Friday, February 21, 2014

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

by Jennifer Wright Cook

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!

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