In This Episode

Diane and Erik explore the relationship between beauty and human development. They also question the distinctive purpose of the nonprofit professional arts, the conflation of mission and venue, and the problem of "permanently failing arts organizations.”

 

See All Episodes

What are the nonprofit professional arts for? What do they need to do? What are they compelled to do that commercial and amateur arts won't do?

ABOUT DIANE

Diane Ragsdale is a faculty director of the Cultural Leadership Program at Banff Center for Arts & Creativity; an assistant professor and program director for the Masters in Arts Management & Entrepreneurship program at the New School in NYC; and a frequent speaker, blogger, writer, and adviser on a range of arts and culture topics. She previously worked in philanthropy and ran two cultural institutions. She is a doctoral candidate at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, where she lectured from 2011-2015.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Erik Gensler: Thank you so much for being here.

Diane Ragsdale: It is my sincere pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Erik Gensler: In preparing for this interview and reading many of your blog posts and transcripts of your talks, it is clear that you love asking questions and you asked good ones.

Diane Ragsdale: Yeah, thanks (laughs).

Erik Gensler: No pressure to me here.

Diane Ragsdale: Yeah, right. Yeah. Somebody once called me the “Chief Questioner of the Arts and Culture Sector of the US.” I do ask a lot of questions. It's true.

Erik Gensler: Clive Gillinson, who I recently interviewed on the podcast, said he's not interested in the answers. He's more interested in the questions.

Diane Ragsdale: Well, you know, it's interesting. I went back to school several years ago, now, and one of the lessons in that was really that in doing research, getting the question right at the outset is often as important as what follows and if you start with the wrong question or just a not-very-interesting question or not a deep-enough question, I think you can spend your time trying to solve the wrong problem.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative). What are some of the questions that are on your mind right now?

Diane Ragsdale: Well, there are a couple that are really enduring from me. They never go away. I come back to them over and over again. One of those is, what are the nonprofit professional arts for? What do they need to do? What are they compelled to do that the commercial arts and the amateur arts don't do or won't do? That's a big one for me. I'm also—ever since teaching a course in beauty a handful of years ago, 2015, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison—I am really interested in the relationship between beauty and human development and the ways in which the arts—but also other forms of beauty; nature, for instance—can be a tool for cultivating wiser, more responsible leadership and leaders. But also, if you think of it in like K-12 education, just human development. How can the arts, how can asthetic experiences, how can experiences of beauty putting ourselves, if you will, in the pathway of beauty, help us to become better human beings?

Erik Gensler: Thank you so much for being here.

Diane Ragsdale: It is my sincere pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Erik Gensler: In preparing for this interview and reading many of your blog posts and transcripts of your talks, it is clear that you love asking questions and you asked good ones.

Diane Ragsdale: Yeah, thanks (laughs).

Erik Gensler: No pressure to me here.

Diane Ragsdale: Yeah, right. Yeah. Somebody once called me the “Chief Questioner of the Arts and Culture Sector of the US.” I do ask a lot of questions. It's true.

Erik Gensler: Clive Gillinson, who I recently interviewed on the podcast, said he's not interested in the answers. He's more interested in the questions.

Diane Ragsdale: Well, you know, it's interesting. I went back to school several years ago, now, and one of the lessons in that was really that in doing research, getting the question right at the outset is often as important as what follows and if you start with the wrong question or just a not-very-interesting question or not a deep-enough question, I think you can spend your time trying to solve the wrong problem.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative). What are some of the questions that are on your mind right now?

Diane Ragsdale: Well, there are a couple that are really enduring from me. They never go away. I come back to them over and over again. One of those is, what are the nonprofit professional arts for? What do they need to do? What are they compelled to do that the commercial arts and the amateur arts don't do or won't do? That's a big one for me. I'm also—ever since teaching a course in beauty a handful of years ago, 2015, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison—I am really interested in the relationship between beauty and human development and the ways in which the arts—but also other forms of beauty; nature, for instance—can be a tool for cultivating wiser, more responsible leadership and leaders. But also, if you think of it in like K-12 education, just human development. How can the arts, how can asthetic experiences, how can experiences of beauty putting ourselves, if you will, in the pathway of beauty, help us to become better human beings?

