Raucous Caucuses and Imaginary Needs

Montauk & Orcas w-stars

Two conferences about creative support for artists

We had some brunch, then we had some lunch,
Then we talked some more until we tired.

We cursed and we swore, then we talked some more,
Following the shoals of salmon.

A stanza excerpted from “The Orcas Anthem”
Based on music & lyrics from “Shoals of Herring” by Ewan MacColl
New lyrics by Terry Dimmick, written on Orcas Island, 1988

In the late 1980s, several hundred people met twice at remote locations on two islands, one on the U.S. east coast and one on the west, to consider “the creative support of the creative artist.” Sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), the first conference was held in May 1986 at Montauk on the eastern tip of Long Island, New York and the second in November 1988 on Orcas Island near the Canadian border in Washington state. These two gatherings brought together artists, arts funders, and dedicated people from organizations that serve artists. For a day and a half (Montauk) or three full days (Orcas) they talked, performed, argued, ate together, played together, and tackled critical concerns within and beyond the arts. They also built life-long friendships and professional relationships and provoked questions that remain today.

I chose to be an artist. I had no choice. My parents thought I did. They said I should get a job.” – Trisha Brown, choreographer, letter to the conference 

In addition to the relationships and knowledge that remain long afterward, a physical record was also created. Participants in the Orcas conference were given custom-designed three-ring binders and received four installments of materials to fill them: commissioned papers from both conferences, background readings, conference proceedings, as well as letters and reports received from participants afterward. Complete notebooks contained almost 500 pages.

I have run a very successful small business for over 25 years. But I forgot to be paid. Well, I didn’t ‘forget’ – it would have been impossible.” Robert Ashley, composer, letter to the conference

With an interest in tracing the emergence of a national conversation about the place of artists in the system of arts support, Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) commissioned me to write about these two conferences. My perspective was undoubtedly colored by the fact that not only did I attend both events, I was in the whirling center of the second as its coordinator. My essay was published in the winter 2015 issue of the GIA Reader, and it’s also posted on an archival website I created for materials generated by the two gatherings. (A link to the site is here.) My essay is one of the pieces in the archive. I’ve begun posting materials from the conference notebook – some are interesting historically, others remain pertinent today – but the going is slow because the documents don’t exist digitally. All of this happened before the widespread use of personal computers and the internet. The notebook’s table of contents is posted on the site, though, and gives a sense of what the book contains.

A valuable lesson for me from these two conferences is the importance of creating opportunities for us to connect with each other, to talk and argue together, and to feel equal as participants.

From one perspective, the experience proved to David Mendoza* how important artists are to a democracy. Living now in Indonesia, a nascent democracy, he sees how important gatherings like these could be. In retrospect, I recognize in them some traits essential to a democracy: a forum that allows all voices to be heard and one where differences can be expressed.

Long Island, New York
Long Island, New York
Orcas Island, Washington
Orcas Island, Washington

««««««•»»»»»»

*David Mendoza was a founder and, at the time, the first executive director of Artist Trust.


cropped-9099-Logo-red_D-nick-squared.jpg

What is the commons?

What is the commons? (1) copy

A friend wrote recently wondering if I’d written any articles or notes on my ideas about the “commons.” His question made me realize that, despite how central the concept has become to my thinking, I haven’t written much about it in a way that’s easy to share. To offer a timely reply, I put something together for him made up of excerpts from longer pieces that touched on the commons, along with a “short and sweet” description by an admired commons thinker, David Bollier.1

Despite the fact that, reflecting back on it now, I may actually have misunderstood my friend’s question, what follows here is the piece I put together quickly that day.

