by Jini Stolk
Now that the dust is settling, the most striking thing about winding up Creative Trust has been the number of people who’ve congratulated us simply for making the decision to close. One of my smartest and most experienced colleagues wrote “You have done such a classy winding down. That alone is a huge example.”
I’ve been wondering why it’s been so difficult and rare for those of us in the arts to say, as Creative Trust did, that we’ve accomplished everything we set out to do and it’s time to close. Sadly, it’s much more common to see organizations end abruptly, in financial disarray and organizational chaos –accompanied often by bitterness and internal division.
Ydessa Hendeles closed her renowned King Street West arts foundation and exhibition space at about the same time as Creative Trust ended, and I followed the media coverage with very special interest. The reasons behind her decision were both practical and deeply personal. Like Creative Trust, she had exciting plans for continuing her work in new ways and different places – and she seemed to be genuinely looking forward to the change. But perhaps most importantly, she felt that “There’s something really nice about ending something. You want things to have a beginning, a middle and an end.”
That seems to me to be quite profound, and perhaps offers members of our own performing arts community a new lens to reflect upon the future. I think it would be healthy – and potentially creatively exciting – if we considered the possibility of closing at natural breaks in the life cycle of our organizations. For example, if the founding artistic director leaves, shouldn’t everyone in the organization deeply examine whether it makes sense to continue? And if there is a profound change in leadership, I think the option of closing should also be on the table.
Don’t get me wrong. Everyone knows that I would fight like a wolverine if the future of a company I love were under threat. But I would respect and support a thoughtful and considered decision to close under the right circumstances – or to renew and continue stronger than ever, if that were the resulting conclusion.
The arts councils are certainly sending signals that this is a time of change and evolution, and that companies have to demonstrate unique importance and strong community impact to be assured of continuing support. While scary, I think we should periodically question our role and importance both artistically and in the larger arts environment. Those of us who are gardeners know that nothing lasts forever and that the replacement of a long-time feature in the landscape uncovers new vistas, and can offer unexpected aesthetic opportunities.
Looking around at the astonishing new talents in our community, we at least know that there will be something wonderful coming along behind us and that any gap will be quickly filled.