The Aspiration Of Excellence


I recently heard Toronto-based contemporary dancer, choreographer, writer, director, arts advocate, and consultant Shannon Litzenberger speak at a conference of artists and arts administrators. She was there to discuss her research and ideas found in Choreographing the Future, Strategies for supporting next generation arts practice.

As the first-ever Metcalf Arts Policy Fellow, Shannon was “given [the] time to consider the relationship between arts funding and arts practice in Canada and ask critical questions about public investment. Questions such as: What kinds of working models best facilitate the creation, production, and distribution of art? Where can partnerships be leveraged to better resource the sector? How can artists and arts organizations better engage with, and create value for, the communities and audiences they serve?”

Related to the latter question, Shannon wondered aloud if we should not fixate solely on artistic excellence, but also consider, for example, excellence of community.

Community has been a concern central to my years as a programmer and administrator. I worked very hard to bring people together around various modes of artistic expression. In developing different audiences, I was fond of saying I built ‘communities within communities’. I believe (and hope) I was good at it.

However, I must be honest here, I never specifically thought about excellence of community. This notion provoked me to reconsider something very familiar, but from a different perspective. Like intensifying the magnification on a microscope, I was now considering deeper layers to my work.

I brought people together to see a performance. But who were these people and why did thy come together? Did I actually know the quality of their experience and could I appreciate the depth of their engagement? Did I change anything, and did I create something lasting, or was the idea of community only fleeting?

It is not that I hadn’t thought of these things before, but it is the idea of applying ‘excellence’ as a measure that was new, intriguing, challenging and, potentially, inspiring.

What if we conceived of an equivalent to artistic excellence in management and leadership? Would we be more dynamic, innovative leaders of more highly functioning, successful organizations?

What if we truly strove to make the experiences of our patrons truly excellent? What would that look like? Would we have more engaged, dedicated and larger audiences?

What if we could say the depth, meaning and quality of our work rose to the same level of excellence as that of the best actors, musicians, and dancers on our stages?

There is no doubt, this would be enormously challenging. But is excellence not a remarkable and worthy aspiration?