««««•»»»»

Green Cuttings: Ideas to cultivate as waters rise2

This is the first part of an essay I wrote in April 2015 in anticipation of participating in a month-long residency with artists, scientists, an attorney or two, and others around the critical theme of climate change. I had the opportunity to be one of the organizers, with artists Buster Simpson and Laura Sindell, of the first Rising Waters Confab at the Rauschenberg Residency in May that year.3 (A second Rising Waters Confab is planned for May 2016.) Each of the three of us wrote an introduction to some of the questions we expected to pursue during the month. This began my contribution. – Anne

“The good appears not by proclamation but by conversation.” Lewis Hyde’s words from Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership capture something of my hope for the Rising Waters Confab.4  His book tells the story of the commons with a focus on the cultural commons. What I’m learning about the commons, both from him and others, gives me a framework that both guides how I imagine a healthy environmental future and, for me, provides a missing piece of the puzzle for how we’ll get there.

The commons is both an ancient and contemporary way of managing shared resources, such as water and air, creative and intellectual ideas, and scientific discoveries. I suspect that we won’t get far toward creating a more sustainable future unless we develop a stronger commitment to the commons and find ways to operate beyond just market and government spheres.

Hyde-Bollier descrip (2)

In reaching for that future, the commons “cannot be achieved by individual decision making alone; rather, it is created and sustained by common action,” says Bruce Sievers, another commons thinker I admire. Our Rising Waters Confab – and the meals, offsite adventures, play, and work we do together – may be a way to create our own commons and find “the good.” In addition to whatever else we do collectively, the conversation can itself be a valuable kind of common action.

The Commons

Lately I’ve been reading Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons by David Bollier.5  With Hyde’s Common as Air; Sievers’s Philanthropy, Civil Society, and the Fate of the Commons;and my work with Peter Pennekamp on the Community Democracy Workshop,7 Bollier’s writing has inspired me to find ways to bring the commons into my thinking, writing, conversations, and daily life. More recently I’ve discovered a relatively new book by Bollier and Burns Weston, Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Law of the Commons.8  While I haven’t read the book yet, I like their series of essays based on it, published by CSRwire, the Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire.9

Here’s an excerpt from one of the essays.

We believe that one of the most compelling, long-term strategies for dealing with the structural causes of our many ecological crises is to create and recognize legally, alternative systems of provisioning and governance. Fortunately, such an alternative general paradigm already exists.

 It’s called the commons.

 The commons in its broadest sense is a system of stewardship of shared resources. A commons is not run by government or businesses; the goal is not to maximize production or profit. A commons is a defined community of commoners who act as a conscientious trustee of given resources. They ensure that the land or water or fish is shared equitably among those who need it for their everyday needs.

I’m encouraged by my growing mental image of how a commons (and “green governance”) functions, where commons have existed in history, where they’re found now, and how they might interact with the economic and political systems of government and the market (in what Michael Bauwens refers to as a “triarchy”). But how in the world do we get from here to there?

to manage natural systems (19)

««««•»»»»

The commons as an option

This is an excerpt from a different essay.10  It was prompted by my involvement with Common Field, a newly-formed network that connects and serves experimental artist-centered organizations and organizers across the country.11  The founding members have engaged in an active discussion of how to think about the organizational form the network itself could take. Much of my essay discusses Common Field fairly specifically. The excerpt here comes toward the beginning. – Anne

Besides the structure of a formal nonprofit institution, other structures are available. Lately, I’ve been learning about the commons as another way to manage and govern resources, and, here, “resources” should be understood broadly, as natural resources like water and air or intangible resources like ideas, knowledge, and imagination. Whether the commons works as a pattern or form for Common Field is unclear right now, but the opportunity to try it out is intriguing. And, of course there’s the shared name.

So I offer a short description of the commons, a few of its principles, and some brief examples. I certainly can’t cover the ideas in much detail here; it’s a huge field of study with thousands of functioning examples. Maybe there’ll be just enough here to see whether the idea fits and is worth taking further.

In a search for a succinct description of a commons, I turn to David Bollier – an author and activist who has spent many years exploring the commons as a model for economics, politics, and culture. He has this to say:

In essence, the commons is about reclaiming and sharing resources that belong to everyone, and it is about building new social and institutional systems for managing those resources in equitable, sustainable ways.

