This is the text of a talk I gave in Berlin earlier this year. A man in the audience asked permission to get it transcribed and published in the magazine for his engineering trade group. It's a version of the Resist and Thrive theme, with some specific thoughts about Berlin's opportunity. You can read it here.
When the National Endowment for the Arts was formed in 1965, Congress called on society to support “cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.” Today, as news breaks that the National Endowment for the Arts faces elimination, that better view of the future just dimmed.
The arts strengthen society, and greatly inform who we are and who we’ll become. The NEA plays no small role in helping the arts fulfill that promise. Each year it funds thousands of concerts, readings, performances, and exhibitions across all 50 states. In 2016 that included a dance festival in Alabama, a new museum near where I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, an architecture and design competition in Texas, an arts festival in Kentucky, and so much more.
Eliminating the NEA would eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars in support of working artists. For every dollar of the endowment’s $140 million budget that it awards in grants, it generates nearly ten times as much in matching support. But beyond money, the NEA is a powerful symbol of the meaning the work of artists brings to all of our lives, the value we place in our shared cultural heritage, and a public reminder that we have the power to shape the world we inhabit.
When The New York Times called Kickstarter “the people’s NEA” a few years back, we were asked whether we saw ourselves as somehow in opposition to the NEA — a potential alternative to federal funding of the arts. Not at all. Kickstarter is a mission-driven Public Benefit Corporation working to help artists live sustainable lives. We know a greater diversity of funding sources means a greater likelihood that creators will create. And in our view of the future, the world is better off with the NEA in it.
Today’s federal budget proposal calling for the endowment’s end is disheartening. As that proposal is processed in the coming months we hope to see Congress voice renewed commitment to the arts. In the meantime, you can voice your own support. Learn more about the creative works the NEA is currently supporting in your state. Pick up a copy of Tyler’s Cowen’s excellent book Good and Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding, chronicling America’s tradition of funding artists. Next week is the 30th annual Arts Advocacy Day — head to D.C. and represent! Find your congressperson and let them know you support the National Endowment for the Arts. And reach out to us, too. We’d love to hear from you with ideas on how we can all support the arts for a better view of the future.
This morning Kickstarter launched a new project that we’re very excited about: The Creative Independent.
The Creative Independent is a new resource of emotional and practical guidance for creative people.
Each weekday The Creative Independent will publish one essay or interview from an established or emerging artist in which they discuss their practice, their process, and the struggles and triumphs that come with it.
The Creative Independent is unique in that 100% of its content will come from practicing artists and creators. Over time we hope to amass a kind of oral history of the creative process that can be searched and consulted to help educate and inspire those who create or dream of creating.
The project launched today with a piece by the poet Eileen Myles.
In the coming days we’ll publish pieces with artists like Ian Mackaye, Björk, Leiomy Maldonado, Shantell Martin, and Philip Glass.
The Creative Independent is led by Brandon Stosuy. Previously Brandon led Editorial Operations at Pitchfork, and he is a music curator for MoMA PS1, National Sawdust, and the Broad Museum. He is also a published author and an artistic collaborator with Matthew Barney.
Filling out The Creative Independent team are a wonderful collection of individuals and creators: Laurel Schwulst as Creative Director, T. Cole Rachel as Senior Editor, Charlotte Zoller as Director of Community Engagement, and Hannah Elliott as TCI’s intern. It’s been a pleasure to collaborate with them.
The Creative Independent can be found online here. It exists in the physical world, too. We’ll host a series of live conversations with artists, authors, filmmakers, musicians, dancers, poets, playwrights, and others. To be notified about upcoming events, you can sign up here.
Thanks for reading and participating in this project. We hope you enjoy.
George Grove entered this world on June 15, 1917 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and left it on December 17, 2015 in Florida. In between he met the love of his life, raised four children and three grandchildren, shared the gift of knowledge with hundreds of students, advocated for the rights of the elderly in various organizations, won numerous awards, was the captain of the football team, became a football coach, was featured in a documentary film, and caught thousands of fish and threw most of them back.
