This past week, I was in virtual attendance at three of the six sessions at the National Innovation Summit for Arts + Culture. A lot happened at the actual, physical gathering I’m sure, but those of us who attended the summit through the powers of the internet had quite a lively time, as well. I made several new Twitter friends! Connecting to fellow artists and artsy types all over the country (or world, perhaps?) is always exciting to me.

The talks were, in general, good – some of them were more inspiring than others. Although I tweeted my approval of a few statements, I generally reserved my tweets for criticism or discussion of topics. I still have unanswered questions based on criticism of speakers. If anyone wants to take a  crack and commenting on these, please do.

Howard Sherman ‏@HESherman 21 Oct
Do organizations have a responsibility to create “gateway experiences”? #ArtsFwd

L. Nicol Cabe ‏@nicolthegreat 21 Oct
@HESherman @ArtsFwd Shouldn’t the arts be its own “gateway experience”? When did we get so intellectual that we have to train audiences?

Howard Sherman ‏@HESherman 21 Oct
.@nicolthegreat #ArtsFwd Discussion today affirms my own observations that arts orgs are off-putting to many. How do we remove barriers?

Good Luck Macbeth ‏@GoodLuckMacbeth 21 Oct
@HESherman @nicolthegreat Before that, how do the barriers get there to begin with. Treating symptoms vs. treating the root.


Denver-based theatre theatreOFFcenter gave a talk about some things they’d tried to get more people in their doors. They wanted to get more audience involvement in their theatre, which meant figuring out what audiences liked. They staged a few sports-style events, for example, because Denver is full of sports fans – and in those, they divided the participants into two teams, and the group were “participants,” not passive audience members. Although I think Wii sports or other ways of luring audiences in for participatory projects was an interesting idea, I had my reservations with where their specific ideas were going.

L. Nicol Cabe ‏@nicolthegreat 21 Oct
Don’t see how rebranding plays with sports teams makes better theatre. However, I’m interested in team mentality. #ArtsFwd @denverOFFcenter

Off-Center ‏@denverOFFcenter 21 Oct
@nicolthegreat We would never claim to be making theatre better – just opening our doors wider. #ArtsFwd

L. Nicol Cabe ‏@nicolthegreat 21 Oct
@denverOFFcenter Guess I am unclear on how your audience involvement translates to more involvement in theatre itself. Elaborate? #ArtsFwd

Off-Center ‏@denverOFFcenter 21 Oct
@nicolthegreat It’s translating to more involvement at @DenverCenter by bringing in new people who play an active role in the show itself.

I suggested that they perhaps try writing actual scripts with their audience – which maybe actors could perform, 24 Hour Plays festival style? DenverOFFcenter seemed to like that idea. HEY, I’M FOR HIRE, GUYS!


Richard Demato ‏@rdemato 21 Oct
“At Mixed Blood, mission, not plays, is the product, and programming is the delivery system of mission.” @JackReuler @mixed_blood #ArtsFWd

L. Nicol Cabe ‏@nicolthegreat 21 Oct
@rdemato @ArtsFwd @JackReuler @mixed_blood This should be true of all theatres – if not, yer doin’ it wrong.

Richard Demato ‏@rdemato 21 Oct
+ ALL orgs “@nicolthegreat: @ArtsFwd @JackReuler @mixed_blood This should be true of all theatres – if not, yer doin’ it wrong.” #ArtsFwd

Touche, Richard Demato. All organizations’ missions, indeed.


Mary W. Rowe gave a talk about the Municipal Arts Society and some of their approaches, and at one point talked about art-makers in New Orleans just after Katrina, who, for example, put up signs saying “We’re still here!” or put surviving lawn furniture out to make a neighborhood cafe for those stuck in the post-apocalyptic sludge. I don’t think these examples are really appropriate, because the national response to Katrina was such a clusterfuck, that the survivors HAD to take over some of this.

L. Nicol Cabe ‏@nicolthegreat 21 Oct: @CheskaMcKenzie @ArtsFwd @MASNYC @rowemw Also to applauding those who do a little to make those spaces nicer. Overlooks govt role in help.

Not that the government should always be responsible for public art, I’m just saying that a time of such horrific crisis is maybe not the best example for applauding community engagement.

She also used an example, I think from the UK, of a group that brought low-income neighborhood kids in and involved them in art projects. Good for them, keeping kids off the streets. But Rowe seems to have a misunderstanding of “the power of art.”