Erik Gensler: Yeah, so let's dive into both of those. Let's first start with the course on beauty.

Diane Ragsdale: I taught it to business school students. They were undergraduate business students and mostly seniors.

Erik Gensler: And that was one of the questions. Where did it take you?

Diane Ragsdale: I guess it was probably about three-quarters of the way through the term, a guest came to the class and turned to them and said, “So, hey, what are you learning here? What do you think of this? What are you making of this beauty class?” and what I gathered from their responses was that they said things like, “I'm slowing down. I'm looking at things and I'm thinking, ‘Hm, maybe there's more than one perspective here.’ I'm seeing that my relationships to people are shifting. I'm approaching homework with less anxiety and more creativity.” One of the more profound statements was, “I think this course is teaching us how to care.” And so, what I really took from that, having gone into it really having read a bunch of philosophers, you know, say, “Oh, yeah, beauty, truth, goodness are all interrelated.” But my question was, what are the methods? How do you take people who have no relationship to art and what are you doing with them if what you're trying to do is cultivate this goodness, let's say? And what I saw was, there's something here. There's something to this experience of beauty that can begin to shift people—and I would often talk about it in terms of business students in particular, but I really think to a great extent, everyone in American society—we're trained to look at the world through an economic lens, to value-

Erik Gensler: Totally. Neoliberalism.

Diane Ragsdale: … Totally! To value people, objects, and experiences based on their economic value. And the course was about what happens if you shift your head and you begin to look at the world through a different lens and how do you begin to see people differently, value people differently, value experiences differently, et cetera.

Erik Gensler: Those are very deep, profound, fundamentally important questions, the connection in nature and beauty of why we're on this earth.

Diane Ragsdale: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: And if you start to dig a little deeper, it's … I think that those are such important questions. And I think that ties into the first question you mentioned, which is the relationship between commercial Broadway and nonprofit theater because commercial Broadway has a profit motive. So is it about beauty? Is it about entertainment?

Erik Gensler: Let's turn to that in light of the beauty discussion. So, you're asking the question, “What is nonprofit professional theater for?” and what are you concluding? What questions are you asking?

Diane Ragsdale: Resident theater is really the type of theater that I'm looking at, which we're talking about these very specific—now we might call them LORT theaters, right?

Erik Gensler: Sure.

Diane Ragsdale: Regional theaters. And I started out on this path when I was working at the Mellon Foundation and we were funding a number of high-profile, nonprofit professional theaters and supporting … because we gave general programs support, our funds could be used for a range of things and were often used in supportive productions. At some point I became aware that a production that we had given a grant to had been commercially enhanced, meaning a commercial producer had given money to support that work in its production at the nonprofit. And it transferred and I found myself with the question, should we be funding productions that have commercial enhancement? Given limited dollars, is that the right use of our funds? And then I started thinking, “Yeah, there's a whole thing here. If you go to a foundation, you're essentially saying, ‘Please support this work because it's a risk and we can't do it without support from you,’ and yet, on the other hand, you've got a commercial producer who thinks it must have legs or the potential for legs because it's investing commercial dollars.” And so, that … I began to kind of sleuth around in this area and then, you know, found a bunch of articles, newspaper articles, really, where over the years, if you went back a few decades, you would periodically see these articles emerge. And what interested me was that over time, you saw a shift that if you went back to like the ‘70s and ‘80s when these deals started, there were big question marks like, “Should nonprofits be doing this?” and then somehow, by the turn of the century, it was like, “Hey, this is awesome. We're the R&D arm for Broadway and that's our role!” I was like, “Well, should that be your role? Is that the right role?” and it was a genuine question. I was trying to really work out for myself without falling into the trap of like, one's really, you know, this black and white, evil and good, you know, behavior on either end, what is the appropriate relationship between these nonprofit theaters and Broadway? Right? What should it be, ideally? Or are there multiple possibilities there? And how does that matter? Right? If it changes over time, how does that matter? Erik : I mean, that opens so many more questions, right? Because then, the Mellon foundation is essentially subsidizing Broadway investors.