For years George kept a framed picture that reads “A fisherman lives here with the best catch of his life.” George met Betty in Berryville, Virginia in 1941. Betty first saw George when she was working as a switchboard operator for the telephone company. Every afternoon she would stand in the office window and watch people walk from school to the drugstore. She noticed a handsome teacher who always had one and sometimes two girls on his arms. “Who’s that?” she asked her coworker. That was George.
They met not long after. Betty was with friends at the Shenandoah River and slipped on the river bank and was cut. “Is anyone here a Boy Scout?” she called. George walked out of the river, shirtless and gleaming. “I’m a Boy Scout,” he said.
George and Betty were together from that moment on. In the early days George would sit in the pew behind her at church and pull her hair. That October they got married there. Seventy-two years later handsome George sat crying for Betty’s funeral in those same pews. On that day his wallet still contained a black-and-white picture of her in a bathing suit — a blue bathing suit he would tell you, and she looked great in it.
George and Betty raised four children: Dave, Kitty, Margie, and Charlie. Though George and Betty stayed near home, their children traveled around the globe, moved the world forward with their hard work, and actively cared for both George and Betty until their last days. They raised three grandchildren: Anne, Stephen, and myself.
George lived until he was 98. His mind was always sharp. He was independent until only very recently. He was a caretaker of many for as long as he could be. He was still a flirt to his last days.
Who can ask for more of life than this?
I am named after George — Yancey George — and so is my son. Grandpa was a hero to me, and a model for what it is to be a man of integrity.
I remember him playing hand after hand of solitaire in his chair. I remember his hands on my mine as he taught me to fish, first with a bobber, then to cast, and always teaching patience. Once we caught a catfish together. I remember him going for late night swims. I don’t remember what his eyes look like because he smiled so much. His face to me is forever a smile, his mouth open and wide.
I am the man that I am because of him. I proposed to my wife with George there because I wanted her to know that she was marrying the man I am today and the man I will be in old age. We named our son after him because we want him to have George’s warmth, kindness, and sly and flirty nature. I strive to live up to George as my namesake and my son will too.
My brother Stephen and I are the men we are today because of how George raised my mother. My mom loves her Dad very much. He was always an encouraging and comforting presence for her. There are eight key life lessons she learned from him:
- Live life well and boldly but always with humility.
- Honor your father and mother.
- Love the Lord your God.
- Always give back and never give up.
- Don’t look back with regret but look forward with anticipation.
- Be innovative.
- It’s okay to throw the fish back in the water. Let them grow old with you.
- Love lasts a lifetime.
This gathering near the beautiful Shenandoah River shows just how true that last one is. George you loved so many so much for so long, and we all loved you too. We’ll never stop missing your touch and your laugh, but your spirit will always be with us. We love you and miss you, George.
The new Drake album, Views, was released two weeks ago to reviews ranging from critical to tepid. Most of the reviews were posted within 72 hours of the album’s release. This is culture in 2016 — someone spends years making an album and the internet gives it all of three days to decide that it’s a major disappointment.
The internet is wrong. The Drake album is as good as anything he’s ever done. We just forget what it’s like to hear something new, the way a song evolves from unfamiliarity to something that lifts us when it pours out of open bodega doors.
The internet isn’t entirely to blame. The album is too long and poorly sequenced. Drake put more stock in constructing a “concept album” synced to Toronto’s seasons (the album goes from winter to spring to summer to fall, which is to say it starts way too slow) than in making an album a listener may enjoy.
So let’s fix this. Over the past week I’ve resequenced and edited down Viewsinto something more listenable. It’s called A Better Views. Here it is on Spotify.
A Better Views
- Childs Play
- Pop Style
- Feel No Ways
- Still Here
- Too Good
- Weston Road Flows
- With You
- Fire & Desire
- One Dance
- U With Me?
- Hotline Bling
There are two types of decisions: ones you’ve made before and ones you haven’t. Every decision starts as one you’ve never made before. It’s only with experience that decisions that would have fallen into the latter category move into the first.
Easy decisions are the first ones you’ll make. Options appear to reason through, and you choose a course based on your values and wisdom.
As time goes on and the easier decisions have been made — or systematized in such a way that others can make them — leaders are left with the hard decisions. Ones that are entirely new in their subject matter, stakes, or the ambiguity of whether a right decision truly exists.
