Capacity Building

In the non-profit and arts sector we use the term “capacity-building” a lot but we seldom stop to compare notes about what we mean by the term.  To many non-profit staff and volunteers, it is all about the money and certainly more dollars builds our capacity. . . as long as those dollars are not wasted.  But there are other considerations in capacity building that can help us do more with what we have and position us to grow.

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The Arts Consultant: planning for a useful consultancy

So you and/or your Board of Directors is planning a project that will involve the use of an outside consultant or consulting firm.  We’ve all seen consulting projects that have been irrelevant and even terribly disruptive.  We’ve also seen projects that have bootstrapped organizations to the next level or supplied one small key piece of the puzzle that allowed an organization to maximize existing resources.
How do you plan a consulting project and provide oversight to the workplan to get the most out of a time-limited relationship?  It will be as good or as bad as your organization makes it!

Develop a project that is relevant to the organizational needs:

  • successful consulting projects are driven by and responsive to the organizational strategic plan
  • successful consulting projects are responsive to organizational strengths and needs.
  • successful consulting projects have a draft plan in place before potential consultants are approached
  • successful consulting projects are rarely driven by “friend of the board” consulting opportunities, to address shortterm needs due to staffing/funding shortfalls,  nor projects proposed by the consultants themselves

Choosing the consultant.  Find someone with strong relevancy to your organization’s needs.

  • Talk to colleagues, funders, professional organizations
  • Look at the past experience of the consultant for indications that they know your sector and how to work with organizations of your size, especially when sectoral knowledge is very key to the project.
  • Be sure the skills and expertise of your consultant is a match for the specific focus of the project, e.g. “social media marketing” and not just “marketing” if they are charged with a social media marketing plan.
  • Be sure that the consultant you are in conversation with is able to be as hands-on and present in the organization or as independent as your project needs them to be. Be frank with the consultant about what you need and don’t need.
  • Discuss the draft plan with the consultant as well as the opportunities, strengths and limitations of your organization. Be receptive to suggestions that enhance your plan but wary of someone who wants to make huge changes to the plan.  They may not be a fit for what the organization needs.

Assure everyone involved in the project is clear about lines of authority, responsibilities and reporting.

  • In successful consulting projects there is organizational oversight. Who directs the consultant’s work? Who intervenes if a consultant’s work is not being done, goes off-course or is being disruptive of operations?
  • Is there a staff member(s) assigned to assist the consultant? If so are those staff members aware of how they will be expected to assist? This needs to be spelled out, “You will be required to occasionally assist X by research and assembling information.  This is not to take precedence over your regular work, should not involve more than 1-3 hours work per week.”
  • In successful consulting projects, staff understand the scope of the project and how it integrates with their own work and what they might be asked to do to assist with the project
  • Do staff know what information is permissible to share?  Be thoughtful about privacy legislation and your own valuable contact lists.
  • Do staff understand the likely outcomes of the project?  “The information you give us on information flow and ‘who does what’ in your department will guide an HR reorganization that could change reporting structure and job descriptions”.  Understanding the importance of the project will elicit buy-in.

Why consulting projects fail?

  • Irrelevant projects:  A marketing plan for an organization without the staff or finances to support the plan.  A “think outside of the box” innovational strategy that is not sustainable due to known factors.
  • Choosing the wrong consultant: You picked someone with a knowledge of foundations and government funders to plan and pioneer an individuals and corporate donor campaign.
  • Absentee or “in your hair” consultants: lack of clarity about workplan and style leads to a consultant that no one can connect with, (“I’m sorry but I am in Abu Dhabi for 6 months and I need to get my cellphone unlocked before I can call you back”) or a consultant who is disruptive of daily work with a barrage of phone calls, emails and drop ins
  • Lack of oversight: Consulting project takes on a life of its own due to lack of oversight.  Results unlikely to reflect original goals and project either becomes irrelevant or disruptive. Results become hard to assess when it is unclear what the consultant actually did. Staff resent a consultant taking on roles that is in their job description.
  • Lack of clarity about reporting structure/staff roles;  Due to busyness and lack of information staff are uncooperative, stalling the project or the opposite, staff unduly priorize consulting project to the detriment of higher priority work.  Consultant, unclear of how to get needed help, goes to anyone who answers the phone for help sometimes causing duplication and confusion.  Consultant unclear of boundaries, contacts staff at home, via personal email  etc. Staff who have no mechanism to refuse to put in extra hours for consultancy project  ask for huge overtime payments or time in lieu due to work heaped on them by the consultant.
  • Lack of clarity/process and ethical considerations in information sharing.  Wary staff refuse to share information needed for the consultancy.  Staff fail to priorize information sharing because they don’t know how it will be used. Staff who misunderstand Consultant’s scope share privileged information. Consultant offers the organization contact information that is not supposed to be shared. Our contact list is shared against our wishes and our contacts complain.  Individuals added to our contact list complain about spam.  We see a decline in funding results from known sources the following year and discover our list of funding contacts is being used by a competitor who has hired our former consultant.

