Sunday, August 17, 2008

We're Back

by Paul Gordon Emerson

Two months have passed since the last P3 entry. Hard to believe. Yet while normally that span, occurring in the middle summer, would suggest a vacation or a break, the reality is the opposite. And that's a good thing.

Any entity which is going to thrive over the long-term has to take on a momentum of its own, independent from the ideas of one or even a few people. Critical mass is not in a single concept or goal, but in the realization of many people's ideas and goals. That is, in and of itself, transformational, because instead of trying to find a way to execute AN idea, and building momentum for it, they key shifts to finding synergy and balance in many ideas. Sustainability, especially in an organization with the word Ensemble in its name, is in the strength of the web which is woven. It's a classic case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

That's what this summer has been about. When there is too much afoot for any one person to be at every event, and yet where each event has a major and fundamental value, its a good thing. Summer education programs have taken center stage, and done remarkably. New programs with the DC Public Schools and the realization of the first truly elegant summer session at Strathmore have come through new leadership and ideas. They have come through change which exists in empowering those new ideas and new voices. While we typically talk about this from the standpoint of empowering students, it is no less true at a staff level. The job of the people "in charge" is to realize that and facilitate it while keeping the overall organization on track and administratively healthy. That's not easy all the time. It requires an adaptability and flexibility and a conscious desire for change.

I remember the endless stories about NASA at the end of the Moon missions. Those stories were about the loss of an entrepreneurial spirit and the institutionalization of the Agency. The budget became more important than the mission. Creativity, whether at a multi-billion dollar agency doing the impossible or at an arts organization still in its youth, is about being open to the possible. The genius of NASA was not simply that it did the impossible, it was that it did it through synergy. Literally hundreds of thousands of people put the 12 people who walked on the moon there. They did it through understanding discreet roles framed in an overall purpose. They did it because they listened to each other and trusted each other, and because people at all levels of the pipeline has the ability to offer an idea or a methodology. They did it because everyone was inspired to a purpose. And therein lies a challenge. When the purpose ends, as it did with the Moon missions, what replaces it?

What this has to do with CityDance, and, more specifically with the words Power, Passion and Purpose, is this: This summer told me about the energy and elegance generated by empowering people with ideas. Two week summer camp sessions, student performances and all are commonplace in this field. But these weren't treated by the people running them in common ways. And so they became inspired. And in being inspired at an organizational level, they became inspired at a student level. And that loop, between student and teacher, teacher and administrator and administrator and student, became more than the sum.

Sounds simple. It isn't. But when it works, its something to see.

The fall is a few weeks away. Carrying the momentum of the summer into it is the challenge and the opportunity. Should be fun.