Diane Ragsdale: Exactly. This was the question for me. What happens to those profits? What happens … And if you try to trace … it's not easy to trace the money. I'll tell you, spending, now, a long time digging into these deals and doing lots of interviews and talking with people and at the heart of it, I'm interested in, also, what's happening, artistic control, right? So, when a commercial producer enhances a nonprofit’s production, how much control does that commercial producer have over who gets cast, who's directing, how long the show runs, whether it opens or closes? And I've heard lots of stories of commercial producers pulling a production because they can't raise the investment capital that they need to or they begin to have doubts about it and the nonprofit’s left with a hole in their season. I've heard about nonprofits not getting the money they're supposed to get. But also, it becomes clear that commercial producers—not in all cases, but in some cases—have considerable control over these nonprofits and that could raise legal issues, right?

Erik Gensler: Yeah. And it also … it just opens so many more questions around, isn't it better for our not for profit to have that money to build audiences to get more people in the door then? Because essentially you're looking at a commercial producer as an additional funder, just how Mellon as a funder. I guess the thing about Mellon is, you're not asking for money back. The commercial producer’s ultimately getting money back, but I think most of the … like you said earlier, most of the nonprofit theaters are thinking this is a good thing because it gives them bigger budgets that lets them do more with their productions. But I guess then the question is, are they then not taking that space to take risks and what's the point of art and is it to entertain or is it to change people? So it's … that's a web of complicated questions.

Diane Ragsdale: Yeah. I think that you've raised a couple of interesting points there that I would love to pick up on. One is this question of risk. As these deals have increased and as you see, for instance, musicals becoming much more common at regional theaters, what's been edged out? What's been crowded out as a result of that? And that interests me. And yes, is the nonprofit there to the extent that the commercial producers are because they're buying up the rights to all of the interesting properties and nonprofits essentially are curating their seasons. Out of that selection of properties that have commercial producers attached. Then we could also ask the question, “Is that shifting the aesthetic values of the American theater in a way that … towards conservatism? Again, these are genuine questions. One could also be pleasantly surprised to find that, actually, regional theaters take more risks when they partner with commercial producers. I think that this is partly why I wanted to do it. I didn't want to assume one way or the other. The other thing you raised was this distinction between foundations and commercial producers. And in one of the … I had a focus group that I interviewed back in 2011 at a convening at Arena Stage and an artistic director of a nonprofit theater raised his hand and said, “You know, let's talk about this, though. You know, we're concerned about artistic control by commercial producers, but nonprofits can be just as onerous in terms of the ways that they want to control and pull strings and they expect these sorts of, you know, outcomes. Now, you know, somebody could come in and say, ‘Yes, but, you know, a foundation has loftier goals or values, but in any event, it is controlled by an external partner over the institution in a way, right? People using their power in their money to influence the behavior of the nonprofit.’” And I thought it was a fair point.

Erik Gensler: Many of these foundations are funded by massive corporations through the same money.

Diane Ragsdale: Yes, yes!

Erik Gensler: I mean, this is American capitalism. It's impossible—it's not … it's very difficult to escape.