Key Points:

  1. Strategic needs and long-term goals should drive the project, not shortterm opportunities or needs
  2. Select a consultant who matches the project, the organization and the work style of the team
  3. Provide clear oversight to the consultant and clear responsibilities/communication lines for the staff
  4. Get the necessary buy in from staff by sharing the project’s goals and likely outcomes
  5. Be thoughtful about information sharing making sure protections and permissions are clear
  6. Track the project regularly assuring reports are accurate
Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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Founder’s Syndrome

What is founder’s syndrome and why does it affect so many smaller arts and non-profit organizations?

Founder’s syndrome occurs when a founder of an organization is not able to transition leadership style as the organization matures and grows.  The founder continues to operate in the same manner as he/she did in founding the organization, seeking to personally manage every aspect of a growing organization.

The strong entrepreneurial personality that developed a new organization may be unskilled at or unwilling to delegate. The tireless worker that was willing to pull all-nighters to get in last-minute grant applications may be unable to schedule work or effectively manage their time. The genius that came up with spontaneous project ideas may not be willing to work on long-range plans or within budget guidelines. All of the affects of founder’s syndrome results in limiting the growth and effectiveness of organizations and often creates toxic environments for workers, artists, clients. 

We naturally see more of this in smaller organizations because it is such a strong factor in limiting growth.  It is more prevalent in the non-profit sector because while for-profit organizations can be affected by founder’s syndrome, market forces exert limiting pressures on poor leadership.  The for-profit company that cannot grow and change often fails while others are forced to change their ways or leadership to remain competitive.  By contrast non-profits are less subject to market forces and may have difficulty discerning reasons for organizational stagnation or failures. Non-profits are governed by unpaid community volunteers who may feel unable to pass judgment on the workings of an organization that is outside their area of expertise and where evaluation may be more qualitative than quantitative. Volunteer Board Members customarily spend little or no time observing the day-to-day workings of the organization. They may also be friends of the Founder and so not impartial.  They may have been convinced by the Founder that any inquiries about management is “meddling”. Staff and volunteers in the arts and non-profits tend to be very high-minded and mission-driven.  This results sometimes in a willingness to tolerate a sick work environment in a mis-guided idea that it is “for the good of the cause”.

How does Founder’s Syndrome develop in organizations?

Founders alone cannot create an organization with Founder’s Syndrome.  It takes a step-by-step, person by person tacit agreement to cede power to the Founder by Board Members who should be providing governance to the organization.  It also requires funders, volunteers, staff, colleagues and other stakeholders to decide to continue to support the sick organization or to leave silently. Over the years it there may be numerous loud and clear signals that there is something terribly wrong in the organization but no effective action is taken to address the problem or to provide help to the Founder to assist them in developing a more effective leadership style before they stifle or bring ruin to the organization they founded.

What are the symptoms of founder’s syndrome? 

