How often do we artists walk into a company supportive of the arts and ask, “What can we do for you?”
Do I hear crickets?
Yep. Those are definitely crickets.
Here’s how it usually happens; we walk in and immediately start defending our existence, and then we ask for money. We tell companies what kind of a public relations boon it will be to give to the arts, outline how we’ll use the logo in our materials, talk about wording for sponsorship, and then wait for them to write the check.
If they don’t write the check, we grumble about how they just don’t understand. Then we come back in a couple of months and try again.
What we should do is find a way to serve the businesses who serve us with sponsorships. The former mayor of Kansas City, where I live, commenting on nonprofit/city government partnerships, said, “I love nonprofits and think they deserve city support. But only if they provide a service better than the city can.”
So how can we provide a service? And if we start to think along those lines, will we lose our art?
It’s a fine line, but I think there are ways to massage what we do to be able to offer businesses something for their money once in a while.
How many corporations offer ongoing team-building workshops? All of them, right? And what is a choir, an instrumental ensemble, a theatre troupe, a dance company if not a team?
How many corporations emphasize professional development opportunities designed to help managers cultivate supervisory and leadership skills? All of them, right? How many times do you think they wished they could role-play conversations before they actually had them with employees? And who is good at playing roles?
And what about project management skills? What is a large artistic endeavor? A project, right?
Public speaking. Communication skills. Space beautification.
The list goes on and on. The arts are uniquely positioned to offer creative ways to build themselves into corporate systems in ways that will benefit both the systems and the artist.
So is that selling out?
I don’t think so. It’s just another tentacle of the arts. Why can’t we have art for art’s sake AND art as a useful economic engine?