 Although the commons is also an ancient form, Bollier stresses that it’s “a living reality.” Around the world, “people are managing forests, fisheries, irrigation water, urban spaces, creative works, knowledge, and much else as commons.”

collectively owned wealth (5)

A one-sentence definition of the commons from Bollier is one that I keep going back to: “The commons is a resource plus a defined community and the protocols, values, and norms devised by the community to manage its resources.” It’s a definition that makes more sense the more I learn.

The commons has many manifestations and definitions. There is no standard model for what a commons looks like. Each one runs in its own particular way, and across the world the commons takes thousands of forms. Though it’s not a cookie-cutter approach, there are a few principles that allow a commons to be effective and reliable.

A key set of principles for the commons was described by Elinor Ostrom, a political scientist who received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2009 for her work on the commons. Her life’s work showed that commons are viable, sustainable social systems for managing collective resources. A few of her principles are:

  • A commons must have clearly defined boundaries, for both the resource and the membership.
  • Collectively, the people of a commons must be able to develop their own rules and protocols for managing the resource.
  • They must also be able to devise systems to monitor how the resource is used and to identify and punish people who violate the rules.

Some of the places in today’s world where Bollier identifies active commons include: Traditional communities in Africa have developed their own “bio-cultural protocols” to help legally defend their lands and ways of life from neoliberal trade policies. Lobster fishers in Maine work together to ensure that no one over-harvests lobsters in a given bay. Community-Supported Agriculture farms and permaculture communities blend their agricultural practices and social ethics with the imperatives of the land. There are land trusts and community forests, and urban gardens and the Slow Food movement. The much newer digital world has spawned many commons. Examples range from Linux and thousands of free, open-source software programs to the burgeoning world of more than 10,000 open-access scholarly journals, whose articles are freely available in perpetuity and not restricted by paywalls or strict copyright control.

One of my favorite examples is Wikipedia, where information is the resource that’s managed and, as it states on the policy page of its website: “Wikipedia policies and guidelines are developed by the community to describe best practices, clarify principles, resolve conflicts, and otherwise further our goal of creating a free, reliable encyclopedia.” I especially appreciate the spirit of its guidelines in this sentence: “Policies and guidelines should always be applied using reason and common sense.”

««««•»»»»

Finally, because I so often refer to his writings, here’s a short description of the commons by David Bollier, from his website. – Anne

The Commons, Short and Sweet12

David Bollier
Fri, 07/15/2011 – 01:26

I am always trying to figure out how to explain the idea of the commons to newcomers who find it hard to grasp.  In preparation for a talk that I gave at the Caux Forum for Human Security, near Montreux, Switzerland, I came up with a fairly short overview, which I have copied below.  I think it gets to the nub of things.

The commons is….

  • A social system for the long-term stewardship of resources that preserves shared values and community identity.
  • A self-organized system by which communities manage resources (both depletable and replenishable) with minimal or no reliance on the Market or State.
  • The wealth that we inherit or create together and must pass on, undiminished or enhanced, to our children.  Our collective wealth includes the gifts of nature, civic infrastructure, cultural works and traditions, and knowledge.
  • A sector of the economy (and life!) that generates value in ways that are often taken for granted – and often jeopardized by the Market-State.

There is no master inventory of commons because a commons arises whenever a given community decides it wishes to manage a resource in a collective manner, with special regard for equitable access, use and sustainability.

The commons is not a resource.  It is a resource plus a defined community and the protocols, values and norms devised by the community to manage its resources.  Many resources urgently need to be managed as commons, such as the atmosphere, oceans, genetic knowledge and biodiversity.

There is no commons without commoning – the social practices and norms for managing a resource for collective benefit.  Forms of commoning naturally vary from one commons to another because humanity itself is so varied.  And so there is no “standard template” for commons; merely “fractal affinities” or shared patterns and principles among commons.  The commons must be understood, then, as a verb as much as a noun.  A commons must be animated by bottom-up participation, personal responsibility, transparency and self-policing accountability.

