My interest in the Plowshares Coffee House and its parent organization, the San Francisco Folk Music Center, emerged through several years of participation in a variety of local San Francisco Bay Area acoustic and folk music scenes. Over time, I began to notice subtle and, sometimes, not so subtle, cultural differences between the different groups. Yet, these groups are not entirely separate entities. They are connected by complex networks of people who also have similar interests and passions. Despite some cultural differences, these groups also have some common understandings, needs, and opportunities for mutually beneficial support. Music and dance have been integral to my life in a variety of ways for as long as I can remember. Even so, I had not previously recognized the complex social systems that connect different music scenes.
It is possible that I may never have noticed this phenomenon if I had not previously studied for a Master of Arts degree in Organizational Management. After twenty years (at that time) working in the museum field, I became curious about organizational systems during a field-wide flurry of facility expansions, changing missions, and efforts to create institutions that better serve community. My audience research and evaluation work at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose afforded me both first-hand experience with these change processes and exposure to a variety of organizational approaches through professional involvement with the Association of Science-Technology Centers and the American Association of Museums.
In 2002, I was selected to present my thesis, “Under the Seat Cushion: Find the Keys to Innovation Connecting the Formal Structure with Informal Organizational Systems,” to Fielding Graduate University students and faculty prior to the graduation ceremony. Four years later, an adaptation of my thesis was included as a chapter in the Handbook for Small Science Centers. In their 2006 book, Thriving in the Knowledge Age: New Business Models for Museums and Other Cultural Institutions, museum and free-choice learning experts Dr. John Falk and Beverly K. Sheppard devoted three pages to discussing my research on fostering creativity and innovation.
I joined the University Advancement staff at California State University, East Bay in 2011, and began exploring formal education options and potential subjects for research. Recognizing that the topic of social systems was probably too big for focused research, I briefly considered researching the San Francisco Folk Music Club. However, its’ 50+ year history and hundreds of members, also seemed larger than manageable. I first learned about Plowshares Coffee House in 2009 after hearing stories about its one-time role in the local folk music scene. I thought that the brief period of operations (relative to the Folk Music Club and other local music scenes) would help me bound my research. (At the time, I was under the impression that Plowshares had operated for about five years, rather than twenty.)
In 2013, I enrolled in the California State University, East Bay Interdisciplinary Studies Master of Arts degree program and began my research on Plowshares in earnest. Dr. Peter Marsh, Associate Professor, Music, chaired my committee which included History Department Chair Dr. Linda Ivey and Professor of Anthropology Dr. Laurie Price, (who replaced Anthropology Department Chair Dr. Laura Nelson, when she left the University). My thesis, “Plowshares Coffee House: People, Music & Community,” was named the 2016-2017 College of Arts, Letters and Social Sciences winner of the Mary Harrington Outstanding University Thesis Award. It documents the state of my research upon completion of my course of study and presents key findings. This website offers some Plowshares stories, glimpses into the research process, and documentation of Plowshares performances (still a work in progress). My intention is to continue my research on Plowshares and its situation among other music communities beyond the bounds of this formal program. I look forward to sharing some of my research on this website.
– Susan B.F. Wageman