1.  There’s a “friends of the founder” Board of Directors.  The founder has recruited the Board of Directors him or herself (normal in the initial stage of an organization) and the Board has never taken over authority for recruiting new members themselves based on the needs of the organization.  Board members are vetted by the founder and Board Members that try to counter the Founder’s wishes are quickly ejected.  The Board sees their role as supporting the work of the founder rather than stewardship of the organization’s Mission and sound governance of the organization’s work and resources. 
2.  Decision-making within the organization is all controlled by the founder.  Staff either don’t know what’s going on or plans suddenly get de-railed by a decision of the founder.  Ideas that come from elsewhere than the Founder don’t go very far.  Staff become discouraged about offering innovative ideas, stop being pro-active and may even be afraid of the founder. 
3.  Organizational information such as newsletters and brochures contain a lot of information about the founder: personal letters from the founder to supporters, news of the founder’s awards, achievements, pet projects. Board members and staff seem oddly uninformed about the details of project plans, budgets, and any results or evaluation.  Staff cannot articulate processes, statistics or evaluation methods. 
4. The founder often talks about “my vision, my program, my goals” rather than “our goals”.  When asked about rationale for methods it is not unusual to hear, “we have always done X” or “I believe it is best to do Y”.  There is no process for new ideas and methods to be introduced. 
5. There is a resistance to any changes that might create a real or perceived loss of control, e.g. a founder that is uncomfortable with technology will resist the implementation of a user-friendly website that a staff member might be able to create and manage because she/he will feel unable to control the content. 
6. Information hording can occur because information is power. The more threatened a founder is by a staff member, the less likely the founder will be in sharing information with that staff member.

What are the options for an organization That Identifies having a Founder’s Syndrome problem?

1.  If the Founder recognizes the problem, get them help through professional leadership counselling.
2.  If the Founder does not recognize the problem you’ll need buy-in from more than one organizational level to effect change.  Without support from Board, Staff, and Funders you will not be likely to succeed.  Staff driven efforts alone result in Board backed firings that can ruin careers and even the health of staff members summarily dismissed for the efforts to alert the Board to the dysfunction.  Board-driven change processes that lack staff and funder buy-in can result in funding cuts, and/or sabotage at the staff level and ultimately Board fatigue, resignations, replacements.  Funder led calls for reform without organizational support can result in financial hits for the organization but no real change. The organization will find new funding partners or fail, but will be unlikely to effect real change to suit a funder unless there is recognition of a problem.

What are the implications for staff employed in an organization with Founder’s Syndrome? 

1. Recognize that you are in a very challenging environment and you may not be able to effect change.  Go easy on yourself.
2.  Consider your options and prepare your exit strategy even before it’s necessary.
3.  It is unwise to try to effect change in the organization unless there is a Board initiated effort for organizational change.
4.  If you elect to stay in the organization focus on small goals or achievements within your area of responsibility with minimal opportunities for friction with the Founder.
5.  If you choose to whistle-blow, be prepared for a very difficult time and possibly lasting career damage. It might be personally advantageous to simply resign.
6.  Work within the non-profit sector to promote awareness of this problem and protections for workers. 

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Stratford Festival announces Michael Langham Workshop

Call for submissions from Canadian directors for 2012

The Michael Langham Workshop
for Classical Direction
a director training program with emphasis on classical text

Michael Langham – Artistic Director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, 1956·1967
“Michael Langham was a cherished mentor and leacher, the intellectual architect of the
Stratford Shakespeare Festival and a master of his art. His visionary approach to
Shakespeare laid the foundation for the Festival’s creative practice. The Michael
Langham Workshop for Classical Direction works to ensure that future generations of
artists have access to the same tools that Michael himself used to create rich and resonant
theatre; I am honoured that we can pass on his gifts to our country’s finest emerging
directors.”

Des McAnuff, Artistic Director, Stratford Shakespeare Festival

Des McAnuff, Artistic Director and Antoni Cimolino. General Director announce that the
Stratford Shakespeare Festival will continue to offer The Michael Langham Workshop
for Classical Direction in 20 12. The program is overseen by David Latham, Theatre
Training Consultant and Dean Gabourie, Assistant Artistic Director. The program’s
inaugural year was 2010. Participants in 201 1 were:

  • Eric Benson (Halifax) -1st yr
  • Sharon Bajer (Winnipeg) – 2nd yr
  • Dian Marie Bridge (Toronto) – 2nd yr
  • Heather Davies (London) – 1 st yr
  • Alan Dilworth (Toronto) – 1 st yr
  • Varrick Grimes (Stratford) _1 st yr
  • Thomas Morgan Jones (Toronto) – 2nd yr
  • Rachel Peake (Vancouver) – lst yr
  • Andrew Shaver (Montreal) – 1st yr
  • Ral.:hel Slaven (Brooklyn) – 2nd yr
  • Lezlie Wade (Niagara-on-thc-Lake) – 2nd yr

This call for submissions is for theatre directors, from emerging to mid-stages of careerbuilding,
who have some experience working with the classics, but not at a theatre of the
complexity and scope of the Festival. Their primary task will be assistant directing.
The Festival ‘s playbill includes a broad range of work from classics, musicals, contemporary
Canadian, British and American plays. Participants will be matched to one of these works. The
2012 season begins in February and ends in October. Assistant directors are usually required for 8- 16 weeks within that timeframe. See the 2012 press release:http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/education/training.aspx?id=5767

Selected participants will be given the opportunity to choose 12 minutes of classical text
presented over two Directors’ Workshop Presentation evenings in the Studio Theatre in
October of 20 12. Resources include actors, rehearsal space, venue, costumes and set pieces from our warehouse, product ion support and formal feedback plus travel and an honorarium.
Participants will join in existing classes in text, voice, movement and other disciplines regularly
held by the Festival ‘s Theatre Training Department as well as specialized classes taught by the
Theatre Training Consultant, Festival coaches and invited instructors exploring specific text,
vocal and physical skills for use in the rehearsal process of a classical play.

The Stratford Shakespeare Festival is an institution rich in resources and hi story and this
program will include, as part of the networking component: tours, complimentary ti ckets to
shows, invitations to special events, access to archives and libraries, chats/dinners both formal
and informal with senior staff and guest directors.

Workshop participants will be paid a fee plus a travel and accommodation subsidy.
Please submit a resume, a letter of recommendation and a personal letter highlighting why
you would like to participate. Final matching of Assistant Directors to plays is entirely at the
discretion of the Festival creative team.

Please send your package by mail or email to:
Bonnie Green
Assistant Producer
Stratford Shakespeare Festival
Box 520, 55 Queen St
Stratford, ON Canada N5A 6V2
519-27 1-4040 ex 2290
bgreen@stratfordshakespearcfcstival .com

Submissions must be postmarked or emailed by August 15,2011 but we appreciate
receiving your submission ASAP.

Final decisions for 2012 will be made no later than December of2011.
This program is partially funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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Arts Presentation Contracts

In the arts it sometimes seems that there are endless varieties and shades of collaboration, partnership and co-presentation agreements possible. But when I was first working in the concert department of a major orchestra, I was told that really there were only three types of presentation contracts:

1. Self-present
2. Contract of Services
3. Co-present

Most difficulties that occur, happen when the type of contract is misunderstood or all aspects of the arrangement are not defined and signed off on by both parties.

Self-presentation:
If my arts organization is “self-presenting”, we are responsible for the artistic content, all the costs, raising the money for the project, marketing, and all the ticket revenues are ours. We may be presenting in a venue we own or we might be renting a venue. In a rental venue we might be subject to some house rules and we might have access to some inhouse marketing vehicles (a lobby lightbox or an e-newsletter). We need to sign a contract for the rental agreement but at no time should our self-presented concert be represented by the venue as a part of their series. If they wish to change the nature of the relationship to a co-presentation agreement, you should be looking for concessions on rent, etc.

Contract of services:
Your organization, company, church, or event is hiring the services of my arts organization. For example your church wishes my orchestra for an Easter concert. You can request specific repertoire if you are willing to pay the costs of the orchestra learning new repertoire or save money by taking our suggestions. You set the time of the concert, are responsible for all ticket sales, all revenue is yours if the event is ticketed. The orchestra is paid a flat fee that we have determined will cover our costs for the event. We will have to assure in our contract that we don’t incur extra costs. The things we will need to assure in the contract are: the repertoire, start and finish times for the concert, where the orchestra can warm up and securely leave their belongings during the performance, when the orchestra can take the stage, meal arrangements for the orchestra (if applicable) and orchestra name/logo recognition on advertising and materials.

