Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Create Where??

CreateHERE!!!!! (see previous post on the organization) This is the second of two organizations that I visited in Chattanooga. Walking into their workspace, you would think that you are walking into more of a play space than any type of office. There are folks bouncing balls and brainstorming on whiteboards, the conference table has a huge bowl of candy and there are large couches and plush chairs for people to crash on. My immediate thought was 'I want to work in a place like this!' Important to remember for my future plans: a creative space that nurtures innovation and provides an atmosphere for shooting around ideas. After being bounced around from person to person, learning about what each team within the org does, I walked away with both a positive view of the organization and a few...not so positive, though definitely not negative thoughts.

In all honesty, I find myself still unclear of what exactly CreateHere does. Or maybe, what it doesn't do? When it started, the organization was primarily to support artists as drivers of the cultural economy of Chattanooga. Move cool artists to the region, support artists within the region, etc. But as they grew bigger, they took on additional societal problems...the question for them we deal with these issues, and if so, how? CreateHere functions on the idea that the methodology that they have created works in most cases on pretty much every issue, so they are able to tackle anything that is a certain size. I suppose the how, the method, is THE question for non-profits. Where is the line? When do you stop? For CreateHere, they stop in 200+ days. There is a time limit to the organization...something I've never really heard of before. What are the pros and cons of a timeline? Like I said in a previous post, many orgs that have been around for too long often lose sight of their mission and continue doing things just to be "doing things." Perhaps this is an alternative? With a set time limit, there is a need to find tangible solutions NOW and to act on them NOW. But after the time is up...has everything been put in place to continue that solutions-driven work? Do they expect a leader in the community to pick up where they left off? How can you be SO involved in creating solutions and then just pick up and leave? I've been thinking about this, and for the most part...I actually like their concept, but I think it only applies in certain situations. They are good at targeting specific problems within a community and fixing it, but I don't think this 5 year time limit works well when entering and committing to assisting with many social can't give services, help people so they are reliant on your aid and then say "okay, time limit is up...goodbye!" That's like foreign aid. Not that I'm saying CreateHere is doing that, but more it is something that should be--and for the most part I think is--in the forefront of their minds when starting new initiatives...

Another question that arose when speaking with them about their mission was: well, what exactly is cultural economy? Is it the vibrant nightlife, public art, good concerts that exist in a region? Or is it that the economy has risen to such a level that the residents are able to support the arts/artists? Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Artists that act as a boost for economy, or a boosted economy which will act as the supporter for artists? Like the chicken and the egg theory, I think it is totally circular; artists will bring their social commentary and their creative ideas to change a region's economy, and the economy does or doesn't support their continued stay. CreateHere talks a lot about cultural economy, but I am wondering...what about calling it the creative economy??

After leaving, Phil and I talked a little about what we thought of the organization and came up with a good descriptor: sleek. CreateHere is good at marketing themselves and they have an image which screams "we creative people will find a solution!" Problems seem like they are dealt with in a matter-of-fact fashion...if something works, great, and if it doesn't, throw it away and start on something new. On the surface, there is this can-do attitude, but for me, it all seemed a bit overwhelming, so I decided to go back to the basics of the organization to understand its structure and how it functions. The structure is very different from most other orgs I've encountered. As Sheldon explained, there is the "mom and dad" (the founders) and then there is everyone else. There is equal power in decision making for the most part, though each team has very well defined tasks and stuff they need to be working on so the decision making process, at least on the surface, does not seem to be haphazard. I like this model, only I worry about it's scalability. To a certain extent, they've proved it to be unscalable; last year they found themselves at 30 staff members and have strategically downsized to 15 this year, a more manageable number. With my experience in non-hierarchical structures (yay EcoReps!!), I'd say that's about right. Though it's a little different since the staff at this organization is being paid a little more than I was at the time, there is an issue of pointing fingers, becoming disorganized, and simply not being able to follow who is doing what and what tasks are being forgotten. To have a successful large non-hierarchical structure, there would have to be one person hired just to manage what all the groups were doing! All in all though, I thought that CreateHere had some really neat stuff going on...the only other thing I need to seriously think about is the tendency for gentrification to creep in with the kind of stuff they are doing...

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