Ragged Wing Ensemble – Challenge Semi-Finalist

Ragged Wing Ensemble’s mission is to catalyze a deep cultural shift where artistic action is at the center of vital social change.
Ragged Wing Ensemble’s mission is to catalyze a deep cultural shift where artistic action is at the center of vital social change.

Our adaptive challenge

Ragged Wing Ensemble‘s adaptive challenge is that it is difficult to build a strong audience base and to invest in the local community if we are constantly moving. Because our nomadic existence is unsustainable, and because there are multiple other theater, dance and performing arts organizations in a similar situation in our region, we will build a stronger, more loyal audience, become more sustainable, and be more able to contribute to the development of a vibrant urban community by creating a unique share-model for the Flight Deck, a shared, multi-disciplinary arts space we are currently developing in Oakland, California. Our challenge is how to scale up our internal ensemble practice to the level of our organizational structure, and how to invite input from other groups in creating this new model.

Why it is important that our organization address this challenge, and why now?

Several key opportunities make now the right time for Ragged Wing to address the challenges of being nomadic and isolated. We have operated successfully for over eight years and have strongly established our programs. Two years ago, we initiated a strategic plan process and realized our need for a home. Since then, we have researched different real estate opportunities and conducted market studies. We learned there is a need for performance space in Oakland, found a location for The Flight Deck, gained political and public support for our vision, and cultivated potential partners. The particular neighborhood for the space is also ripe for this opportunity, as it hosts a vibrant new food, music and art scene, but so far lacks a theater.

What are the foundational assumptions that have reliably predicted success in the past that we are now questioning?

It has been our assumption that we can operate nomadically, renting short-term venues as needed and asking our audience to come to us wherever we are. We have also assumed that we are best off operating independently, running our programs in isolation and only occasionally collaborating with other groups. Up to this point, there has been a strong divide between those in the ensemble and those not in it. We have developed strong internal, ensemble-based practices for creating new artistic work and running our organization, but we have kept these practices mainly internal up to this point.

What is the evidence that is causing us to question our assumptions?

We have found over the past few years that it is extremely challenging to even find a venue in our area, and that the amount of energy, time and resources it takes to set up a venue for each show could be better spent creating engaging programs for audiences. Also, we realized that there are multiple other small performing arts organizations in our region who are similarly lacking a venue and looking for a home. We are inspired by share-models like the HUB, which encourage collaboration among organizations, and by creative place-making organizations like Intersection for the Arts, which engage in positive neighborhood development through the arts.

What are the bold new directions we are imagining for our organization?

Ragged Wing is radically shifting its business model to incorporate innovative ways for artists, audiences and community members to connect and co-create. We are working on opening The Flight Deck, a shared, multi-disciplinary arts space in Oakland, California, that will reflect the vibrancy and diversity of the city. A new predictor of success would be having a full roster of resident companies, individual artists, office co-working members, and audience members, who collaborate in creating the programing, governance and culture of the space. We will work with all of these stakeholders to create a unique share-model that adds value to each member’s work, thus multiplying each others’ capacity for positive social impact.

Our vision of success

Ragged Wing Ensemble’s mission is to catalyze a deep cultural shift where artistic action is at the center of vital social change. We aim to connect artists and audiences through the ritual of live performance, exploring universal questions that span the ancient and contemporary. We engage in the study and practice of Ensemble, collaboratively creating new, interdisciplinary works and activating the next generation of artistically engaged citizens. Our vision of success is to become a sustainable arts organization that serves its community, promoting collaboration and creativity among artists, youth, audiences, arts organizations, and local schools, community organizations, businesses, and government.

A recent performance from Ragged Wing Ensemble.
Ragged Wing Ensemble currently runs an annual mainstage show, an outdoor fall festival show, a series of original, short plays, a film/art/music festival, a youth ensemble for high school students, workshops for adults and a young professionals apprenticeship program. We have performed in nine venues in Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond, and San Francisco, involving hundreds of local artists, serving over 100 urban youth, and presenting to thousands of audience members. In settling in Oakland, we will be investing more specifically in that community, connecting with schools, businesses and local government and growing our community of artists for shared benefit and increased impact.