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Guest Perspective: Embracing the Agile Arts

  • Posted Nov 28, 2016

Jaime Dempsey, Deputy Director, Arizona Commission on the Arts, shares her perspective on CEO Beth Tuttle's Grantmakers in the Arts article "DataArts: Becoming the Agile Nonprofit."

I first became acquainted with Agile methodologies as a board member for DataArts (previously the Cultural Data Project). I found the Agile philosophy to be, perhaps oddly, captivating. It read like a revelation and relief, braiding together ideas and experiences that have shaped my leadership approach, and framing them, as DataArts President and CEO Beth Tuttle writes in “Becoming the Agile Nonprofit,” as a set of clear, direct intentions.

For me, and I imagine for others in my generation of arts professionals, the arts sector’s erstwhile reliance on exhaustive outcomes-based planning as a discontinuous yet compulsory exercise seemed incongruous to our experience from the start. We cut our teeth in environments where future conditions were largely unknowable. Calamitous changes in our formative professional years rendered most plans worthless anyway. We learned instead that creativity is currency. Flexibility is fuel. Listening is imperative. All of which is also true in collaborative creative practice, the core of my training.

The Agile movement feels to me like an evolutionary response to these influences. It is a survival strategy, well-pitched to the dizzying realities of our times and to our better nature as arts and cultural organizations. Agile approaches can focus our work on the multidirectional listening and learning that are our lifeblood, while fortifying our adaptive strength.

So it has been fascinating to witness the DataArts team wrestle with Agile approaches, to participate as a board member, and to discover Agile perspectives permeating my own work at the Arizona Commission on the Arts, as we embark upon more expansive community-engaged initiatives than ever before. As a state arts agency, both a service provider and funder, Agile thinking is encouraging us to embrace risk, iterative development, and the inevitability and potential embodied in imperfect, continuously improving product releases. In these ways, for my agency, Agile approaches feel like a return to the creative process itself. 

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