By Theo Edmonds & Josh Miller, Co-Founders IDEAS xLab
Ain't no use jiving. Ain't no use joking. Everything is broken.
- Bob Dylan
If you're an entrepreneur, that is a GREAT place to start. After all, if there is no problem then there is no opportunity. As IDEAS xLab approaches the October 2015 launch of our new business model, we will be sharing news from the field to help provide context for the work we are doing.
David Graham's recent article from The Atlantic is a great illustration of why IDEAS xLab mission is to develop and expand creative capacity in the workforce.
"The United States in 1977 was a far more manufacturing- and retail-dominated economy. Both of those sectors have contracted significantly since then. Construction is up... But the big difference is in the service sector, which has exploded from around 15.5 million in October 1977 to almost 62.5 million today. Unfortunately, the BLS data from 1977 doesn't break out the health sector, but one of the fastest-growing areas of today's U.S. economy is health-care jobs."
Healthcare. Advanced Manufacturing. eCommerce. Vocational Education. These are IDEAS focus areas. In tune with the needs of the economy.
Why do we need artists in these areas? Aren't artists supposed to be in galleries and museums?
Over the past two years, many have asked us why an artist-run organization advocates for new roles for artists in fields that don't seem to have any relationship to artists.
We believe that ARTISTS have an increasingly important role in helping solve tough challenges in business and social innovation. However, the way that we think of ART and how we EDUCATE ARTISTS must first be disrupted if artists are to fully realize their potential.
IDEAS xLab's work in art and economy is well grounded in contemporary art. One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Joseph Beuys, advocated for "social sculpture" - an extension of the concept of what art is. The central idea of a "social sculptor" is an artist's potential to transform society and politics.
In America, a capitalist country, our economy and workforce are arguably the most emblematic elements of our society and politics. IDEAS work is devoted to unlocking the full potential of us artists . Expanding our influence. Developing new pathways to lives of possibility based on our unique knowledge skills.
IDEAS is working to help move artists beyond the scarcity model created by the current system for training and supporting artists. Our goal is to extinguish the idea of "starving artists". With new forms of training and new opportunities, artists can become a catalytic force of integrative, macroscopic thinkers -- a much needed role in an economy that is becoming saturated with extreme specialization produced by an educational system also in need of reform.
The following images illustrate America's approach to education over the past 75 years.
In his book Linchpin, author and innovator, Seth Godin, sums up the American educational system this way.
"You weren't born to be a cog in the giant industrial machine. You were trained to become a cog. There's an alternative available to you.
Our society is struggling because during times of change, the very last people you need on your team are well-paid bureaucrats, note takers, literalists, manual readers, TGIF laborers, map followers, and fearful employees. The compliant masses don't help so much when you don't know what to do next. What we want, what we need, what we must have are indispensable human beings. We need original thinkers, provocateurs, and people who care. We need marketers who can lead, salespeople able to risk making a human connection, passionate change makers willing to be shunned if it is necessary for them to make a point.
Every organization needs a linchpin, the one person who can bring it together and make a difference. Some organizations haven't realized this yet, or haven't articulated it, but we need artists. Artists are people with a genius for finding a new answer, a new connection, or a new way of getting things done."
So, here is the issue. During the last 50 years, the prevailing model for educating artists in America has largely followed the "industrial cog" approach. Our higher education system is still training artists to make "art objects" for an extremely specialized, insular market increasingly defined through the purchasing power of the infamous 1%. The same ones whose names appear on art school buildings and museum donor walls.
After 2008-2009 everyone now understands the opinion that the "99%" are paying the price for the mistakes of a tiny minority within the upper class. The art world is no different. Our system of educating artists is gauged toward training young artists to meet the needs of the rarified 1% group. This must change.
(If you are interested in this topic, Tom Wolfe had a fiery little article on this called "The Running of the Billionaires" in Vanity Fair. )
We are taking promising artists and training them to be "cogs" who produce "widgets". And, even while the job market for artists with graduate degrees declines , the number of people getting these degrees (and taking on massive amounts of debt) increases.
IDEAS believes in holistically expanding our current artist education model to be reflective of the needs of the 99%. Tech tools that support radical collaboration among artists are cheap and readily available. Why aren't we making more and better use of them?
The information economy has changed everything. Everything. This includes the role of artists in contemporary society. For those who are willing to be the tip of spear, a new era of artist empowerment (financially and creatively) is here.
Technology brings new connectivity between communities of interests. This means that artists can now easily connect with healthcare, manufacturing, ecommerce and vocational education to bring new things (products, businesses, ideas) into existence. We have the ability to scale quickly. We have the ability to create new forms of accountability. We can even create our own forms of education and training that are free and part of a global classroom that is constantly updating itself and sharing ideas in real time.
The question now becomes, what will us artists do with this new cooperative system that, in some ways, goes back to the renaissance apprentice model? The curiosity of the apprentice (artist) combined with the vast knowledge of the mentor (industry professionals in most every field).
Technology has created the ultimate self-improvement mechanisms for us to learn, teach and constantly improve on each other's ideas. This is a BIG part of what culture is all about. Diverse. Open. Free to all. And, increasingly led by artists. Both in collaboration with each other... and also with the world outside the studio.