Co-presentation:
My orchestra and your choir decides to co-present an Easter concert . We will have to determine:

1. Who determines the repertoire and who pays for the rental sheet music?
2. Who pays for the hall?
3. Who is going to pay for and supervise the marketing campaign and what sign-off will be needed by the other organization?
4. How will ticket sales be divided? What about series subscribers? Are their seats included? Where will they sit?
5. How are we each going to make money? Split the sales 50/50 or some other arrangement that is equitable balanced against the cost sharing arrangement?
6. Who is responsible for rehearsal costs?
7. What spaces will each organization use in the hall and for what periods of time?

Is it really necessary to spell these things out in a contract? In my experience it is, especially in the complex arrangements of Co-presentation agreements. I have seen the following problems occur in co-presentations that were uncontracted or with a very vaguely worded agreement:

1. Misunderstandings about the amount of tickets available for sale by each organization.
2. Unhappy subscribers who thought the concert was included in their subscription but no seats for them had been negotiated.
3. One partner representing the concert as though it was theirs alone. (no agreement on sign off on marketing)
4. One partner holding up marketing with lengthy tweaks and changes, jeopardizing sales. (no time-lines for approval of marketing).
5. Last minute demands for one organization to pay the rehearsal costs of the other organization. (not clear that each was responsible for their own costs).
6. One organization changing the repertoire and/or time of concert without consultation, confusing artists, public, and rendering promotional campaign invalid. (repertoire and time of concert was not spelled out in contract, nor that such would be by mutual agreement only)
7. And frequent disputes about smaller issues: sheet music rental costs, lobby sales, sponsor signage.

While it is hard to think of everything, I hope this gets any new arts manager asking the right questions about presentation contracts. If you spell out all the obvious issues and finish with a clause that suggests how any new issues will be handled, “at the discretion of X” or “by mutual agreement” you should minimize conflict.

The worst situations have occurred when the parties totally fail to understand the nature of the contract. I once inherited a rather vague co-presentation agreement with a choir. Not too far into the process of planning the concert I discovered that the choir thought the contract was a “contract of services”in relation to what money they expected from us (all their rehearsal costs and music costs covered) and was a “self-present” in terms of their marketing and ticket sales. They had put the concert on their subscription season (exhausting most of their share of the tickets with no additional revenue for them) and had gone on to sell more tickets, double-dipping their ticket share and cutting into our potential revenues. Basically they wanted it both ways, and that’s not how the world works.

If the fundamental nature of the agreement is clear, and the large issues are settled, it is not hard to negotiate solutions to smaller issues as they arise.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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Michael Kaiser's "The Art of the Turnaround"

Yesterday I was reading a post by Jodi Schoenbrun Carter on Michael Kaiser’s “Arts in Crisis” program that is a follow-up to his book, “The Art of the Turnaround”. I agree one-hundred percent with the sentiment that Kaiser has great ideas, but they are hardly original ideas to most experienced arts managers. You’d be hard-pressed to find any who didn’t agree with him, hadn’t advocated his main principals to their Boards and hadn’t gone away shaking their heads in dismay as Boards failed to listen.

Kaiser says that the quality of art matters, be bold, be brave be revolutionary. Know your Mission and stay on Mission, and spend the money it takes to do it right and market it correctly. You cannot save your way to financial health. He says that the arts are remarkably efficiently run and do not have a spending problem, the arts instead have a revenue problem. Nor can arts organizations win by compromising the art by trying to vie with popular entertainment biz by watering down their season with pop and shlock. Any pickup at the box office will be equalled by loss of donations and funder support.

It makes me tired –as it did Jodi– to hear this touted as new advice. The question in my mind is, “why does arts management common-sense so often fail to be implemented?” And the answer, I believe, is that there is a flaw in a structure which gives governance of our cultural assets to mostly untrained groups of volunteers, with little or no oversight or accountability. I have seen Boards do amazing things from time to time–saving and revitalizing arts organizations. But too often competent arts managers stagger and fail under the weight of dysfunctional boards that– while perhaps composed of well-educated and competent individuals— cannot seem as a group to acquire the knowledge or retain the organizational memory to plan well for their organization’s success, or to carry good plans forward into future years of implementation.

