Simply Keep Pushing
Today 2:58 pm
I have a raging headache, the kind that makes everything feel like I’m swimming in thick water; my eyes are kind of hot and it’s a little hard to turn my head. I know exactly what it’s from.
It’s from trying really hard not to ugly cry this morning over breakfast with Cris Oehler, VP of Public Relations for Otter Tail Power Company and VP of Corporate Communication for Otter Tail Corporation.
Let me back up a little.
Today 6:30 am
I drove to Fergus Falls for a 7:30 am breakfast meeting with her at the charmingly new independent restaurant, The Fabled Farmer. Driving in the dark, streaming Christmas music through Pandora, I was thinking about yesterday’s talk at the Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues breakfast.
Let me back up a little (ok a lot) more.
For years, I have dreamed about finding a way to get the Chamber of Commerce interested in what I believe to be true about the arts and culture in the Metro: I believe the arts have always been and could be even more of an asset to the business sector, but that they largely don’t know it, and I don’t have a way to reach them en masse.
When I got the results of the Arts and Economics study earlier this year, I thought I probably had a way in (never mind that I had never really just asked Craig Whitney, President of the Chamber, if we could meet to talk about my ideas before this). I emailed Craig, and he responded quite quickly (important lesson learned there!).
Long story short, sometimes you get what you ask for. I asked him if there was a way I could present this study to his audience, and he invited me to present at Eggs and Issues.
This felt like I had struck gold. I have been to these breakfasts and know that the business community attends and supports them in large numbers. But would they come to a talk about the arts? I could only hope that they would recognize that if the Chamber saw the value, it was worth their time.
There were 150 tickets sold–not record breaking, but a good number. I was nervous and excited.
December 5, 2017 7:30 am
Here’s what I didn’t bank on: the arts community, my spectacular colleagues in the arts nonprofit leadership world, showed up for a Chamber breakfast…and the business community was largely absent. Not entirely, but notably absent.
In short, I mostly presented to the choir, and while I love the choir, they can’t enact the kind of change I was hopeful this talk would help to enact.
I was disappointed.
Today 6:30 am
So my drive this morning was filled with thoughts about this. I kept envisioning the steepest, sheerest mountain side I could imagine. It’s an image that lives always at the forefront of my imagination because it’s how I see the work I do; the business sector and the larger community are the steep, sheer mountain and the mission of The Arts Partnership and the value of the arts has to be pushed up that slippery mountain. I don’t do this work alone, and The Arts Partnership isn’t the only nonprofit pushing up the mountain, but this is my blog post, so I’m going to keep it about me.
I had hoped yesterday’s talk would move us up the mountain–maybe to the first summit. I suppose if I am honest, I had counted on it.
This morning, I was filled with the feeling of not only still being at the ground, looking up at that massive mountain, but of actually being a little bit crushed by the mission boulder that needs to be pushed up this impossible monolith.
I guess I was feeling hopeless and sorry for myself and a little wallow-y and a lot “poor me!”
Today 7:30 am
Cris and I catch up, and then she starts to tell me about something she developed last year at Otter Tail: The Holiday Party in six parts.
For six Wednesdays and Fridays starting after Thanksgiving, all of Otter Tail’s employees were invited to a 20 minute coffee break. What they don’t really know is that at each break, there will be performances from their colleagues. It started because the CFO had told Cris years earlier that he played the cello but she couldn’t tell anyone (Here come my first tears. WHY would he hide something as glorious as that?!?! Why are the arts so often hidden and almost shameful?).
He finally allowed her to tell people, slowly, that he played, and so the first Holiday Party had a video, produced in house, of him playing his cello. Cris said to say that the crowd of employees was thunderstruck would be an understatement. They proceeded to have five more of these 20 minute Holiday Parties to fabulous success.
Here’s some of what came out of it:
- There are a lot of super talented Otter Tail Power Company employees in a variety of artistic genres…and nobody knew about any of those talents (This would be true of every single office everywhere.)!
- About 90 employees cram into the break room for these six micro parties. Coffee is free at Otter Tail anyway, so there’s no direct cost to the events.
- They are building corporate community and internal culture in unexpected ways, and people are collaborating in fabulous ways to be part of the performances.
- It’s a lot of work and requires a champion to pull it all together. Cris is such a brilliant mastermind that she manages it all, but it could be a committee kind of thing at other businesses.
- The work directly after the 20 minute segments is highly productive and electric throughout the office.
- Cris’ boss told her in early November that he was so excited for this year’s Holiday Party in six parts. In short, this support is top down, which is imperative for success, particularly in a business that doesn’t directly involve art/creative making. If the executive team supports the arts and is present for the programming of them inside the business, then it gives everyone else permission to value them as well.
Today 7:30 am
Cris is telling me all of this, and I am truly weeping (my oatmeal was salty by the end of this story!). This is exactly what I want for the business community. This is exactly what we all need: to be reminded that we are employees second and human beings first. Our humanity is what drives us, moves us, engages us, connects us, brings us happiness, allows us to move through the world.
This is the kind of engagement The Arts Partnership could be helping the business sector develop, and it’s so (relatively) simple, but much of the business community doesn’t see the value and will never think of anything like this (I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have thought of anything like this either, to be honest).
To make an extreme point, ISIS (and all terrorists throughout history) are not going around destroying spreadsheets; they are destroying the arts and humanities and architecture of their targets because they understand that that is the surest way to break a people.
Today 3:22 pm
So what do I do now?
I stop feeling sorry for myself, and I climb out from under that crushing rock so I can put my shoulder to it and start to push like hell, again, up that mountain. And I invite anyone else who is willing to help to join me; believe me, the rock is massive and there’s room for all to lean in and push.
As I said yesterday, the economic numbers matter, I know they do and I even know they have real value and open doors to important conversations, but as an artist, they don’t actually matter to me at all. What matters to me is that the arts make us human beings. They allow us to create, to dream, to problem solve, to feel real joy and sorrow, to empathize, to recall our history, to celebrate who we are, to challenge our way of thinking, to move our minds and bodies, to spur our imagination, to take us into the future and so, so much more.
We are human beings: the most glorious, messy, terrible, wonderful and creative species on this planet, and we simply have to keep pushing.