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Ben Cameron concludes his reflections on the place of the arts in our culture by articulating a stirring vision of the potential role the arts might play in a responsive society. It is hard to imagine a vision more appropriate to the church.
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Cameron’s fifth quality that has the capacity to help an organization thrive is the willingness to take risks.

a business that does not risk does not grow, a relationship with husband wife or partner that does not risk does not grow, the artist who does not risk–however capable–is doomed merely to technical excellence but never achieves the true artistic moment for which we all live and work.
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The fourth characteristic Cameron sees in organizations that will meet the future successfully is a commitment to what he calls “essentializing.”

The groups that are most likely to survive are those committed to essentializing—to becoming rigorously clear about their values, rigorously committed to absolute pursuit of mission and absolute irreverence in examining past behavior. Every organizational assumption that guides them will be challenged.

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The third quality Cameron suggests that will help organizations to move forward is the willingness to ask hard questions. He suggests a number of questions we need to ask our organizations in order to find the way ahead.

We must begin by asking, “Why must we continue to exist today?” Because we have a building is not good enough. Because we have a history is not enough. Because we have a staff and a season and a history of awards is not enough. What is it in the world—in the external world—than mandates the flourishing of the arts in our communities and in the world today?
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The second quality Cameron identifies that will help organizations prosper is an emphasis on engagement.
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The fourth challenge Cameron identifies for organizations that compete for peoples’ leisure time is technology.

Technology has emerged as our biggest competitor for leisure time: Gen X-ers spend 20.7 hours of leisure time every week on TV and online combined, the majority TC; Gen Y-ers spend even more—22.8 hours, the majority on line—and growing by leaps and bounds. By the time Net-geners reach their twenties, they will have spent more than 20,000 hours on the Internet and an additional 10,000 hours playing video games, a trend producing a radical redefinition of a cultural market in which computer games now outsell movie and music recordings combined.

Most profoundly, perhaps, technology is altering the very assumptions of consumption: thanks to the internet, we believe we can get anything we want, whenever we want it, customized to our own personal specifications. We can shop at three in the morning or ten o’clock at night, expectations of convenience and personalisation that live performing arts organizations—organizations who depend on set curtain times, specific geographic venues, attendant inconveniences of parking, travel and the like—simply cannot meet.

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Finances and leadership are not the only challenges the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation identified in 2007. Time also emerged as a major factor in shaping the struggles many organizations face today.

the ever-accelerating schedule of our lives is producing a populace characterized by unprecedented exhaustion and over-scheduling, a time in which (according to a Yankelovich poll) half of consumers across all income levels say that lack of time is a bigger problem than lack of money. 42% of men and 55% of women say they are too tired to do the things they want to do and the #1 answer about most eagerly anticipated use of a free evening is no longer socializing, dating or attending a special event but ”a good night’s sleep.”

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In addition to the obvious financial challenges facing many charitably funded organizations today, Cameron identifies leadership as an important challenge.

In 2007, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation launched a series of national conversations in an attempt to listen to people, and discover what were the most critical issues facing their arts organizations. (As an aside: it is interesting that the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation should perceive that listening is the beginning of the way forward in addressing a difficult situation.)

Among the insights that emerged out of these “national conversations,” was an understanding that organizations today are being affected by a radical shift in the way leadership is viewed.
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Thinking about the changes that affect the ability of organizations to thrive in our current cultural climate, Cameron focuses particularly on economic forces. He examines the attempts that have been made to deal with the difficult financial realities of our day.
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Ben Cameron is the Program Director for the Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in New York City.

Judging by the google hits for his name, Mr. Cameron spends a lot of time travelling the world. Wherever he goes he delivers a speech in which he speaks about the state of the arts and the struggles arts organizations are having in our current uncertain economic climate.

The most accessible version of this talk was given in February 2010 and recorded as one of the TEDs addresses. It is twelve minutes long and can be viewed at: http://www.ted.com/talks/ben_cameron_tedxyyc.html. A variety of printed versions are also available on the internet. Among other places, he has given this talk at the Illinois Arts Alliance’s 2009 Members’ Meeting in the Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago and at the International Society for the Performing Arts.

It is a powerful talk that raises important issues not only for arts organizations but for all organizations that depend for their existence on the voluntary participation of their constituents. Everyone has to buy food and clothing. Money and time spent on the ballet, or attending the symphony are discretionary spending, easily be abandoned in difficult times.

I am particularly interested in how Cameron’s comments might apply in a church setting. The quotes that follow in this post and in successive posts (possibly twelve) are taken from his comments in Chicago and at the International Society for the Performing Arts. My own tentative reflections on how these thoughts might apply to the church follow Cameron’s comments.
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