Instinct is the gradual shift of new decisions into familiar decisions. It’s the pattern recognition of seeing how our guidance can shape the world, and an understanding of the fallibilities of our ego, impatience, and fear.
The whole world is a series of decisions made individually and collectively. It’s easy to become paralyzed by a challenging new decision, but take comfort in humility. Decisions of similar scale have been faced before, and it’s unlikely that the stakes are ever as large as they seem. Most likely a decision will simply create further decisions to consider.
When making decisions it’s vital to reflect beyond the situation at hand to what you most value. Imagine a future where your values are realized. What decision at this moment in time makes that future most probable? What could prevent that reality from coming to pass?
As a leader, each day is nothing but decisions. Where experience provides instinct for a decision, use it. Where a situation is entirely new, approach it with humility and care. And be grateful for the experience it will bring to the next decision you’ll be asked to make.
There’s no musician I’ve listened to more over the past two years than Bill Callahan. From his solo work of the past decade to his earlier work as Smog, there are few songwriters who have moved me more.
This post includes two mixes: the first is a mix of my favorite Bill Callahan songs. The second is a mix that Bill Callahan made as a reward for a Kickstarter project to make a documentary about him.
The Best of Bill
01 “Bathysphere” — Wild Love (1995)
02 “I Feel Like the Mother of the World” — A River Ain’t Too Much to Love(2005)
03 “Cold Blooded Old Times” — Knock Knock (1999)
04 “Honeymoon Child” — Woke on a Whaleheart (2007)
05 “Hit the Ground Running” — Knock Knock (1999)
06 “Our Anniversary” — Rough Travel for a Rare Thing (2010)
07 “The Wind and the Dove” — Sometimes I Wish I Were an Eagle (2009)
08 “Rock Bottom Riser” — A River Ain’t Too Much to Love (2005)
09 “Dress Sexy at My Funeral” — Dongs of Sevotion (2000)
10 “Day” — Woke on a Whaleheart (2007)
11 “I Break Horses” — Kicking a Couple Around EP (1996)
12 “Too Many Birds” — Sometimes I Wish I Were an Eagle (2009)
13 “Sycamore” — Woke on a Whaleheart (2007)
14 “Let’s Move to the Country” — Knock Knock (1999)
15 “Your New Friend” — Kicking a Couple Around EP (1996)
16 “The Sing” — Dream River (2013)
17 “The Breeze/My Baby Cries” — Loving Takes This Course — a Tribute to the Songs of Kath Bloom (2009)
18 “Riding for the Feeling” — Apocolpyse (2011)
Bill’s Mix for Backers
A Kickstarter project to produce “Apocalypse,” a tour documentary about Bill, offered a handmade mix from Bill. Twenty-one people, myself included, backed for it. This mix he made is below. Two songs especially worth noting: Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross” (a beautiful, waterlogged song you could live in) and Jimmy Webb’s epic “Land’s End/Asleep on the Wind.”
01 Dion, “Your Own Backyard”
02 Sizzla, “Rise to the Occasion”
03 R Kelly, “How Did You Manage”
04 The Osborne Brothers, “Cuckoo Bird”
05 Fleetwood Mac, “Albatross”
06 Snooks Eaglin, “Lipstick Traces”
07 Vybz Cartel, “Smuggler”
08 Carly Simon, “Safe and Sound”
09 Jimmy Webb, “Land’s End/Asleep on the Wind”
10 Marvin Gaye, “God Is Love”
If you enjoyed these songs, please take a moment to pick up some of Bill’s records direct from Drag City. You won’t be disappointed.
Last year I started playing Dungeons & Dragons for the first time. As a D&D newbie I was nervous. Would I have to wear a costume? I didn’t even know how the game was played.
For those new to Dungeons & Dragons, here’s how it works: a narrator (the dungeon master) reads out to a group of people descriptions of a place or scenario. The group decides what to do, and the narrator unfolds the story based on their decisions. At certain moments players roll dice to determine the outcome of a decision. It’s basically a free-form, collaborative Choose Your Own Adventure story.
At the same time I started playing D&D, I was transitioning into a new job as CEO of Kickstarter. I initially started playing to hang out with the Kickstarter team. Over time the game has become much more. Here are three things I’ve learned playing D&D.
