Posted by Ron Jones On June - 6 - 2013
Ron Jones

Ron Jones

In the late Eighteen Hundreds Harvard decided to add an “art appreciation” course to its offerings and thus began a recognition by higher education that knowing about and, later to come, engaging in the arts was a good thing for students in American colleges and universities. Centuries before, the University of Paris had established music as one of the major subjects of study but that effort, of course, was driven by the University’s interest in mathematics, not aesthetic sensibilities.

By the 1940’s and 1950’s American higher education was steeped in both required arts courses as well as the blossoming of full-fledged programs of study in the arts. By the end of the Twentieth Century music, theatre(er), visual arts, and dance were acknowledged members of the academy. In most places, respected; in some, only tolerated.

From this admittedly brief and over-generalized history it is clear that the arts were increasingly enjoying a place of acceptance, even respect, within the academy. Those good days seem to be passing as the nation tightens its fiscal belt and increasingly questions the value of higher education, gravitating now toward a valuing system that focuses on careers and income potential (e.g., check out this naïve post to Yahoo! Education, Don’t Let your Kids Study These Majors. Business practices are dictating the course of higher education and the arts are being forced into a box lined with expectations that tend to minimize the “real” values of the arts and ignoring the “real” contribution the arts have and continue to make to our system of higher education. Squeezed into submission, American colleges and universities are scrambling to parasitically survive by attaching themselves to STEM or giving lip service to career development or just giving up and eliminating arts programs. Read the rest of this entry »

Art…and the Stagnant Business of Art (an EALS Post)

Posted by Steven Dawson On March - 15 - 2013
Steven Dawson

Steven Dawson

What happens when an arts organization’s business model no longer works?

Well, as with the metaphor of the shark, it must continue to move forward or it will die.

For decades, the arts organization model has remained largely unchallenged, because there was no reason to challenge it. It almost served as a microcosm of “The American Dream.”

Everyone wanted to start their own organization, and the great entrepreneurial spirit in the United States created a thriving environment for this mindset. Margo Jones, one of the regional theatre pioneers in the 1950s, supported the idea, saying “What our country needs today, theatrically speaking, is a resident professional theatre in every city with a population over one hundred thousand.”

However, as Rocco Landesman so famously said, audiences have begun to dwindle while the number of organizations continues to rise, and there should be fewer arts organizations. I am in no way saying that some organizations should just close up shop so that another can benefit. But this is definitely something to think about.

There are only so many contributed dollars out there for the arts. This trend of continued marketplace crowding will eventually lead to organizations relying quite heavily on earned income to meet budget. And as I mentioned a few weeks ago, many organizations must keep prices low (affordable) in order to fulfill their missions. Put those two factors together, and it doesn’t add up to success.  Read the rest of this entry »

Not-For-Profit Arts Are Grossing Me Out

Posted by Howard Sherman On March - 14 - 2013
Howard Sherman

Howard Sherman

I have made no secret of my disdain for the practice of announcing theatre grosses as if we were the movie industry. I grudgingly accept that on Broadway, it is a measure of a production’s health in the commercial marketplace, and a message to current and future investors. But no matter where they’re reported, I feel that grosses now overshadow critical or even popular opinion within different audience segments.

A review runs but once, an outlet rarely does more than one feature piece; reports on weekly grosses can become weekly indicators that stretch on for years. If the grosses are an arbiter of what people choose to see, then theatre has jumped the marketing shark.

So it took only one tweet to get me back on my high horse [last week]. A major reporter in a large city (not New York), admirably beating the drum for a company in his area, announced on Twitter that, “[Play] is officially best-selling show in [theatre’s] history.”

When I inquired as to whether that meant highest revenue or most tickets sold, the reporter said that is was highest gross, that they had reused the theatre’s own language, and that they would find out about the actual ticket numbers.” I have not yet seen a follow up, but Twitter can be funny that way.

As the weekly missives about box office records from Broadway prove, we are in an endless cycle of ever-higher grosses, thanks to steady price increases, and ever newer records. That does not necessarily mean that more people are seeing shows; in some cases, the higher revenues are often accompanied by a declining number of patrons. Simply put, even though fewer people may be paying more, the impression given is of overall health.  Read the rest of this entry »

Scaling a Project: As Easy As Alpha, Beta, Charlie

Posted by KJ Sanchez On December - 11 - 2012

KJ Sanchez

As the CEO of American Records, a theater company devoted to making work that chronicles our time/work that serves as a bridge between people, scale is always on my mind and an important part of how we produce.