Diane Ragsdale: Exactly. Like, you know, when we see the … whether it's the Whitney or, you know, every day, now, it seems as though we're reading about another one of these issues arising around corporate sponsors or donors and where the money comes from and trace the money that doesn't actually lead back, right? To something like that. I think it's an … And then you run into this question of, “Are we just going to cherry pick here and there certain people that we’ll go after them because the public has protested or are we going to have a clear policy that says, ‘We will only take this money or we will take all the money because we need it to do our mission, but here's how we justify that?’” Or … I think to some extent, nonprofits are now having to face the fact that they're going to have to come up with some clear policies and public statements that they can make to explain how they make the determinations of what money they're going to take and what money they're not going to take.

Erik Gensler: Which is just as it gets more expensive and complicated and … to run a not-for-profit, it's so hard to … we're working in this, this complex web of a system that is American capitalism and now we're in what I keep calling, like, “late capitalism.”

Diane Ragsdale: Yes. And you know the extent to which you are desperate for resources-

Erik Gensler: Right, right.

Diane Ragsdale: … you lose agency. And what are the solutions to that? Well, you know, one of the things I'm interested in is the extent to which we have, in a sense, overgrown not only the sector, but also individual institutions. I think that funders in particular—but there are other factors, as well; we could say boards, funders, egos of leaders, all sorts of things combined to encourage growth of individual organizations beyond a point that's really sustainable. And here, I'm drawing a little bit from somebody named Amy Whitaker who's written a book called Art Thinking. She talks about two kinds of growth and there's a kind of growth that is, you know, what we would think of as growth and efficiency and economies of scale and things like that and … but also growth in the art logic, if you will, is about that which is new or the capacity for invention, the capacity to innovate. And I sometimes think we conflated those things. We had this big push from the Ford Foundation in the mid-20th century to build bigger buildings, Broadway-sized houses in the theater, if we stick in that discipline, and there are consequences to that. You shift out of an art logic at the point when you can't continue to generate new work, to take risks on new plays. And so, one thing I wish we could shift in the sector is to put a greater value on what it means to have a sector filled with small, vibrant organizations who have the capacity to take artistic risks, do something very niche, serve a neighborhood really deeply or a community really deeply, and to not, in a sense, spur and try to encourage those organizations to grow and replicate the corporate model that we see in the big institution.

Erik Gensler: 15:47 Yeah, it goes back to, like, the neoliberalism, everything gets judged on its ability to create profit and growth. And we've talked about this a number of ways in the podcast, but at theater company is small, it’s renting a space, it gets successful. Well, what is the thing everybody wants? “We should build our own space.” So, you raise all this money, you build your own space, and all of that energy and effort spent art making is now spent figuring out budgets and maintenance costs and maintaining a building. And now you're having to make artistic questions because you now have this fixed cost that you need to maintain. And SMU data arts with Zannie Voss, like, their study of the bottom-line report is looking at how most arts organizations, when looking at their expenses versus their costs, they're barely breaking even. And then you go into the red, once you add the depreciation of fixed assets, which is that exact idea, the organizations that then added these very expensive buildings that need to be maintained, that is what ultimately puts them in financial difficulty.

Diane Ragsdale: Right, and I think there's even an added risk in this ownership of property, which isn't … I don't want to make a blanket statement that all ownership is bad but I think over time, we start to conflate mission with venue. Like, the building itself becomes the purpose and the sustaining of it. Right? And I think decoupling that … In Europe, it's much more common to see venues that are owned by, say, the city government and then art that comes in, you know, that's independent, in a sense, of that building and I wonder if that isn't a healthier model.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. Going a little bit back to funding, one of the things you've written about is the idea of a “new artistic leader discretionary fund,” and I think that that's a really interesting idea and I'm curious, why do you think we need such grants and why now?

