As the first post on our newly minted website, I thought it appropriate to re-print a slightly elaborated version of CultureWorks’ Vision Statement, which will provide a point of departure for a number of posts over the months to come. The concept of “resilience” at the heart of our mission and vision for our cultural community has many dimensions and will likely require a very different policy context to fully understand and adopt as a means of assessing and increasing the vitality of arts and culture in contemporary American society.
We envision Greater Philadelphia as home to the most resilient cultural and creative community in the United States. Our community is known for its pervasive optimism, sense of opportunity, and ready access to the resources needed to support the unrelenting will to create.
The astonishing debt that cultural organizations carry today (currently 50% of all regional organizations) will be reduced significantly or eliminated. And the framework of scarcity that seems to pervade the funding and philanthropic community changes to one of plenty, bolstered by increasing focus on earned revenues. Traditional preference for scalability (bigger = better) and organizational independence (independent > collective) will cede to a more pluralistic vision in which we focus on the right size for organizations over other preconceived values of what it means to be “legit.” Structures for sharing resources and achieving greater impact will abound, for individual artists, producers, makers, and organizations alike.
In this new cultural order, we will assess the health of the cultural sector by measuring its ability to keep making and doing whatever it does without duress—plain and simple. Social and economic impact will be among the things that contribute to this ability, but not the core drivers and arbiters of the value of arts and culture, as they are today. To reduce the metric of cultural health to mere dollars and cents, audience figures, or social impacts is too narrow, and tends to eliminate individual creative practices, small organizations, and gift-based models from the picture. We feel it’s not about the size of your programs, audiences, or budget. It’s about finding the right size for your work—balancing impact with resources in a sustainable way. That is the key to resilience and long-term health.
To put some numbers to this vision, we are developing a Resilience Index—a holistic measurement tool that will look at the wide variety of factors that contribute to cultural resilience. It will include money and audience stats, but go far beyond those variables. Our Index will assess the resilience of individuals as its most basic unit of measurement not institutions (our current standard), allowing for a more encompassing look at the true capacity and value of the cultural sector.
Resilience, in our view, transcends age, geographic reach, staff size, budget size, socio-economic value sets, and the staggering diversity of cultural traditions that find home in our country. It has the ability to compare people and institutions based on the most fundamental and critical factor influencing the future of culture—the resilience of the individual artist or culture worker. Institutions are nothing more than the sum of the individuals that constitute them. We will not achieve a truly advanced and practical assessment of American culture until we can set side-by-side in meaningful comparison the resilience (and thus the value) of an emerging artist toiling in a loft in North Philadelphia and the resilience of the one of our oldest and largest cultural institutions. This is our vision, and we are well on our way to seeing it realized.