People have been talking about the blurring line between the commercial and nonprofit arts sectors (and related mission/market tradeoffs) for decades. Some see this line blurring and become concerned; others seem to see it as a natural progression and even a step forward for nonprofits. I’d venture to say that Patron Technology CEO Eugene Carr is in the second camp, based on his recent blog post, “What’s the Secret Sauce Today?”
Here are a few excerpts from his post:
“… more and more, Artistic Directors need to realize they must balance audience needs with the financial needs and mission of the organization, and in these economic times, the mission may have to bend a bit.
Frankly, it’s always a balancing act, but if you’re too mission-oriented, you can end up with something like what we’re witnessing at the City Opera, which essentially abandoned any vestige of its old mission … and instead decided on a radically new approach with nothing but daring new operas.
… more and more organizations are realizing that the decidedly for-profit impulse of filling the house at any cost must be job number one. I’m not suggesting that organizations don’t already think about doing this — but what I am suggesting is that earned income is looking more and more like the newest and best bastion of hope in this economic downturn, and if that’s true, it requires a change of focus and a reallocation of resources.”
Is it just me or is anyone else worried about what might be implied by that little prepositional phrase at any cost? And how far can we bend the mission before it breaks? At what point might we need to worry that the commercial/nonprofit line has blurred to such a degree that there is no longer a distinctive role for nonprofit arts institutions? At what point might someone suggest that nonprofit arts organizations have become for-profits-in-disguise?
Just to be safe, perhaps we should be getting out our red and black markers and a big sheet of paper and writing ‘mission’ and ‘money’ at the top of the sheet with a line down the middle and keeping track of this stuff so we’re sure we end up with enough plusses and minuses in the right columns at the end of the…um…project? Day? Season? Decade? Lifetime of the organization? At what point in time, I wonder, should we take a snapshot of this mission/money balance sheet?
Before we manage to erase all vestiges of ‘the line’ I, for one, would be in favor of some thoughtful discussions on what may be the implications, costs, and gains of doing so.