L. Nicol Cabe ‏@nicolthegreat 21 Oct
“These kids never had an experience of culture” is a little elitist. Whose culture? @rowemw #ArtsFwd

I mean, low income neighborhoods have culture. It’s just not middle class culture. It’s more along the lines of pop culture. But it’s still culture. It’s insulting to say that low-income neighborhoods are uncultured simply because they do not participate in the dominant culture. Why should they?

I tweeted later in response to discussion about minorities and the arts:

L. Nicol Cabe ‏@nicolthegreat22 Oct
@artstuffmatters @ArtsFwd It’s not “the arts” if it doesn’t represent diverse community voices. Should instead be called “some arts.”

And I ran across this great comment, which I promptly retweeted:

terryscott ‏@terryscott22 Oct
@ArtsFwd diversity in the arts is a code word for power. who has the jobs who makes the curatorial decisions who decides what is culture

This shouldn’t be true, bee-tee-dubs.


The 21st saw a lot of discussion about arts organizations’ boards of directors. I have personal reservations about the nonprofit model and how boards of directors work, or don’t, but much of the discussion focused on how boards fit with community representatives, and how everyone could get along. So I tweeted this:

21 Oct: @ArtsFwd But weren’t boards originally supposed to represent the community? They don’t anymore. Should arts orgs still use them?

Lots of favorites, no real responses. Oh well.


One speaker, Joel Tan, talked a lot about new roles his organization had created, so that they could re-envision their place in the community. One title, that got a lot of positive response, was the idea of a “Director of Joy.” As an avowed skeptic of all things woo-sounding, I asked:

How is a “Director of Joy” different from an Artistic Director? #ArtsFwd

I got this:

Madge ‏@legendsonly 22 Oct
@nicolthegreat Depends on how good the Artistic Director is . . .

GP ‏@gpmcleer 22 Oct
@nicolthegreat everyone should be a “director of joy” in their own area. Board members to ushers. #artsfwd

Fair enough.


Another speaker discussed bringing the arts into the corporate world. Arts organizations are often told – by misguided and unhelpful board members – that they need to be more like for-profit businesses (in which case, arts orgs should be for-profits, because those operate differently from nonprofits, but I digress). So this speaker talked about how her group sought, with some corporate outreach, to make businesses more like artists.

Now, the corporate world is absolutely desperate for creative thinkers, and I suspect this is in large part the fault of business-minded people between 1960 and 1990 who sought to eliminate the arts from school curricula, because its a waste of funding and we should focus on math and science instead. Guess what kind of world you created, jerks! A flat, uncreative one. Well done.

Anyhoo, I tweeted this:

The corporate world is desperate for creativity training. How does this help artists be artists? #ArtsFwd

I basically saw the outreach as a way of making money, and not so much about improving the world for artists. Again, I got favorited and retweeted, but not much commentary.


There was lots of talk about risk and money, of course. As one speaker put it, “You’re all a little fucked up about money.” Well said!

Kelvin D. ‏@kbd217 22 Oct
A culture in which bold behavior is recognized AND HONORED. (Protect your assets…which can also be risk). #ArtsFwd

L. Nicol Cabe ‏@nicolthegreat 22 Oct
Requires seeing something besides money and monetizable objects as “assets” – that’s a real risk!

Cuz you know, artists are a resource. Isn’t that ultimately the point?


You can read about the Summit here.

You can see the list of sessions here.

The videos are archived somewhere, I’m just not sure where.


One thought on “The Virtual Version of the National Innovation Summit for Arts + Culture

  1. L. Nicol,

    Many thanks for sharing this thoughtful overview of your engagement and participation in the Virtual Innovation Summit for Arts & Culture. We’re encouraged by your criticisms and provocative questions. We also want you to know that your comments and thoughts during the live Summit were seen and communicated internally (hence the RTs and favoriting), although it was difficult to provide space to every individual contribution (both out of limited capacity by a single ArtsFwd tweeter balancing on-site and on-line engagement, and because we aimed to engage commentary and criticism from a wide range of online participants). However, we recognize your sustained and dedicated participation during the Summit and we’re eager to revisit some of the questions you posed during future online conversations. What would you like to see from the #ArtsFwd community?

    The videos are archived on our livestream channel ( and I will be working on making all of this information much more accessible on ArtsFwd over the next day or so.

    Please feel free to be in touch — we’re happy to connect about the Summit, the “behind-the-scenes” action of the Virtual Summit, or anything else.

    Cheers –
    the ArtsFwd team

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