Diane Ragsdale: So, when I was working at the Mellon Foundation, I discovered at one point that early on, when was funding, which would've been probably in the ‘70s is, I think, when it was really getting into the arts, that it had such grants, right? I think they were called “artistic director discretionary funds,” and a new artistic director getting into that position could access these funds and basically it was like pocket money for the Artistic Director. They could spend it on what they wanted to spend it on. There were no restrictions on that funding. And those went away over time. And of course, we've seen in philanthropy this trend towards not only the “wait and see,” like, “Oh, you know, you're going through an artistic leader or an executive leader transition. We're just going to wait and see who comes in and wait until they have their new strat plan done and then we'll decide if we want to get onboard with you, et cetera.” Well, in the last year, possibly longer, if I think about it now, let's take theater. Let's stay with theater for a while. We have seen a sea change in shifts in artistic leadership and a number of women and a number of people of color going into those positions. And I don't think I'm alone at this at all—many people have written about this or spoken about this—I think it's a genuine question the extent to which they are really being set up to succeed. I hear through the grapevine that there are sometimes coached by the search firms that get them their positions. Like, “Don't rock the boat,” you know, “Be cautious your first few years.” I think they can get signals from their boards, “We don't want a bunch of work that's just for people of color,” and all sorts of subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle signals I think are being sent to them. I think we underestimate, even if you have the title, Artistic Director, how hard it can be to have authority and power in an institution if the Managing Director and Executive Director have been there for a long time and already has a great relationship with the Board and already wields a lot of power over the staff. It can be really hard to get at the table and be able to assert influence and so, money talks. And I thought this might be a great time to resurrect that idea, particularly recognizing that we're seeing this shift, you know, for a long time we've been saying … I've been one of the people saying it, “Change is not going to come in this sector until we see a shift in leadership,” and now we're seeing it, but we're, we need to support these individuals. And I think if they had funds, moneym that was significant and that said, “Take a risk now immediately out of the gate. Hire someone. Commission someone. Add a position that you think needs to be added, whatever you think is going to catalyze the kind of change that you're trying to make here.” I think it would be really effective and I also think it's sort of interesting to note that the point at which these artistic director discretionary funds were common, many leaders were white and male in the sector and now would not be the time, I think, to pull back from that idea. I think we need to also recognize that we need to have … afford the same trust that we have often afforded to white people and to white males in leadership positions that we don't afford to others-

Erik Gensler: And to heterosexual males.

Diane Ragsdale: And to heterosexual males, yeah. For sure.

Erik Gensler: When you think of, like, theater, when you really look at it, it's a lot are run by straight white men.

Diane Ragsdale: Indeed.

Erik Gensler: I mean, talking about leadership and cultural divides, you say one of the greatest challenges in our society these days is arguably cultural divides and we need leaders in all sectors who understand these divides and know how to navigate and bridge them.

Diane Ragsdale: Yes. There's a concept that I was introduced to a few years ago. I've been facilitating a conversation of Artistic Directors of producing theaters and presenting houses internationally for several years and at one of these meetings, we read an article that talked about the concept of an agonism, which is about essentially the idea that the goal of bringing people together politically should not be for one side to persuade the other, but that we need, actually, the capacity for people to be able to sit together in a room and understand one another and their differences.

Erik Gensler: It's very Brené Brown.

Diane Ragsdale: Exactly, and I think the impulse in the theater is, perhaps, sometimes that either we need to be pushing a progressive agenda or are we just going to walk away from politics entirely and be the place that's entertaining where you can just forget about what's happening in the world? And I don't think either of those are wrong impulses, but I think there is something interesting about another way we could be at this time, which is could we be the place where people can come together across divides on equal terms, which is, some would argue, one of the things a cultural institution can do that not many other institutions can do.

Erik Gensler: I'd just like to talk a little bit about leadership and how hard leadership is and what's … we talked about cultural development. I'm interested in more in the, like, the human skills of leadership. As work culture shifts to a place where we need to be bringing our full selves to work, we need to be showing our humanity, we need to be encouraging that kind of humanity … There used to be this idea of, “Bring your work place self to work, leave your full self at home,” and I think the most successful organizations have found ways for people to work together as people with their whole, messy selves. And I just … when you think about what makes good art, like, leadership of the sector particularly … I don't want to even call them soft skills because soft sort of undermines their importance, but when you look at the those human skills required for leadership, what kind of conversations have you been having or what's on your mind about that?

