Hi, my name is Todd Lester.


TD_nyc2Doing the work I do, I am often asked if I am an artist.  By way of formal education, I am a public administrator (as well as film).  Within the arena of public administration, I have opted to work in civil society.  Within civil society, I work across a few different sectors primarily – e.g. arts, human rights, forced migration – usually striving to apply ideas, resources and innovations from one to the benefit of another.  Something I often encounter through interaction with both artists and knowledge workers in the non-profit sector is a common way of approaching information, authority, community and problem-solving.  During a planning session for the Rockwood Leadership Institute’s Fellowship for Leaders in Arts & Culture, I made the claim that artists are always administrators when they collaborate or work together with a community (see Artist as Administrator).  In following …

– I see what I call ‘orientation-based’ activists (which can include artists) being left out of the swiftly professionalizing activist vocation (a la narrower legal-leaning designations such as human rights defender that always assume intentionality and leave very little room for ‘accidental’ activism); this is also a spot of vulnerability in terms of getting paid for ones work.

– On the artist side, there is already a lot of research on obstacles to art related-livelihoods; and I fear that for artists doing the work of activists/social change that this can be a double-whammy impinging on said artists being able to make a living from the creative social change work they do.

* I believe that more clearly articulating (and showing the scope of) artist as administrator is one step towards making a correction to these intersecting obstacles.

I don’t write these words without caution.  Administration and its closest sibling, bureaucracy are neither values nor are they inherently neutral:

Humankind is innocent, loving, and creative, you dig? It’s the bureaucracies that create the evil, that make Honor and Community impossible, and it’s the kids who really take it in the groin. (Paul Goodman)

“…critical theorists asked what effect this destructively tolerant society was having on artistic practice. Theodor Adorno argued that art was becoming increasingly cut off and alienated from its critical relation to society. Art had become a social lubricant, a ‘tolerated negativity’ – a compliant and tame cog in the wheels of a total administrative system. Adorno bemoaned the separation and compartmentalization of art as a cultural activity, a ‘bit of culture’, safely separated off in sublime uselessness from everyday existence. Art had lost its vital relation to society; it was no longer politically relevant.”

‘Debate: Tolerance’ in Frieze 


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