One of the great unacknowledged problems of our time is the enclosure of the commons, the expropriation and commercialization of shared resources, usually for private market gain.  Enclosure can be seen in the patenting of genes and lifeforms, the use of copyrights to lock up creativity and culture, the privatization of water and land, and attempts to transform the open Internet into a closed, proprietary marketplace, among many other enclosures

Enclosure is about dispossession.  It privatizes and commodifies resources that belong to a community or to everyone, and dismantles a commons-based culture (egalitarian co-production and co-governance) with a market order (money-based producer/consumer relationships and hierarchies).  Markets tend to have thin commitments to localities, cultures and ways of life; for any commons, however, these are indispensable.

The classic commons are small-scale and focused on natural resources; an estimated two billion people depend upon commons of forests, fisheries, water, wildlife and other natural resources for their everyday subsistence.  But the contemporary struggle of commoners is to find new structures of law, institutional form and social practice that can enable diverse sorts of commons to work at larger scales and to protect their resources fro m market enclosure.

New commons forms and practices are needed at all levels – local, regional, national and global – and there is a need for new types of federation among commoners and linkages between different tiers of commons.  Trans-national commons are especially needed to help align governance with ecological realities and serve as a force for reconciliation across political boundaries.  Thus to actualize the commons and deter market enclosures, we need innovations in law, public policy, commons-based governance, social practice and culture.  All of these will manifest a very different worldview than now prevails in established governance systems, particularly those of the State and Market.

Bollier, short descrip (4)

««««««•»»»»»»

Notes

  1. David Bollier’s blog, “News and perspectives on the commons” can be found here.
  1. Anne Focke, “Green Cuttings: Ideas to Cultivate as Waters Rise,” Rising Waters Confab I blog, April 14, 2015.
  1. Rising Waters Confab I, the report.
  1. Lewis Hyde, Common as Air: Revolution, Art, and Ownership, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010
  1. David Bollier, Think Like a Commoner: A Short Introduction to the Life of the Commons, New Society Publishers, 2014
  1. Bruce Sievers, Philanthropy, Civil Society, and the Fate of the Commons, University Press of New England, 2010
  1. Community Democracy Workshop, works to improve the practices of democracy for problem-solving in and by the communities where people live. Its brand-new website is here.
  1. David Bollier and Burns Weston, Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Law of the Commons, Cambridge University Press, 2014.
  1. A link to all of the essays by Bollier-Weston on CSRwire can be found here.
  1. Common Field – Finding a Form,” commissioned and published by Temporary Art Review, November 23, 201.
  1. Common Field website is here.
  1. David Bollier, “The Commons Short and Sweet,” News and Perspectives on the Commons, July 15, 2011.

Graphics note: The images included here are three in a series of 25 prints that I produced in the studio at the Rauschenberg Residency during the first Rising Waters Confab. Robert Rauschenberg worked in this studio for the last 40 years of his life. The originals are 13×40 inches.


9099 Logo-red_D, nick squared

Zuckerberg’s billions – politics, investing, and charity

It’s time for us, as a polis, to revisit the mechanisms that distinguish politics, investing, and charity, the values we ascribe to each, and the boundaries that define them.1

Lucy Bernholz, self-described “philanthropy wonk,”2 wrote this in a short piece about the initial way the press covered the announcement of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan announced the Initiative on December 1 last year in a letter to their newborn daughter, Max.3 In the letter, they pledged to give to this Initiative 99% of their Facebook shares over their lifetime, currently estimated to be worth $45 billion. The mission of the initiative, they said, is “to advance human potential and promote equality for all children in the next generation.” Their initial areas of focus, they said, “will be personalized learning, curing disease, connecting people, and building strong communities.”