For your information, I’m the CEO, not the artistic director because American Records is an S Corp, not a nonprofit. We have the soul of a nonprofit in that every dollar we make we spend on artists and programing (i.e. we have no profit margin), which allows us to work under the fiscal sponsorship of Fractured Atlas.

This is a great partnership because being a corporation keeps us light and lean and able to work very quickly, and the fiscal sponsorship allows for grants for particular projects. Right now, our average earned/contributed ratio is 80/20 (80% earned, 20% contributed). We’re not the only ones pioneering this model. Rainpan 43 Performance Group and Universes are also S Corps with fiscal sponsorship. Other companies are pioneering the L3C.

I bring up our company structure because it is fundamentally tied to how we work on scale. The way we’re working on “going big” and the reason we have such a high level of earned income is because we tour. Our tours go to traditional theaters like Actors Theater of Louisville and Roundhouse and traditional presenters like The Hopkins Center at Dartmouth but we also tour to conferences, hospitals, lecture halls, and military bases.

Last year I contracted with the Department of Defense to take our play ReEntry to Army bases throughout Germany and Italy, where command used the performances as post-deployment training. ABC News covered the play as part of a larger story about veteran suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder. Read the rest of this entry »

The Subversive Tack: Arts + Economy

Posted by Tara Aesquivel On April - 6 - 2012

Tara Aesquivel

Thinking about the economy can be rather depressing. For many people, it can seem like a volatile god: a mysterious force that affects everything and we mere mortals have no control over its whims.

Let’s start with a basic idea of what I mean when I write about “the economy.”

Economic analysis is often an attempt to make the complex world of interconnectedness more comprehensible by quantifying everything, usually through monetization. In other words, the world is complicated so we make charts.

The “economy” is everything that happens. Economics is a (left-brained) method of analyzing everything that happens, and it’s mostly focused on measuring everything in dollars and euros.

This focus on monetization is problematic for the arts because the value of artistic products is not always calculable by how much it cost to make them or by how much people are willing to pay for them. In fact, we often strive for the opposite—to give away the arts for free and know that they are priceless.

The subversive tack accepts economics for the way it is and uses the system to our advantage. In order to do that, we need to know the basic principles and be able to speak the lingo: quantification.

The arts sector is getting much better at quantifying the value and impact of the arts. Here are three great examples:

I took my first economics class in graduate school. I had no idea what to expect. As it turns out, the heart of economics can be summed up in a phrase: “supply and demand.” This is something we already understand in the arts. Read the rest of this entry »

Jessica Wilt

In part one of our two-part post, Alex Sarian and I asked an important question:

In trying to keep up with for-profit ‘heavy-hitters’ that arguably boast of greater resources than the average nonprofit, from which of the three areas (quality, engagement, and partnerships), if at all, do you find yourself most cutting corners?

In light of a very recent and rather candid op-ed in The New York Times, we chose to spin our question to incorporate the story of Greg Smith, who this week boldly resigned from his position as executive director at Goldman Sachs after making startling connections between the “success” and the “community” of an organization; a connection that, in many ways, affects all of us who are surrounded by a culture in which we are asked to do more with less.

Smith writes:

“…culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief.” Read the rest of this entry »

Expanding Community Participation

Posted by Libby Maynard On December - 9 - 2011

Libby Maynard

Continuing the focus on community engagement and participation in arts and culture, I’d like to share with you how we at The Ink People in Humboldt County, CA, have been practicing these principles for the last 25 years.

Our DreamMaker Program invites community members who have a vision for an arts and culture project or see a need in their community that can be addressed through such a project, to partner with us.

Sometimes I think of us as the center of a broad web, supporting and nurturing community-initiated visions. We are not a fiscal receiver. The board of directors decides whether or not to adopt each project as a full-fledged part of The Ink People, with full nonprofit benefits and stakes our reputation on each one.

In addition to this, we give administrative support and intensive mentoring to each project, as well as offering a series of Mini Nonprofit “MBA” classes. The classes are designed only to give project leaders an idea of what they don’t know, so they can ask the right questions to have the best chance at success.

