Two ballet dancers dance on stage.

A Risk that Expanded the Boundaries of Excellence

Sixth in a new series featuring stories from Greater Boston arts organizations that received special funding to pursue an artistic risk.

The Arts are always about taking risks. But funding for risk-taking is often hard to come by. With new resources dedicated to artistic risk, seven organizations pushed themselves beyond their comfort zones. This story of what happened comes from World Music/CRASHarts Executive Director Maure Aronson.

With an artistic risk grant from Barr and The Klarman Family Foundation, World Music/CRASHarts did something we’d never done before – we commissioned a new work of art. The experience was both thrilling and terrifying for us as an organization. And, it changed us in fundamental ways.

Traditionally, World Music/CRASHarts has been a presenter of work developed elsewhere. We have brought music and dance productions from around the world to Boston. This has given us a measure of control. It has always been important to us that, when people see our name at the bottom of a program, they expect an experience of excellence.

Yet, with the support of the artistic risk grant, we ceded that control. We commissioned Alonzo King of LINES Ballet in San Francisco, and Zakir Hussain, a tabla virtuoso percussionist, to collaborate on an original dance and musical performance. The artistic direction was entirely theirs.

This kind of collaboration was entirely new to us. In early 2017, we found ourselves balancing the demanding schedules of these accomplished artists, seeking a venue that would showcase their collaboration – which we expected and hoped would be brilliant, even though we didn’t know exactly what it was we would soon need to start marketing.

When I first approached our Board President, Nagesh Mahanthappa, about the potential of becoming a commissioning organization, we knew that taking this risk had the potential to fundamentally change the organization. I am so grateful that Nagesh, and our entire board of directors were willing to venture into these uncertain waters with us. They shared in our angst and wonder as it developed. And they shared in our abundant joy when the production debuted to audience and critical acclaim. In the end, we were indeed honored to have our name attached to this brilliant performance, which will be seen all over the world.

This risk changed us. Resolved that this not be a one-time experience, our board adopted an annual budget line for original commissions. It is now a priority for our organization that we continue to take risks like this, and to continue growing alongside our artists – as they likewise embrace risk, change, and growth.

This risk changed us. Resolved that this not be a one-time experience, our board adopted an annual budget line for original commissions.

We invite you to share this story of artistic risk-taking, and to join the conversation using #ArtisticRisk.

About the Barr-Klarman Arts Capacity Building Initiative and this video series:

The Barr-Klarman Arts Capacity Building Initiative was a five-year initiative to strengthen the long term financial health of a group of Boston area arts organizations. Throughout the Initiative, the partners grappled with the question: capitalization to what end? What’s the desired change for the organization and for our communities? First, the cohort explored what organizational risks could look like, and the kinds of capital needed. And in the last two years, the partners asked what taking risks in the art and curation looked like, and what kinds of support are needed for risk-taking. A fund was set up as part of the Initiative, with the goal of supporting projects that took organizations out of the comfort zone of their usual practice, potentially against standard field practice, and with the potential to change their organizational way of working. These commissioned videos document the journey of the seven projects that were funded. Each centers on one organization and, through the eyes of its leaders, gives a glimpse into one journey of artistic risk-taking. We hope that these leaders and projects will engage you a conversation that deepens understanding and builds support for this exciting kind of work.

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Maure Aronson

Executive Director World Music/CRASHarts