Sunday, June 29, 2014

Failure Coach L

Somewhere near Norman, Oklahoma

“I’ll tell you what…” Alan was in front of 300 people someplace in Oklahoma (Somewhere near Norman he thought). “I’ll tell you what…” he said again. “My friend Coach Robert Siena, God rest his soul, used to start a lot of his public comments with that phrase. It gave him time to respond to questions about his winning a lottery jackpot. That little phrase gave him time to think about his answer. It was something he learned as a High School Football Coach. I miss the coach. His legacy is alive and well though. The Coach convinced me to lend my name to a very unique and wonderful scholarship program that was not based solely on academics or athletics. It is unconditional award. He wanted it to be a gift with no strings attached. I thought he was nuts.” Alan paused for a smattering of laughter in the seats from the audience, most of whom were somewhat aware of the scholarship fund after a scan of conference materials. Alan Edgewater had come to respect the coach and love his memory. Alan had, from the start used Siena as a poster child for the philosophies of Failure First. Now, with his passing, the script allowed for a kind of spiritual reflection of life. Alan Edgewater went on to speak passionately of the impact the coach had on his players at Red Bud High School, the community, and the lives of the AEFFSF scholars and their respective families. AEFFSF was now on solid footing as a respected non-profit and a fiscally sound charitable trust. Alan was publically an enthusiastic supporter of the program.    

“God called Coach Siena Home. He is gone, but we will carry on. By his own admission, he was flawed. He made mistakes with his family, friends and his finances. His carelessness with the lottery winnings was legendary. I won’t get into the details, but he almost lost it all.” The audience, as always, was mesmerized. Another seminar of enthusiastic failure first fans. Tony Blank and the team at Ambrosia found the magic formula of leveraging a social media engagement and geographic buzz around Alan. It wasn’t about build it and they will come. Instead it was about building a franchise in middle markets. Tony Blank took a page from Las Vegas acts in appealing to Middle America. Ambrosia found venues like this on in Oklahoma around the country and Alan was obliged to keep the machine running. He was a media celebrity everywhere he went and a sure bet for anyone looking to book a sure draw. Alan had long since dismissed any reservations he had about the Ambrosia expenses. He understood now that they were indispensible, notably under the leadership of Tony Blank who had become a most trusted advisor. The Alan Edgewater franchise was a successful road show fortified with books, CDs, interactive neuroscience exercises on line, workbooks and merchandise that helped fuel the failure first fans.

Alan was not aware that Irene Siena was in the audience. She was invited to the University of Oklahoma as a breakout leader for a conference dedicated to education causes related to enhancing Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM). She wanted to learn more about how grants were managed. Jan Abbeshire suggested Irene catch Alan Edgewater which she did without calling any attention to herself. The references to her husband in Alan’s opening remarks made her smile. “I’ll tell you what,” she thought. “We are going to make a difference.” The chairman of the AEFFSF 503(c) she has a plan. She made her way back to St. Louis a renewed sense of purpose.

Tony Blank and Alan Edgewater traveled together to Tulsa where Ambrosia had another enthusiastic sell-out seminar at the Hyatt Regency hotel downtown. The road trip gave the two time to talk. Tony complemented Alan on his skillful and moving stage presence and vignettes in memory of Coach Siena. Alan was always grateful for feedback on these presentations and Tony was good at reading audiences. Alan knew the feedback would be helpful as he thought about his next audience. After this engagement tomorrow, the two would catch a flight out of Tulsa and be in St. Louis the following evening.     

Monday, June 23, 2014

Failure Coach XLIX

The AMAM at Oberlin

“I am committed to being a single mom,” She would say from time to time as she went about her business at AMAM.  Six months into her Pregnancy, Brie was determined to carry herself as a professional on campus. She was clear to anyone who asked that the identity of the father would not be revealed. “He’s not in the picture.” She would simply state. Those who cared about such things, speculated that dad was one of the successful businessmen that Brie routinely courted for institutional development support. But even those closest to Brie, were puzzled because she was so discrete about her relationships and never flirty with the corporate leaders on her development prospect hit list. As a curator on a college campus she struck many as a sort of bookish academic with no life – a madam librarian. Now as a mature woman with child she seemed confident and poised.       