Chan & Zuckerberg

The big news – in the philanthropic world, at least – is that the initiative will not be a charity despite its stated intention to do good in the world. It will be a limited liability corporation, or LLC. The Initiative’s Facebook page said, “The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s configuration gives it the freedom and funding to take big swings at the causes of humanity’s troubles.”

On Facebook, Zuckerberg discussed the decision to use an LLC: “This enables us to pursue our mission by funding nonprofit organizations, making private investments, and participating in policy debates.” He also stressed that, since the new venture is an LLC, putting their money there does not give them any tax benefits.

At the same time, a piece by Suzanne Wooley on BloombergBusiness makes some of the benefits of an LLC clear and suggests ways that the LLC form determines what the Initiative can do.4  1) There won’t be limits on advocacy and lobbying. 2) The Initiative can turn a profit, though that’s not the aim, Zuckerberg says. 3) It will be easier to do joint ventures with for-profit companies. And 4) it avoids the requirement, placed on a nonprofit foundation, that at least 5% of its value be given away each year. In addition, Zuckerberg is CEO of the new Initiative, meaning, as Kurt Wagner put it on <RE/CODE>, “…Zuckerberg can spend his billions wherever he wants.”5

And, now, I come round again to the quote from Lucy Bernholz that I started with. Right after the quote I used, she goes on to say:

Using all three tools [charity, investing, and politics] may be strategically advantageous to donors. But democracies may have good reason to not allow these activities to become interchangeable even as they may be complementary. If we believe there are differences between political activity and charitable giving – for example, if we think one should be transparent and the other has room for anonymity – we need to protect those distinctions.

The blurring of lines between charity, politics, and investing can have some upsides, but the results brought about by those who’ve been doing it for a long time should give us pause. It’s the systems and rules about these activities that need fixing. And that’s up to us.

In addition to suggesting that we understand the distinctions between the mechanisms of and the boundaries defining these three worlds, Lucy asks us to consider the “values we ascribe to each.” Thinking especially about how the three realms differ from each other in terms of their values calls to mind a framework I’ve carried with me since the mid-1990s. It’s one I adopted from Jane Jacobs in Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics, published in 1992.6

In this book, Jacobs first identifies two different ways of getting a living, that is, of ways to survive – trading and guardianship. She calls them “syndromes.” Trading includes the whole commercial, profitmaking world of people who trade or produce for trade. Guardians, on the other hand, traditionally were hunter-gatherers, raiders, and warriors who survived by taking (also meaning, as I understand it, by taxing). Today, guardians are also involved in protecting territory and resources, not just taking them. Among others, the state in its various forms, governmental agencies, legislatures, the police, and many religious organizations are guardians.

Jacobs book crop

In her book, Jacobs contends that each of the syndromes has its own set of morals – manners, customs, mores, and social sanctions that provide systems of informal social regulation. The morals in the commercial syndrome include, among others: be honest, respect contracts, compete, come to voluntary agreements, shun force, use initiative and enterprise, be efficient, promote comfort, collaborate easily with strangers, be thrifty, be optimistic. The guardian syndrome, on the other hand, includes morals such as: shun trading, exert prowess, be obedient and disciplined, adhere to tradition, be loyal, respect hierarchy, show fortitude, take vengeance, make rich use of leisure, be fatalistic, treasure honor.

What really grabbed my attention was that, as Jacobs presented them, the two sets are not interchangeable. Qualities found in one syndrome are not appropriate in the other. Beyond simply their differences, she believed that the two syndromes, while interdependent, must function separately. In fact, she said, “Crazy things happen systematically when either moral syndrome…embraces functions inappropriate to it.” This can lead to “systemic corruption” and to what she called, “monstrous hybrids.”

In notes to myself at the time, I wrote, “The idea that different moral standards apply in different circumstances is powerful. We live, it seems, with an underlying assumption that a single moral standard should apply throughout. It would be so much cleaner and easier that way. But the argument for different moral syndromes rings true.” However, I immediately went on to tell myself, “I’m convinced that two are not enough. Gifts and gift exchange are missing.” After making lists of morals for all three, I wrote, “My guess is that gifts and voluntary efforts may be an invisible but essential partner of trading, and maybe taking, too – both need gifts, just as trading needs guardians and vice versa.”

