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Transformations and Civic Connectedness

In the Cambridge office of WolfBrown, we have been pursuing two complementary lines of work: the transformation of great 19th and 20th century institutions into 21st century organizations, and building the civic functions of those same organizations. Throughout the last year, we have been helping cultural institutions to leap forward into 21st century world: a process that demands enormous flexibility and vision from both staff and board. Consider the case of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, an institution devoted not only to maintaining a great collection but also to increasing the interest and understanding of the humanities in general and Shakespeare and the modern European world in particular. The Folger has become involved in online publishing, is now a major center for the digital humanities, and has a go-to website of Shakespeare media resources for high schools and college students. WolfBrown has had the privilege of helping the Folger develop a new wheelhouse – the staffing, budgeting, and strategic plan – that can support and sustain this transformation. Similarly, the firm joined forces with Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, the magnificent early 20th century home of James Deering in Miami, helping that organization think about its physical, programmatic and management needs for a second century of service to the community.

In allied work, we’ve been building the argument that in the 21st century the cultural institutions that thrive will be the ones that help their host communities call out and address major challenges. Many of the guiding concepts of this work are summarized in a new publication from the National Guild for Community Arts Education, More than the Sum of the Parts, co-authored by Dr. Thomas Wolf and Gigi Antoni of Big Thought in Dallas, Texas.  In terms of large-scale organizations, we have been partnering with Carnegie Hall’s Musical Connections program to document the positive role music can play in the juvenile justice system, supported by a research grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.  We’ve also been partnering with Institute for Learning, Access, and Training at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and with Yo-Yo Ma, as the Judson Green Creative Consultant there, who has been working to promote the concept of Citizen Musician.  Citizen Musician is an expansion of the definition of artist to include the role of first responder – a person who places his or her skills at the service of their communities: in schools, hospitals, prisons, or as part of public ceremonies and memorials.

In terms of smaller, community-based organizations, we have been partnering with City Lore, a pre-eminent folk and traditional arts organization in New York City. Their programs teach young people to love and investigate the city in which they live, insuring that children take the subway, visit studios, museums, gardens and bakeries, and develop an intense curiosity about the lives around them – experiences which build cosmopolitan citizens for a new century. In a similar vein, we are assisting a network of El Sistema-inspired sites across the country to build solid programs of research and evaluation designed to document a range of impacts on the young people who persist as instrumentalists and members of a music-driven community of learners. A recurring theme through all of this work is that excellence and engagement are not at odds-but mutually re-enforcing.

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