Generally, a project follows one of four paths. It may be short term, with limited and well defined goals and outcomes, such as the publication of a book about Japanese Senryu poetry by the artist’s grandmother, with illustrations by the artist, and a series of workshops on writing Senryu poetry. Read the rest of this entry »

Partnering Under a Banner

Posted by Wayne Andrews On December - 9 - 2011

Wayne Andrews

Competition is hard. In the business world market share, loss leaders, and incentives are used to drive product loyalty. This does not work in the creative economy.

You can’t coupon a radio listener into supporting your local songwriter’s organization, or celebrate that the ballet has gained market share over the orchestra.

The arts are one of the few business models where we don’t celebrate growth by one organization over another. Never have we heard the Opera Generation is involved in an art war with New Ballet.

There are a host of incentives and promotions arts groups utilize to entice people to try the ballet or opera. Every arts group has tried a “pay what you can night” or “free tickets promotions” hoping to expand their audience.

Still I don’t care that a prune is a dried plum because to many people it is still a prune. Just as opera is opera or modern art is confusing. Most products realize once the discounted price, coupon, or gimmick that lured the consumers to buy their brand of soap is gone, and so is the customer.

How will art groups build a new audience? By merging more than marketing efforts, but by merging their programs. Read the rest of this entry »

A New Umbrella for Denver’s Cultural Assets

Posted by Jan Brennan On December - 8 - 2011

Jan Brennan

The Denver Office of Cultural Affairs is no more. But don’t panic. In this case, it represents a positive development that helps ensure cultural programming and staffing remains strong in Denver.

This summer, the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs and the City Division of Theatres and Arenas combined forces to form a new, merged agency called Arts & Venues Denver.

The merger brings cultural programs and venues into an umbrella agency that brings together all of the City of Denver arts and entertainment assets. Arts & Venues Denver has adopted a new mission: To enhance Denver’s quality of life and economic vitality through premier public venues, artwork, and entertainment opportunities.

The former Office of Cultural Affairs has moved over as a department of the new agency, joining Facilities and Event Services Departments, and served jointly by Communications & Marketing and Finance sections.

We retained all of our staff, programs and budget in the transition, continuing to oversee public art, community events, arts education and creative sector initiatives. Read the rest of this entry »

Groundbreaking Theater Work Needs Responsive Funders

Posted by Moisés Kaufman & Greg Reiner On November - 30 - 2011

Moisés Kaufman

For theater companies that are creating new work, fundraising in the community of institutional funders poses a unique set of challenges.

Funders, by design, have strict guidelines in place by which they measure outcomes. But most experimental theater companies have models of making art that challenge traditionally held industry standards.

What companies like Elevator Repair Service, Pig Iron Theatre, the SITI Company, and Tectonic Theater Project have in common is the following: each has chosen to devote its resources exclusively to creating work, rather than supporting a physical space, programming a regular season, or offering a subscription; each was incorporated 10 to 20 years ago; each receives critical acclaim for its work; and each continues to struggle to raise funds to support its very existence.

The three “Ss” — season, subscription, and space (preferably a theater) — are the markers that most foundations use when evaluating a company’s work and outcome. But more and more, many of the theater companies creating some of the most highly innovative and influential work in contemporary theater over the past decade don’t have any of these three characteristics.

They do not have a theater space or a season or a subscription base. What they have are projects that they nurture for long periods of time and then present to the public in a variety of ways (either by partnering with existing theaters, touring, or finding alternative spaces). Read the rest of this entry »

Towards an Arts-Based Renaissance of Business

Posted by Giovanni Schiuma On November - 14 - 2011

Giovanni Schiuma

Today’s business organizations are challenged to deeply transform themselves and find new ways to create value in a more sustainable way.

The traditional management systems and business models need to be reinvented acknowledging the fundamental human-based nature of the organizations and of the economic ecosystem

In the new business age the capacity of an organization to survive and growth is increasingly tied to its ability to engage and inspire workforce.

Business issues such as productivity, adaptability, and innovativeness are more and more affected by how people within organizations are motivated to give the best of themselves in their daily working activities and are moved to exercise their imagination and creativity to face and solve emergent and unpredictable problems.

In addition, today’s economic recession and tension for continuous change are creating organizational contexts in which stress and negative feeling proliferate. This prompts managers to identify new ways to handle emotional- and experiential-based dimensions in order to shape organizational atmosphere which can be conducive of positive and energizing experiences for improving business performance.  Read the rest of this entry »

One Organization’s Journey to Connect Art & Business

Posted by Kelly Lamb Pollock On November - 14 - 2011
Kelly Lamb Pollock

Kelly Lamb Pollock

It’s no secret that innovation is valued, even revered, in today’s society. The recent passing of Steve Jobs put into perspective the deep impact even one individual’s revolutionary creativity can have on our world.

