ourselves how we may better serve the cultural needs of the many communities we serve. Whether that is as a center for arts education, a venue for community groups to use, as a curator of arts experiences, a producer of classical music and repertory theatre or something we have yet to imagine; we are not sure yet.

We would love it if our audience joined in the discussion. Simply tell us, in recent history, what was the best moment you have had at the MAC and what perhaps you would like to experience new in the future. Comment here on the blog or email me cummins@cod.edu.

be well

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Sustainability v Relevance

If I lived in a perfect world I would be in Austria at the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Leaders co sponsored by National Arts Strategies and Salzburg Global Seminar. There I would be with fellow arts colleagues exploring the hard questions cultural non-profit organizations around the world are wrestling with. But thanks to blogs and You Tube I can be an observer if not a participant.

The McAninch Arts Center is struggling with this idea of sustainability and Salzburg Global Seminar Fellow Diane Ragsdale has been writing and speaking on the topic in her blog Jumper and in Salzburg. If you have 10 minutes I highly recommend you watch this You Tube interview with Diane at the seminar.

I saw Diane speak several years ago at the annual Arts Alliance Illinois convening. Ra Joy had the good sense to bring Diane to Illinois who at the time was with the Andrew Mellon Foundation.
Her presentation (link to 2010 speech) focused on surviving the cultural change and was profound for me. She reminded me that art and arts organizations live in relation to audience and that while we strive for sustainability we lose sight of relevance. That we should focus less on selling better and more on seeing better. Her thinking on sustainability and relevance has continued to evolve as she has pursued a PhD in the Netherlands. Her ideas in this most recent interview raised several questions for me and for the McAninch Arts Center.

Diane references the work of scholar Alexey Voinov in her idea that sustainability is an unnatural state. In the life cycle of an organization or any living being there is first Emergence followed by Growth that comes to a Plateau and then inevitably begins a period of Decline, which can either lead to New Growth or Death. The point being it is a cycle. Sustainability seeks to pause the cycle at the Plateau and hold the organization at a certain level. Voinov and Ragsdale would suggest that to live and thrive we must allow for death. Their analogy is of the forest fire. Without the death that the fire brings the forest would not be as healthy or able to thrive in the future.

Diane points out that striving for sustainability may have several pitfalls. In order to be sustainable we either drive our organization more towards the market putting greater emphasis on box office revenue and return on investment, or we turn to wealthy donors and away from the middle class patron. Worst of all we artistically settle for mediocrity and live in a sustainable “walking dead state”.

Questions I will be asking…
What should be our purpose? Are we looking out for the best interests of the organization, the artist or for the community at large? What are we trying to sustain that might otherwise be dying or need to die At the expense of what else?

What is our relevance?

Would love to hear your thoughts – comment or email cummins@cod.edu

Be well