Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe and Everything
Weekly Features (scroll down to find them)
Function of the Week: Spaces & Systems | Framework of the Week: Affordances
Questions? Ask ArtsManaged
Molly Smith and Edgar Dobie often describe their thirteen-year partnership at Arena Stage as a balance of ambition and capacity. As Artistic Director, Molly emphasizes ambition. As Executive Producer and President, Edgar emphasizes capacity. It is by no means a clean and complete split, as ambition and capacity interact in every job at every level of an arts organization. But it's a reminder that creative action is a product of not only vision, but also the people, money, and stuff required to make that vision real.
This week's featured framework, affordances, captures this entanglement in ways conventional language cannot. Psychologist J.J. Gibson coined the term to describe the entangled relationship between any animal and its environment, writing:
All action happens when action-intention meets action-potential. You can't pass between rooms unless there's an opening you can fit through. You can't move forward unless there's a surface that sustains your step. Affordances can range from simple – a horizontal plane for sitting, a handrail for grasping – to highly complex – space, staffing, money, equipment, audience, and the full array of required skills for producing a live performance.
Through this lens, Arts Management is largely about matching aspiration with affordances. When affordances aren't sufficient to the creative intention, they can be sought out, built out, or recalibrated by growing internal skills or abilities.
It is common and even useful to consider ourselves and our environments as separate things. The actor and the stage. The artist and the studio. The musician and the instrument. The manager and the organization. But affordance theory suggests that this reduction misses the essential dynamics at play. If we only understand ourselves and our environments as separate things, we miss the vital and varying nature of the dance.
Function of the Week: Spaces & Systems
Spaces & Systems involves selecting, securing, stewarding, and harnessing the built environment and technological infrastructure.
Framework of the Week: Affordances
Psychologist J.J. Gibson coined the term "affordances" to describe a complementary relationship between an animal and its environment. He suggested that the affordances offered by any environment will be relative to the nature and capacity of the animal within it.
Questions? Ask ArtsManaged
Do you have a puzzle, problem, or persistant concern about Arts Management? Post your question to this online and anonymous form. I’ll select questions to answer in the Field Guide, or in this newsletter, so that we can all learn together about the real-world messes we face.