Andy Valentine was still a regular visitor to the museum and maintained an arm’s length rigidity with Brie. Andy indicated that he wanted to be involved with the offspring when the time came but he was focused on his music study. He stuck to his music and continued to cultivate his understanding of fine arts in general, modern and contemporary art specifically. He was for all intent a typical student in jeans and a tee-shirt on most days. A frequent visitor to the music rehearsal spaces and student common areas, Andy was active but not overly social in a traditional sense.

Jan Abbeshire and Daniel Bluestone made plans to visit the campus at least once a quarter but the routine business of press releases and campus art news was easy to handle from St. Louis with the staffers they had in place. Alan Edgewater joined them for a concert on campus once but he did not make an effort to connect with his curator friend or the AEFFSF scholar. He trusted Jan to look after the details of ongoing promotion of the scholarship program. He was happy too that Coach Siena’s wife was proving to be a capable manager without the loose-cannon proclivity that Jan used to fret about when Coach Siena engaged any stakeholders. Irene Siena was always happy to defer to Jan when it came to any public comment. Jan and Irene were sure to manage the ongoing business of the Alan Edgewater Failure First Scholarship Fund (AEFFSF) in a way that assured its continuing operations. Dan would occasionally interject ideas for promoting the scholars or the program but those suggestions were more likely to fall into longer term strategies.

Jan loved the Oberlin environment and imagined one of her daughters might enjoy a school like this. That decision was still a way off yet even for her oldest. Maybe she would work up the nerve to place her daughter in the mix as a candidate for the AEFFSF. It was a passing thought. She knew the selection criteria and indeed the process itself would become more complex as the board for their 501(c) organization added board members and continued to value transparency. She was well aware that even the appearance of impropriety would eliminate her offspring from consideration.

On one campus visit Jan and Dan found themselves in a gallery space for a small exhibition devoted to Isamu Noguchi (November 17, 1904 – December 30, 1988) a prominent Japanese American artist and landscape architect whose artistic career spanned six decades. Noguchi was known for his sculpture and public works. This limited exhibition was on loan from the Noguchi Museum in Japan. It included just a few stone and bronze pieces displayed in clean open spaces. Jan and Dan felt privileged to view the works and were becoming interested in the art world through their limited engagements with AMAM and the Rachel Davis Fine Arts in Cleveland. They were also both keenly aware of the growing significance of many of the works assembled by AEFFSF scholar Andy Valentine’s Nana, a modest granite Noguchi sculpture among them.

Over the echo of footsteps in that wide open clean space around the Noguchi exhibition was the sound of Jan and Dan conversational musings. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Oberlin could host a showing of the Nana Valentine collection - selected works at least?” suggested Dan. “I don’t know, if I understand Brie correctly, the curatorial planning and execution of any kind of special exhibition can take years,” responded Jan adding, “The catalogue Rachel Davis has is impressive but it currently lacks a scholarly context. The Nana Valentine private collection is not managed for loan activity. In fact it is more in a kind of limbo until the estate issues get resolved. Keep it. Sell it. Show it. Loan it. Insure it. Whatever.”

Before leaving AMAM they could not help but note that the main building for the Allen Memorial Art Museum was designed by prominent architect Cass Gilbert who was also responsible for the Saint Louis Art Museum and Saint Louis Public Library (not to mention, state capitol buildings in Minnesota, Arkansas,West Virginia) as well as public architectural icons like the United States Supreme Court building. (His public buildings in the Beaux Arts style reflect the optimistic American sense that the nation was heir to Greek democracy, Roman law and Renaissance humanism. Gilbert's achievements were recognized in his lifetime; he served as president of the American Institute of Architects in 1908-09.)