Final facade_untouched_William Zbaren

Using dance as a learning platform for business, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is collaborating with more than 60 tech startups inhabiting 1871, a newly created co-working space in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.

ArtPlace spoke with Jason Palmquist, Executive Director of Hubbard Street, about his recent participation in The Creative Placemaking Summit.

ARTPLACE: What did you take away from The Creative Placemaking Summit?

PALMQUIST: I’ve spent a lot of time over the past several weeks thinking about the role that “major arts and cultural institutions” can play in the creative placemaking movement.

Of course, there is the initial problem of what is meant by “major” – as if to say that other organizations are “minor.”  While this is not a new concern, there is still sensitivity around it.  Rocco Landesman makes reference to “legacy” institutions.  Diane Ragsdale calls them “flagship” organizations.  Others might say “traditional.”  Ultimately, I think it comes down to two key factors – budget size and scope of mission.  “Flagship” seems to me to be the least offensive to all parties, so I’ll defer to Diane here.

At the Creative Placemaking Summit, one of my first “ah-ha” moments occurred during a conversation about creative placemaking and creative entrepreneurship.  Hubbard Street’s project aligns with these concepts – bringing dance as a platform for business learning to tech entrepreneurs – so I was interested to hear what insight other participants might have on our project specifically, but also on entrepreneurship in general.

I realized shortly into the conversation that I was one of the few people in the group who came from a traditionally structured performing arts organization.  Most participants were funders, people working in government agencies, or (for lack of a better term) for boutique organizations, to borrow another phrase from Diane, focused very narrowly on the creative industries.  Certainly, there is excitement about creative entrepreneurship all across the country, and these were some of the people leading that movement.  What was surprising to me was that no one seemed to care whether “institutions” were involved.  Their perspective: creative entrepreneurship was happening without the participation of flagship organizations and would surely continue to happen.

It reminded me of another time and another funding initiative.  Very early in my career, there was a movement afoot, primarily led by major funders, to shift dollars away from their previous focus on “institution building” (endowment campaigns, cash reserves, etc.) and toward arts education.  At the time, there were many boutique organizations specializing in the role that the arts can play in learning.  Flagship organizations were hardly operating in that space, outside of an occasional “student” performance – essentially a field trip.

Today, virtually every arts organization has extensive arts education programs.  At Hubbard Street, our education and community programs account for nearly a quarter of our full time staff.  Our work in the schools is absolutely fundamental to our mission.

The path from “there” (a time before arts education was fundamental to the mission of flagship organizations) to “here” was not an easy one for many institutions.  There was a lot to be learned from others who had been focused on the problem for years, but there was no mechanism for sharing that learning.  As a result, there were significant resources that could have been used much more efficiently.  More importantly, there were students who could have been impacted much more deeply.

It seems to me that the nascent creative placemaking movement has a choice to make.  Certainly there are many incredible organizations making impactful contributions – very few of them would be labeled as flagships.  With the current focus by foundation and government funders on creative placemaking, it is inevitable that flagship institutions will step into this space.  Will this be encouraged or resisted by existing creative placemakers?  Can we afford (financially and otherwise) to not make that transition as smooth as possible?

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