Our Experiment: BottomsUP: The Arts Administrator as Practitioner Challenge

From 2013/14 EAP Fellowship Regenerative Practices Group

Creativity, risk-taking, and experimentation are values that the Arts embrace and promote, but mainly in the work that is being produced, and less frequently in the administration that supports and facilitates this production. Despite being a field filled with creative people, arts administrators have historically been risk-averse in order to provide stable ground for the artists themselves. However as artistic practice, audiences, and our world change ever more quickly, arts organizations need learn to evolve as adaptively as the artists and audiences they serve. In order to do this as emerging professionals, or on any level, confident experimentation will become an essential practice for maximizing professional development and potential impact.

“Risk-taking” continued to come up in fellowship discussions about Regenerative Practices, because strategic plans and more general operation funding are only part of the picture. Support for experimentation whether in the form of capital or space is needed. EmcArts, Fractured Atlas, EAP, Americans for the Arts, and many other arts service organizations have been encouraging this spirit in a myriad of ways over the last few years. ArtsFwd, a platform of EmcArts, has captured the stories of many organizations that have embraced this attitude in their innovation stories. Berkeley Rep Director Susan Mendak found tremendous value in building and toning her “risk-taking muscles” through the program. Her talk focused on creating a more entrepreneurial culture from an institutional standpoint, and shared that Berkeley Rep relies on strong leadership to uphold this vision, as well as strong employee support at all levels in sustaining such an organizational ethos.

David Devan, Director of Opera Philadelphia recently made a similar decision to support experimentation by proposing a dramatic change in their finance structure to create a pool of capital to directly fund risk- taking in their programming.  Borrowing from the venture capital model, David Devan notes the structure of the process that puts the concept first, and then finds the money to fund it.  Arizona’s Art Tank project (named after the popular show, Shark Tank) is also working in this way by asking organizations to clarify their visions and present ideas that are future-driven for seed-funding. One of the Art Tank organizers greatest takeaways was that younger, less established organizations truly shone at these events.

Arts leaders and artists, such as David Devan, Susan Mendak, Nina Simon and Laura Zabel are already tackling the lack of creativity in standard organizational practices by giving their staffs permission to investigate the questions that have not been addressed with success. However, many institutions simply do not have internal cultures and funding structures to support the desire for broader participation, not only for their audiences, but also for their staffs. BottomsUP: the Administrator as Practitioner Challenge brings the opportunity to flex those risk-taking muscles through concept development, and the chance to secure the funding to further develop, test, and implement the concept. As with the Arts Tank experiment, we’re betting on the younger and less-established arts workers to shake things up.

This is an opportunity for emerging artists and arts administrators, who may not be in leadership positions, or have agency to present and realize new strategies, to take risks. The intent is for this agency to shift the focus in their work from that of a passive administrator, to an active practitioner, to allow for bottoms-up influence in the organization or practice, and to build the muscles that will create nimble and adventurous arts leaders for the future

Our mission is to give arts workers and artists the permission to get creative in HOW they make art happen.

How might a little extra money, without the strings or pressure for “success” in implementation, provide a means of engaging new or different audiences, creating new partnerships, or working with technology to enable more efficient outreach and utilize new platforms of presentation? We all have ideas we talk about that seem out of range, out of reach, out of our job description. EAP wants to offer you permission to explore that fledgling idea.

Three practitioners will be invited to present their ideas in person at a soup dinner event, modeled after the Sunday Soup movement. Members of the Bay Area arts ecosystem (and our friends) will vote on the most compelling and delightful submission.  The winners will be granted the proceeds from the event ticket sales, estimated to be between $500 and $1,000 each to be used as “change capital” – a one-time infusion of cash to iterate a solution that could improve the health of your organization.  No promises of “success” required. No idea is too ridiculous.

For arts organizations to establish a culture of individual risk-taking and experimentation, individual staff members must prove the value of this practice. EAP seeks to empower and celebrate invention and experimentation as ongoing regenerative practices that help keep our artists and institutions relevant and connected to the various constituencies we serve.

In an era that favors resiliency over status, we all benefit from inhabiting a posture of abundance and intimacy, as opposed to one of scarcity and control.  The soup dinner on April 16th will gather a community in celebration and support of abundant experimentation.

For specifics about the call for proposals please click here
Submit your proposal here

Proposals are due by Wednesday, April 2nd at 6pm.
Send any questions directly to eap-bottomsup@googlegroups.com


2013/14 Fellowship Regenerative Practices Group  is formed by the following:
Claire Frost, Curatorial Assistant, Contemporary Jewish Museum
Tossie Long, Musician, Research Associate, PBI Associates
Adriana Marcial, Development & Communications Manager, Joe Goode Performance Group
Alex Randall, Operations Manager, Bloomboard
Caroline Walthall, Development Associate, ODC/Dance


Beverages will be made available through the generosity of Senses Wines,
a fine, emerging winery in Sonoma County, and Anchor Brewing, America’s
finest and oldest craft brewery.
The chosen project will also receive five hours of design, business strategy,
and/or development consulting from ARTtwo50, a tech company dedicated
to supporting emerging artists and those who enjoy their work.
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