Diane Ragsdale: That's a great question. There are so many theories of leadership and for a long time, you know, there was this notion that there were certain set of skills or traits that we might associate with leaders. And if you look at those, they're sort of traits you would, maybe, associate with men, quite often. Then, we went through the period of, “Well, it's situational, right?” So, the real skill is can you—generally a man, you know—kind of pivot and use these different leadership qualities depending on the situation you're in, right? I'm interested in, actually, the concept of shared leadership. And by that I don't mean, necessarily, like, “Oh, we've got five liters instead of one leader,” but really the notion that leadership is a process of decision-making and action that arises in the interactions among a group of people working together. And so, part of what I think we need to examine is the extent to which we perhaps have put too much emphasis on one person and not enough on the effectiveness of everyone being able to work together and how that can lead to a kind of organizational leadership, right? That's where we need to go or get to. And how does that arise? So, that's the thing that I find myself thinking about quite a bit. And in that sense, you know, teaching someplace like Banff in a program that's called Cultural Leadership, we think a lot about, “What do we mean by cultural leadership?” and in these times, in this changing cultural context, I think it has everything to do with both developing cultural competence, with being able to understand the changes that are happening in the culture, and do the deep digging in the organization to understand the kind of seismic shifts that may need to happen, ometimes around aesthetics, which, you know, I write about a lot and I write about it a lot because I think it's so fundamental and it's the thing we have the hardest time talking about. And if we can't get to the heart of how we define excellence and what we judge as worth caring for or not and if we exclude everyone from that conversation except for a few people at the center, we're really not going to be able to respond to the way the world is changing and we're not going to be able to foster a democratic culture, by which I mean everyone has the opportunity to see their culture represented, their story told, and the opportunity and maybe even obligation to hear other people's stories. And right now or historically, you know, we have largely had a democratization-of-culture approach, meaning, “Everyone needs to appreciate Bach or Beethoven or Shakespeare.” And so, these shifts towards really becoming institutions that represent the culture more generally where everyone can be … can feel like they belong in the institution, on the Board, on the staff, in the audience, on the stage. I think the work is about in leadership is about creating that.

Erik Gensler: Mm.

Diane Ragsdale: And this is not … you could argue that all leaders of all institutions, businesses, corporations need cultural leadership, if now what we're talking about is going right at these cultural divides and going, “We have to be quite cognizant of this and shape and structure and staff our institutions in light of it and in response to it.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Cultural competencies.

Diane Ragsdale: Yeah. Erk: I don't … I like that term a lot.

Diane Ragsdale: It's not mine. You know, I've certainly am heard others use it, meaning the ability to understand … I mean, it's not just about code-switching, but it is about a kind of knowledge of how to be in a room with people across divides.

Erik Gensler: Wokeness.

Diane Ragsdale: Yeah. How to relate to people across divides.

Erik Gensler: Yeah.

Diane Ragsdale: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: That's fascinating. I love that. You also write about permanence and “permanently failing arts organizations” and the question I've read you ask is, “Why do we pursue permanence in the live arts and when should arts organizations close?”

Diane Ragsdale: Yes. This is also a big one for me. The term you just used, “permanently failing organizations,” comes from a couple of researchers named Zucker and Meyer and they coined the term when they undertook a study to try to understand … for a long time there was an assumption that organizations that lasted a long time were high-performing and they went about examining that and saying, “Actually, it seems like there are organizations that exist a long time that aren't particularly high-performing,” and so this notion is really … the concern is when organizations reach a point where they're continuing to exist even though they're not really achieving or pursuing their nominal goals, the goals that they had at the outset. And I think we have a lot of this in the nonprofit sector and there are many reasons for it, but maybe a few of them: we have goals that are really hard to measure and define, right? Like “quality” and “relevance” and well, who's going to come in and-