So many more thoughts race through my mind as I write, but for now, I’ll just go back to Lucy’s call that we revisit the mechanisms that distinguish politics (the guardian), investing (the trader), and charity (the gift giver) and that we consider the values we ascribe to each and the boundaries that define them.

• • • • • • • • • • • •

Notes

  1.  Lucy Bernholz, “What if the headline had read . . . ,” Medium, January 12, 2016.
  2. Digital Civil Society Lab: People, “Lucy Bernholz.” 
  3. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, “A Letter to Our Daughter,” December 1, 2015.
  4. Suzanne Wooley, “Four Reasons the Facebook Fortune Is Going Into an LLC” BloombergBusiness, December 2, 2016.
  5. Kurt Wagner, “Mark Zuckerberg Responds to Critics, Explains Where His Money Is Going,” <RE/CODE>, December 3, 2015.
  6. Jane Jacobs, Systems of Survival: A Dialogue on the Moral Foundations of Commerce and Politics, Random House, 1992.

cropped-9099-Logo-red_D-nick-squared.jpg

A creative form to match the spirit of Common Field

Anne Focke, August 18, 2017

Is it possible to find a creative form for Common Field – one that is continually renewed by a restless desire for something always alive and always better?

Common Field has a brand-new, very practical legal form. It is now a 501(c)(3) organization. This and other practical structures being created by Common Field’s council, board, and staff will allow the network to operate in the world as it is today. I’m a proud member of Common Field’s council and of the governance team charged with overseeing the process of creating this legal form.

At some point, though, it struck me that legal forms are only one kind of structure that a group of people might create to work together. A second, complementary, and probably necessary, form would take advantage of the imagination that we bring to it as artists.

The words of artists helped me come to this conclusion. One source is a book of essays by Wendell Berry that, coincidentally, I began reading while attending a NAAOconference years ago (mid-1980s, I think, at the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago). In one essay, “People, Land, and Community,” Berry describes the faulty assumption that we can ever become smart enough to control the “demons at large.” He wrote:

The evidence is overwhelming that knowledge does not solve the “human problem.”

For our purposes here, I’d replace “knowledge” with facts or rules or legalities. A little later Berry says, “It is simply true that we do not and cannot know enough to make any important decision.” He applies this to marriage, farming, and community. I suspect that, for Common Field, it’s also true that, to clumsily paraphrase him, “No legal form can ever solve our human problem.” What I take from this is that, as hard as it is to make a decision the first time, the real work of making it a good decision comes after that, in continuing to understand and adapt it and to make the decision work in the real world.

Then, in another essay, “Poetry and Marriage,” which is more explicitly about form, Berry wrote this:

Properly used, a verse form, like a marriage, creates impasses, which the will and present understanding can solve only arbitrarily and superficially. These halts and difficulties are, perhaps, the true occasions of the poem: occasions for surpassing what we know or have reason to expect… One puts down the first line of the pattern in trust that life and language are abundant enough to complete it.

Maybe that’s what we’re doing now, writing the first line of Common Field’s pattern. And we have to trust that life and our actions together are abundant enough to fill out the pattern that we begin.

This same essay includes other memorable sentences: “It may be, then, that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course.” And another…“The impeded stream is the one that sings.”

A nice follow-on to Berry comes from Martha Graham in an exchange that Agnes de Mille recorded in her memoir, Dance to the Piper. De Mille wrote:

The greatest thing [Martha] ever said to me was in 1943 after the opening of Oklahoma!, when I suddenly had unexpected flamboyant success for a work I thought was only fairly good, after years of neglect for work I thought was fine. I was bewildered and worried that my entire scale of values was untrustworthy….