If public funds were invested in building a bridge, and the bridge collapsed, people would ask questions, folks would be held accountable, fault would be found and those at fault would pay real costs. I wonder why we are prepared to invest dollars in arts organizations (and non-profits in general) and yet feel we don’t have the right to hold Boards accountable?

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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Zen and the art of organizational maintenance

I think it was David Parsons, the Music Officer at the Ontario Arts Council who said to me that while he used to think of arts organizations as going through processes of recovery that would end in a stable state that would remain indefinitely, he now believed that most arts organizations were constantly going through cycles of invention and re-invention if they did not wish to devolve and die.

I agree. Arts organizations that depend upon their founding energy and original creative mission as the only continuing energy in their engine will eventually meet the law of entropy and run down, engine sputtering and eventually failing.

What makes for a resilient arts organization that can recover from challenges and find new momentum?

I think of organizations as having some similarities to mechanical engines. They are propelled by the forces of varying numbers of cylinders and work at peak performance when all cylinders are firing with equal force. They can limp along when one weakens, if the opposite/complimentary cylinder is strong. Certain configurations of failures cause the engine to seize up and fail dramatically, while others just cause slow oil leaks that take years to grind the engine to a halt. In no small part I am drawing my analogy from the classic, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” , a book that talks about how the attention to the small details of systems, ensure that the whole runs trouble-free.

What propels a healthy arts organization?

  1. Artistic Vision/Leadership–a compelling artistic vision from artist(s) that is at the centre of everything the organization does. The heart of the organization.
  2. A community that is connected to and responsive to the artistic vision, supporting it as audience, donors and through word of mouth
  3. A Board of Directors that is engaged through buy-in to the artistic and educational vision of the artistic leadership and provides the direction and resources to realize that vision.
  4. Management-volunteer or paid that reports to the Board of Directors and carried forward their strategic plan in partnership with artists and community board members
  5. Staff & volunteers as needed who are selected for the best fit with strategic goals within the living organism of your arts organization.

ARTISTIC LEADERSHIP: It all has to start with the Art.

Artistic Visioning is not something that gets done when the organization has some down time, or as a make-work project funded by OAC’s COMPASS program or Canada Council’s Flying Squad (as is too often the attitude in organizations already in trouble). If there isn’t an Artistic reason for your organization to exist, then quit, get out of the way, give up, fold, you are wasting the audience’s time and scarce resources. There are scores of artists and artists collectives out there filled with creative projects crying out for funding so, “I don’t know, we’ve been presenting concerts for 37 years so we are just trying to keep on doing what we’ve done for those years” just isn’t going to be a compelling battle cry for anyone. If you are parched with thirst for real art, go back to the well, consult with arts visionaries and re-connect with an inspiration to carry you forward again. If your artistic leadership is not inspiring your musicians, your actors, your company, then you have a problem. You are not going to solve that problem by band-aid solutions (programming committees, artistic guidelines, etc.) although those things might help in the short-term. You need to find out what the obstacles (if any) are to the artistic process, help the leader(s) re-charge their batteries, and be prepared to replace the vision or abandon the organization. There is no point to an arts organization without an artistic voice. Does this mean you must be professional? Absolutely not. An arts organization can have at its core a mission to empower and present local amateurs, artistic creation of children and youth.

When do you know when there is a problem in Artistic Leadership?

  • Do reasonably informed stakeholders give radically different answers to the question, “What is X arts organization about?
  • Do Board members frequently feel that the organization has lost focus, is on the wrong track artistically (because so many discordant visions co-exist)?
  • Is programming more often reactive to fundraising, marketing, educational programming rather than being a starting point for those processes.
  • Do marketing and fundraising staff often have difficulty in constructing clear, convincing descriptions of artistic programming for brochures and grantwriting
  • When Artistic Statements are written for grants & brochures: Do they vary wildly from year to year? Are they so generic that they say nothing about the artistic priorities of the organization?
  • Is Artistic vision identified as a problem by major funding bodies?
  • Are peer organizations reluctant to collaborate with you because they view your Artistic Leadership as problematic or lacking in vision?
  • When you perform formal or informal exit interviews with departing contributing artists/musicians or staff, is lack of artistic vision a recurring theme?

