Reframing Our Thinking: The Arts Inventing Opportunity Structures

ISSUE 2 • May 2023

Image of a visual experiment, a person drawn in pastels by a child
Image: Dennie Palmer Wolf

By Dr. Dennie Palmer Wolf and Colleagues

Logo for Amplifying Creative Opportunities

This second issue of Amplifying Creative Opportunities focuses on the concept of opportunity structures: the deliberate choices we can make that limit or empower individual human beings to belong, engage, and contribute.

Some opportunity structures include: prescription eyeglasses and hearing aids, ramps and elevators in place of stairs, beautiful and plentiful materials for making. But there are also opportunity-rich strategies. For instance, think about designing applications that help people share what they can and want to be able to do, rather than only calling for evidence of past achievements (which are too often linked to individual or community wealth.) Or, think about auditions that provide feedback about next steps to every participant who tried out.

At the heart of this issue is this proposition: The arts are invested in new possibilities. Shouldn’t we be using that inventive impulse to examine and change the opportunity structures in the fields and organizations where we work?

In This Issue

Let’s Experiment

Image of a visual experiment, a person drawn in pastels by a child
Dennie Palmer Wolf

A Visual Experiment
by Dennie Wolf

This visual essay gets you thinking about what facilitates and what limits who gets to enter, belong, and contribute in the field of arts and culture.

Taking the Long View

Universal Design for Learning graph
Giulia Forsythe

Universal Design as a Foundation for Opportunity Structures
by Dennie Wolf

Look at what we can learn from the universal design movement that took off in the 1980’s, yielded the Americans with Disabilities Act, and sparked ongoing re-invention of who can do and be what in the arts.

Breaking Barriers

NYO2 students being coached by faculty
Chris Lee and Carnegie Hall

Youth Orchestras as Opportunity Structures
by Abigale Franco and Dennie Wolf

This summary describes a recently published, NEA-funded research project, using the example of Carnegie Hall’s NYO2. We examine the long-term consequences of building a youth orchestra designed to reflect the contemporary United States. 

Re-Tooling the Trade

Image of people talking

Interviews as Opportunity Structures
by Thomas Wolf

Take a hard look at one of the most basic and unchanging forms of gate-keeping: the job interview. In this piece, Tom Wolf discusses the need to re-think the interview process. What if we leave behind the search for a “good match” and instead emphasizing the search for a good partner?

Keeping Curious: For Your Library and Toolbox

Image of twig art
Dennie Palmer Wolf

This wildly eclectic collection of resources is designed to stir conversations about how we include and exclude in the field of arts and culture. Films, research, novels, and websites all speak, in different ways, to the same point. That is, the work of amplifying creative opportunities is everywhere. It exists in the daily habits of how we interview, the ways in which we audition and cast, and what we choose to research. Have at it!

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