I said, “When I see my work I take for granted what other people value in it. I see only its ineptitude, inorganic flaws, and crudities. I am not pleased or satisfied.”

“No artist is pleased.” 

“But then is there no satisfaction?”

“No satisfaction whatever at any time,” she cried out passionately. “There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and more alive than the others.”

 All this is meant to offer an expanded context for developing the legal documents, while maybe removing some of the pressure to get them exactly right. And it sets up a question:  In addition to putting in place the legal framework that Common Field needs simply to work in the world today, can we approach Common Field as a creative form? Can we create a larger form — that is, beyond the legal structure — a form begun and periodically renewed by a restless desire for something always alive and always better, a container for imagination and aspirations held together by commitment and trust that can take us past the obstructions that baffle us now and through the many obstacles that will undoubtedly baffle us in the future?

The kind of form I’m imagining needs more than legal bonds to hold it together, to release all the possibility inherent in this field. To my mind, the legalities are secondary to the real form we need. Perhaps we can create an image or an action or a text that Common Field could re-stage or renew at its annual convening every year, a kind of ritual maybe. Perhaps it could begin at the convening this year, perhaps with something really simple that could be continually adapted over time.

One example, though I’m not suggesting it for Common Field, comes from a 1980s conference about “creative support for creative artists” that closed with a piece by composer/performer Pauline Oliveros. In a bright dining room at lunch time (that is, no soft lights, no candles), Pauline directed us in humming together in an easy-to-follow pattern. That simple act, in unison, seemed to set us up to leave the conference with a larger sense of ourselves as a whole. The experience stays with me still.

The culture we live in today, even more than in Graham and de Mille’s or even Berry’s time, is caught up in, or to my mind trapped by, “metrics,” measurements, and the rational. It’s easy to forget that that’s only one aspect of being human, only one side of what defines our relationships with each other. It would be amazing if, over time, Common Field could find a way to express its non-rational form. It would go a long way to helping it be the singing stream in Berry’s essay.

Notes

1. The full statement of Common Field’s “Core Values” can be found here.
2. Standing by Words: Essays by Wendell Berry, North Point Press,1983.
3. NAAO, or the National Association of Artists’ Organizations, was founded in 1982 and held its last conference in 2000 in Brooklyn, NY. It served many of the same purposes that Common Field has been formed to meet.


9099 Logo-red_D, nick squared

Private Resources for Public Good: An annual forecast from Lucy Bernholz

“How do we carry the core purpose of civil society into the digital age?”

“As we return to an era in which more than half of full time workers may be freelancing, the systems of social supports are going to have to change.”

“Perhaps more people’s working lives will begin to look like those of independent artists and less like life-term nonprofit corporate climbing.”

“If the economy is undergoing fundamental shifts, what role do we want nonprofits, foundations, and other social economy actors to play?”

Excerpts, Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2016
Lucy Bernholz

photo of Lucy

These are all quotes from Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2016, by Lucy Bernholz. I offer them to suggest the range of topics covered in her latest annual forecast for people working in and interested in philanthropy and the social economy.

Every December for the past seven years, Lucy, a self-professed philanthropy wonk*, has written a forecast for philanthropy and the social economy – that is, the economy that uses private resources for public good. She provides insight into big ideas that will matter in the coming year, makes specific predictions for 2016, identifies buzzwords that will likely come into prominence, and offers glimpses into deeper concerns she sees coming over the horizon. She packs a lot into the forecast’s 24 pages. I’ve had the good fortune to work with her since the publication was just an idea. In general terms, my role is as sounding board, clarifier, and editor.