Some say Steve Jobs, thankfully for us, was a pioneer.

No matter what you call him, if he is the ideal, shouldn’t we determine how to inject his brand of thinking into that of more of our business leaders?

Yes, becoming more innovative can, and should, begin with arts education and access to the arts at an early age, as my colleague Ken Busby said in his blog post in honor of Jobs.

However, I’m such an optimist that I believe that all is not lost for those GenXers or even, gasp, the Baby Boomers already in the workforce.

It was this thinking that led COCA (Center of Creative Arts) in St. Louis to explore how we could help to foster productive innovation in business through the arts. Read the rest of this entry »

What Arts Managers Can Learn from Steve Jobs

Posted by Jeff Scott On November - 4 - 2011

Jeff Scott

With the recent release of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, and several other bios scheduled to come out in the near future, there’s a lot of discussion on what kind of a manager Jobs was.

While the management of a publicly-traded tech company and that of a nonprofit arts organization may seem worlds apart, there are some basic kernels that arts leaders can take from Steve Jobs’ career.

We’ve heard a lot about Jobs’ so-called “reality distortion field.” He pushed his employees to the max, believing that work that normally would take a month could be done in a few days. While the pressure was too much for many employees, others said it caused them to do some of the best work of their careers.

For arts managers working with limited resources in terms of people, time, and money, the notion of a reality distortion field is probably a familiar one. So many times we find ourselves making something out of almost nothing and hopefully that something is a brilliant work of art. But what is perhaps more significant is how Jobs handled his employees. Not only did he believe that a particular task could get done a certain way in a certain time frame, he believed that his people would be able to accomplish it. Read the rest of this entry »

Embracing the Velocity of Change (Part 4)

Posted by Marete Wester On October - 27 - 2011

The Fairmont Hotel's Venetian Room Circa 1950

The historic Fairmont Hotel has sat atop Nob Hill in San Francisco for over 100 years; built and rebuilt after surviving earthquakes, fires, and numerous redecorating efforts for nearly eleven decades.

Pristine marble floors, crystal chandeliers, and towering Corinthian columns trimmed in gold punctuate some fun historical facts: the Cirque Room was the first bar in the city to open after prohibition; the International Conference held there after World War II led to the drafting of the Charter for the United Nations; and the Venetian Room  supper club, which has featured artists from Marlene Dietrich to Vic Damone, was where Tony Bennett first sang “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”

The Venetian Room seemed an unlikely place to host an early morning discussion that was all about the future. Nevertheless, the “Funding & Changing Business Models” session I facilitated at the recent Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA) conference ended up filled with energetic and motivated funders, including state and local arts agencies, small family foundations, as well as regional and national foundations. As the group swelled two deep around, a cry went out to “Change the Model!” and we started moving tables (mindful of all the crystal). It was clear this was a hot topic. Read the rest of this entry »

Emerging Ideas: Classical Music’s New Entrepreneurs (Part 3)

Posted by Ian David Moss On October - 27 - 2011

Ian David Moss

(This three-part post is the first of a series on emerging trends and notable lessons from the field, as reported by members of the Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders Council.)

The three enterprises discussed in Parts 1 and 2 are hardly the only examples of conservatory musicians or classically-aligned individuals shaking up the classical world with innovative ideas.

Here are a few other notable instances of classical music entrepreneurship that I’ve come across:

•    The Wordless Music Series burst on to the scene in New York five years ago, presenting a head-spinning mix of programs combining first-rate classical ensembles with esoteric indie rock bands on the same bill. Founded and curated by a former Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center staffer, Ronen Givony, Wordless Music bills have included Godspeed You! Black Emperor, composer Nico Muhly, and the United States premiere of a string orchestra piece by Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. In many cases the events happen at unusual venues, such as churches, that are totally alien to the participants from the popular music realm.

•    The International Contemporary Ensemble has pioneered a remarkable hybrid structure that combines elements of performance group, presenter, and producer across multiple venues and even cities. More centralized than the grassroots chapter network of Classical Revolution, ICE is ostensibly based in Chicago and New York, but its network of ensemble members is spread out across the country. Founder Claire Chase, as well as many of the musicians, graduated from Oberlin Conservatory. Read the rest of this entry »