Priya Sircar, Director/Arts, Knight Foundation
In the year since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, “pivot” has been the word of the day—every day. The word has become so (over)used that it has begun to lose its meaning. What does it really mean to “pivot” successfully? To what, and how?
For many arts and culture organizations, choosing a new direction felt a bit scattershot, as if they were trying anything and everything just to keep functioning, earning income and keeping artists employed. Certainly, organizations of all types found themselves suddenly changing plans . . . some nimbly, some not. But amid evolving public health protocols and uncertainty about how long such conditions would last, decision making was understandably difficult.
As a supporter of arts organizations, we have been engaging with grantees in our communities throughout the pandemic. We’ve often asked: How are organizations figuring out which direction to go in? And have certain skills or traits helped them to weather the storm?
Organizations in Detroit and Philadelphia entered the pandemic fresh off of a training program in adaptive capacity, provided by EmcArts and supported by Knight Foundation in partnership with the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan (in Detroit). To understand the short- and medium-term impacts of the four-month training program, Knight enlisted WolfBrown to conduct a study with participants in each cohort. While we do not yet know the long-term effects of the training, this initial follow-up gave us some insight into how the training was impacting the organizations. For some, the pandemic accelerated the application of what they had learned. Some were still internalizing the concepts and tools they had gained, while others found ways to use newfound skills to identify a way forward. In some cases, additional guidance beyond the introductory training would have been helpful, especially given the severity of the conditions in which organizations have been trying to apply the new information. Clearly, the ability to adapt is a critical skill for organizations, now more than ever.
For many of us, this last year has been a crucible in which we have been tested, have clarified our purpose and, in some ways, come through stronger. These organizations also tested, honed and applied the lessons of their training, in ways both conscious and unconscious. Here we share a few of their stories that have inspired us and helped us understand how we might not just pivot, but also adapt intentionally and effectively to an ever-changing and unpredictable world. We hope they might do the same for you.
Click here to read the four stories.