The latest installment, Blueprint 2016: Philanthropy and the Social Economy (link below), was published just last week by GrantCraft, a service of the Foundation Center. For the past six years, Lucy has been pushing her readers to expand their understanding of the social economy beyond just nonprofits and charitable giving to include a wider world that includes social enterprises (B Corporations, L3Cs), online alliances, social impact investing, informal networks, and political activism. She has also been a consistent voice urging greater awareness of our “digital civil society,” in other words, the ways we use our private resources for public benefit in the digital age.

blueprint_2016_fina            blueprint_2015cover

Last year’s Blueprint 2015 contained sections that provide a great summary of both the social economy and digital civil society. Especially if you’re not familiar with Lucy’s thinking or with these concepts, I highly recommend it. The Blueprints may be annual forecasts, but their value extends considerably beyond a single year.

The structure of work

Working with Lucy always teaches me a lot, and this year I was especially excited because one of the two big ideas she urges us to watch next year has also been on my mind: the structure of work. She considers how work is changing and how these changes apply to philanthropy and the social economy. She says:

The coming year is shaping up to see the issues of workers’ rights, wages, and income inequality raised to the level of national and regional political topics. It’s time to consider how the changing workplace and its impact on lives and communities influences nonprofits, foundations, and civil society.

She considers research on the impact of advances in robotics and automation. She mentions scholars and activists focused on inequality and on increasing wages for the lowest-paid workers. She provides statistics that support the conclusion that “almost half of us – with or without smartphone apps and the rhetoric of the ‘gig’ economy – are working by the project or one-off opportunity whether we recognize it or not.” We’re freelancers and part-time or temporary workers.

She emphasizes that, as we enter an era in which more than half of full-time workers may be freelancers, the systems of social supports (from social security to health care, taxes, childcare, and retirement funds) are going to have to change. Having spent almost all my working life as this kind of worker, I wholeheartedly agree.

One approach to revising – or reforming – our system of social supports was the topic of discussion in a different setting, a recent conversation at Seattle’s Town Hall, organized by Edward Wolcher and me under the series title, Penny U. The discussion revolved around the establishment of a minimum basic income – an idea championed by Martin Luther King, conservative economist F.A. Hayek, and Robert Reich.

Artists’ work

In Lucy’s Blueprint 2016, I especially appreciate that she includes artists in her thinking. The following two passages among others, appear in this issue:

Some of civil society has operated as a ‘gig economy’ for a long time. In particular, artists and activists have often spent their entire lives weaving in and out of ‘regular jobs,’ doing their work independently and as part of institutions.

Even if only a handful of the predictions being made about the future of work are accurate, many more of us, not just artists, are likely to need the skills of designing our own work lives as hybrid part-time workers and self-employed entrepreneurs rather than just taking full-time jobs defined by others.

And more

The 2016 Blueprint investigates and provokes questions about many other related topics. The short quotes I use to start this piece only begin to suggest the range of compelling topics and themes covered. Rather than spend any more time summarizing them, I simply suggest that you go to GrantCraft’s site (links below), download your own copy, and read the original.

Here are a few more quotes to tempt you:

“Given all the changes in the nature of employment, the spread of automation, and the fluctuating value of data, we’re bound to see new enterprise forms.”

“We need to develop governance models, organizational norms, and new policies for digital civil society.”

“We need to understand and adapt the ways data and algorithms are used to shape public policy.”

“In today’s online environment, the less data collected, the safer the individual.”

“What does a social sector characterized by networks, distributed governance, and greater rates of spending look like compared to what we know now?”

 


* Lucy Bernholz has worked in, consulted to, and written about philanthropy and the social economy since 1990. Now she is a visiting scholar at Stanford University and works at the Digital Civil Society Lab, which is part of Stanford’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society (PACS). Her blog is titled “Philanthropy 2173, on Twitter she’s known as @p2173, and she posts most of her articles, speeches, and presentations online at www.lucybernholz.com.

References

•   Read the press release for Blueprint 2016 here.
•   Download Blueprint 2016 here.
•   Download Blueprint 2015 here.
•   Connect with Lucy’s blog, Philanthropy 2173 here.
•   Find more about the Digital Civil Society Lab here.


cropped-9099-Logo-red_D-nick-squared.jpg