Erik Gensler: “Artistic excellence.” (laughs)

Diane Ragsdale: Exactly. Who's going to come in and make the determination that you've officially failed at that, right? We own property and we conflate bricks-and-mortar buildings with a mission. And so, we think, “Well we've got a building. We’ve got to keep that going.” I think that, also, from the outset, you know, baked into some of those early materials advanced by the Ford Foundation and others was this notion that these organizations should become permanent institutions. It was as though we decided that that was … that endurance alone was a valuable goal. And I really think we need to question that. And so, I've spent time thinking about when should organizations stop? When should they persist? In particular, I think dance companies that have iconic single-choreographer heads, I think there's a real question, the extent to which permanence is appropriate for them. I'm not even sure the nonprofit form is particularly the right form for companies like that. But at the point at which you're no longer able to achieve your goals, the point at which the kind of questions, policies, principles, goals that animated the organization at the outset, the point at which you can't achieve those without some sort of Faustian bargain, right, I think it's time to stop and to say, “You know, should we continue on or should we let ourselves end this so we can begin something else anew?” and/or you really need to look at economic model and understand, you know, this relationship between economics and aesthetics and ethics. There are limits to what you can achieve, right? And we can set out with lofty goals but ultimately be undermined by the economics of our buildings or all sorts of things and to just continue to go, even though we now recognize we have become unmoored from our purposes, I think is really not serving society. And there are opportunity costs. Every permanently failing organization that continues is lack of resource for another organization that could be born and potentially thrive, that is more relevant. Right?

Erik Gensler: Yeah. And then drains the sector.

Diane Ragsdale: Right.

Erik Gensler: Yeah. And so, really deep, important, fundamental foundational questions and I love thinking about that.

Diane Ragsdale: Yeah.

Erik Gensler: So, we've come to your last question, which I think lots of times, I ask people for advice, but perhaps I'll ask you to ask your questions.

Diane Ragsdale: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: And we call this your “CI to Eye moment” and the question is, if you can broadcast the Executive Directors, leadership teams, staff, and Board of a thousand arts organizations, what questions would you ask them in order to help them think about improving their businesses?

Diane Ragsdale: Well ,let's go to where we were just talking. There's something I've recently begun to kind of formulate, that, you know, missions are squishy and buildings and bottom lines are not and judgments about art are subjective and human beings are often self-interested and the nonprofit form lends itself to manipulation and to serving the interests of a few rather than the general public. If you look at this—we could call them a confluence of forces or dynamics—I think that arts organizations need to be aware of these dynamics and can't hang their hats or trust or lean into mission statements and value statements as enough to keep them moored to their purposes. I really think we need non-negotiable principles or policies that we set that hold our feet to the fire so that when these forces are in play, we are compelled to constrain ourselves from certain behaviors and actions that might otherwise lead us to program an entire season that is white, western, and womanliness, right? Or any other thing that we might be trying to avoid, that we put in our mission statements. We have value statements, we have all sorts of things that we say we're trying to do, but what is it that really holds our feet to the fire? So, I think my question arising out of that is, if you look at your mission statement and you look at your values that are posted wherever they're posted, all of the lofty rhetoric, are you holding your feet to the fire? What is holding your feet to the fire? Have you created the policies, the principles, the habits of practice that are really going to ensure that you uphold those over time or for as long as they are relevant, right? With all understanding that these things can and should shift over time. I worry that boards and leaders sometimes stop short of setting those policies and want to trust themselves to just make the right decisions, but can get edged off of doing the right thing at the moment when the bills have to be paid, right? So, we have to take the money. We decided to do this show, not that show. We hired this person, not that person. And before you know it, you know, we have a list of values that are completely incongruous with what we're doing, right. Values that we've stated that are out of step with what we're doing. So, what's holding your feet to the fire?

Erik Gensler: That's a great question. Thank you so much.

Diane Ragsdale: Thank you. It was real pleasure.