THE BLOG
08/13/2014 01:17 pm ET | Updated Oct 13, 2014

Creative Identity Series: Half-Brained Leadership & Religiosity True Culprits of Arts Crisis

Truth is, most arts organizations and most artists do not need more funding. They need more creativity. When one of the world's most recognizable orchestras is routinely, though quietly, ridiculed as being one of the worst sounding and most boring and one of the world's top music schools is noted more for having the most mean-spirited orchestra than the most impassioned performances, when young pianists trot out the same recitals and the same recordings of the same music as if it were mandated, when graduate schools still require dissertations that will never be read, when Gershwin still represents the bulk of orchestral pops programs and presenting Motown hits is a musical organization's answer to diversity, I think it's safe to say we're in the middle of a creativity crisis, not a funding one.

In Mark Batterson's writings on the role of the right-brain in effective church leadership, he emphasizes the main task should be "keeping what is sacred from becoming routine." It's the major task we face in the arts world and in life in general. We should be running from what he calls "routinization" but instead the arts world has been running towards it. We prescribe the same courses of study for our arts students no matter the hints the world is throwing our way about what impacts and engages people. We do not teach them to do either. We craft the same subscription series using the same proven guest artists because bottom lines prevail over crafting memorable experiences. We use the same markings etched in scores from a performance from 20 years ago out of an admirable loyalty, but possibly at the loss of revitalizing an orchestra secretly longing for newness. As Batterson puts it when discussing the growing mundanity of church worship services, what we have to offer now amounts to a form of "lip-syncing" that no one's buying.

During our concert experience our goal must be to shift the listener from critic to reveler in the time allowed. If successful, we end the concert having energized fanatics, enthralled newcomers and converted skeptics. Why play, why create, why be an artist if every artistic experience is not revelatory for both the musician and the person who is paying money or time to be present? Why go to church if you cannot feel God every time you go? Why be married if you cannot look at your spouse and at least remember what once stirred you?

Batterson points to longitudinal studies of the brain. It's an irony to be sure, but what's happening is that we as creatives, as arts organizations and arts leaders have given over to the natural occurrence of the shift in cognitive gravity from right brain to left that happens as we age. It is natural, but detrimental in an industry can only viably exist within extreme creativity. The shift to the left makes us rely on memory more than imagination and instead of the dreaming young artists used to do in regards to how they planned to effect the world with their art and the passion arts managers used to have in regards to the potential of their organizations to reach and change communities, the focus turns to a nostalgia for and a repeating of the past that we can remember. It is easier to remember the things that are familiar than to envision the new things that might move us forward, so a lazy religiosity ensues. It is easier to ridicule outright exuberance as immaturity than to embrace it once again in our carefully sculpted maturity, so passionless concerts ensue.

Backing our left-brained reliance is a rightful concern about finances and an older audience also experiencing the same cognitive shift from right to left. Our professors, conductors, deans, heads of arts agencies would be in the middle of the shift as well, so the reluctance for true revolution in the way the arts are taught and presented is strong. Maybe the most significant adverse effect is that we are possibly creating this shift in our young artists at an increasingly earlier age.

Even though this phenomenon happens later in life, the solution is not necessarily to hand over the reigns of arts administration to youth, but rather to remember as we get older what it was to be young and artful. In some American churches, whole services are being run by their youth, ages 13-30, and something tangible is happening. There is an electricity, an energy that pervades the services as you watch these young worshippers hop all over the stage, sing their hearts out, some in skinny jeans, tattoos and colored hair. Others are more conservatively dressed, but just as passionately engaged. For them the sacred has become even more sacred because of the intimacy and the passion they have brought to the worship experience. My church has some of these services and when I attend I find myself reaching into my purse, scrambling for whatever cash I have, without anyone asking. When I do not have enough on hand, I go donate online, without anyone asking. Not because I am trying to pay God, but because I just experienced Him. And if my money can help assure that more services like this occur and I will have yet another chance for me and others to experience Him in that way, I want to be a part of making sure that happens. When we as artists begin to craft experiences that feel like we cared enough to be creative in how we are offering them and like we are unashamedly in love with the art we are making, people will give, without anyone asking.

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