1. Know who you are
Knowing and accepting who you are is the most important thing to do in D&D and life in general.
In D&D this is quite deliberate. When building a character you’re first asked to declare whether you are Lawful, Neutral, or Chaos. My group began by declaring ourselves Neutral, but events soon revealed a darker edge. After a particularly gruesome encounter, it was obvious: we were Chaos.
Accepting our Chaotic nature was a literal game-changer. Rather than debate how to respond to each situation, it was clear how to act. Once we knew who we were, there was often only one real course of action.
2. Know what you want
In our adventure we began hearing rumors of the Master, the root of evil in our world.
One day I made a proposal to the group. We would find the Master. We would pay tribute to him as his subjects. And then we would slay him and become the new Masters ourselves. We all agreed to this audacious plan, and everything about our game immediately changed.
D&D is typically about exploration. You search rooms, open doors, and explore terrain. Once we declared our mission, things took a different shape. We explored, but with a purpose.
We began to see anything that wouldn’t ultimately lead us to the Master as a distraction. We encountered countless corridors and mountains of treasure. We ignored all but those that seemed likely to lead us to the Master.
The impact of our focus was startling. Questions of tactics and strategy continued to arise, but we approached them with an obvious purpose. Once we decided who we were and what we wanted, it was clear what to do.
After much searching, we finally found the Master. We declared allegiance as planned, and soon found ourselves in battle. After a long and difficult fight, we were victorious. We took the Master’s seat.
3. Parlay first, fight second
When we started our quest, we would engage in battle as soon as we encountered an enemy. We won these battles but they were painstaking. We had to fight enemies one at a time. Our characters were weak and inexperienced. The risk of death was real.
Over time we began to take a different approach. We would first try to parlay with the enemies and convince them to help us or surrender. We used appeals, threats, and tricks to get them to lead us to the Master.
Parlaying had much bigger rewards than fighting. By parlaying we could impact an entire group of enemies, not just ones we physically fought. Soon we began every encounter with an attempted parlay. We would fight only if that failed.
Thankfully I don’t have any literal application of this lesson to my life, but it reminds me of how important it is to scale your actions. It’s satisfying to roll up your sleeves and try to fix every problem yourself, but big picture it isn’t sustainable. There’s just too much to do.
Instead, parlay by sharing the challenge with your team. Even if the efforts come up short, the team has gotten more experience, and your performance in the next challenge will be much improved.
I’ve come to see our Dungeons & Dragons quest as more than a battle with monsters and mazes. It’s been a test of character. The obstacles we faced gave our group purpose and helped define who we are.
Who are you? What do you want? These are the questions to answer. We can’t control events, but we control how we respond to them. Who knows? With a little bit of luck, you just might find yourself the new Master.
I wouldn’t have survived to learn these lessons without my brave compatriots. Thanks to Liz Cook, George Schmalz, Taylor Moore, and John Dimatos for their wits and wit. And thanks to our incredible dungeon master Luke Crane for guiding us on our quest.
I shared a draft of this essay with the group before posting. Liz responded with her perspective. Here’s her take:
Thinking about taking down the master/becoming the new master was both hilarious and undeniably the right move. It was also very risky — and I think that risk played an important role. It made staying on task feel even more crucial. We were aware of our scrappy first or maaaybe second level brigade and that feeling of being ill-prepared propelled us to stay on target…cause we had to. Don’t you think it could’ve felt different in circumstances where we came with higher levels or more powerful spells or just knowing what to expect? I also wonder if we felt brave because we didn’t feel like we had so much to lose yet. We hadn’t leveled up a number of times. Maybe our lack of experience made us less likely to fear what we had to lose. Maybe it was the fact that we weren’t safe peddling around the caves and could die at any time regardless? I don’t think any of this takes away from our glory or bravery and certainly not our determination to reach our goal however.
Some of my all time favorite moments in the game have been the parlay encounters. A big part of why I enjoy them is the human-ness that it brings to our D&D world. Fighting is definitely fun but even when Luke does such an amazing job painting the battle scene, it can still feel very anonymous to me. A parlay invites emotion, spontaneity, and an unpredictability in outcome that just delights me to no end. This holds true in real life as well.
I couldn’t agree more.