COMMUNITY CONNECTIONS: Art has a purpose and that purpose is how it is transformative in the lives and culture of our practicing artists and the community that the arts organization serves. Finding the balance between artistic vision, serving the community and working transformative magic within the community is the ongoing role of community engagement that the arts organization must undertake as a constant. Communities change constantly and so arts organizations must change also in order to serve new constituency and/or move programs and services to areas craving their programming. A mentor of mine was fond of saying “if people don’t want to come, you can’t stop them”.

Think of two scenarios for a family that has recently arrived in a community. In the first the family gets a brochure for a subscription series to the local orchestra. One child has had an orchestra ensemble visit their school and brought home a study guide. The family saw the orchestra playing in the park during the summer, and mom attended a program at the library on music appreciation led by the orchestra’s artistic director. In the second scenario, the family gets a brochure out of the blue and has never heard of the orchestra. Which brochure will go straight in the re-cycle bin and which one will get a second look?

In two organizations that I worked in during times of economic problems for (respectively) an orchestra and an opera company, their communities were alarmed and outraged at any thought that the organizations would fail. Individuals, corporations, area businesses and civic politicians helped to find ways to restore the organizations to financial health. It is interesting to note that neither communities were terribly wealthy nor noted for culture. But in yet another organization I served in, the organization had decided to pare its programming down to cut all community outreach, made an alienating name change, and disenfranchised community participation … all in the same year. Recovery of community trust was a huge challenge for that organization despite its existence in a privileged community.

ENGAGED BOARD OF DIRECTORS: Without #1 Clear Artistic Vision and #2 Community Engagement, an organization will find it difficult to recruit and motivate a volunteer board.

Boards typically go through a development cycle as organizations grow. Take the example of a community theatre. At first the Board does eve
rything from hanging lights, sewing costumes, selling tickets and holding fundraisers. As staff is hired to take care of production and ticket sales, the Board becomes more engaged in fundraising and community liaison. As the organization is able to afford professional grantwriting and fund-development staff, the Board role will shift to stewardship and making connections to major sponsors and donors for staff to follow-up on.

Board Executive and Nominating Committees have to set clear expectations of Board Members and recruit appropriately. When Board Members expect to be part of a “doer” Board and find that the expectation is mainly fundraising and oversight, they may feel sidelined. When Board Members expect to set policy and direction only and join the Board of a small arts organization, they may be surprised or even offended to be asked to roll up their sleeves and help with the nitty gritty. It is important that Board Members understand that their role is to help fund resources, find resources for the artistic work of the organization and work in ways that support the artistic mission of the organization. I have seen Board Members who behaved as though the arts organization was there to provide opera singers for their private parties, buy services from their clients, and that staff should shelve all artistic production work to assist Board Members with the running of gala balls or golf tournaments. While we all have to work together in arts organizations to raise funds, pulling staffing from accomplishing the core Mission, in order to facillitate Board fundraising initiatives cannibalizes artistic resources and is not sustainable.

MANAGEMENT: The role of the arts manager is to take the artistic program and the resources supplied by Board & funders and to implement the program objectives. Through expert knowledge of the industry, the manager employs best practices, allocating resources as carefully as possible to achieve optimum results.

The manager that is both under-resourced and without a clear and well-ariticulated artistic mission & strong community connections is unlikely to be able to achieve good results. If the organization also is burdened with an unfocused, non-contributing Board, the manager alone will not have the power to turn the engine of the organization single-handedly. In order to write grants, appeal to foundations or seek sponsorships, the manager will need a compelling story to tell about artistic & community arts education plans and the support that exists in the community, demonstrated by results, photos, endorsements. She or he needs the community connections of an engaged Board to gain new funding and connect with local industrial and business leaders. If there is a lack of money for marketing artistic programs, the manager will need the Board’s community connection and legwork to promote artistic programs through grassroots initiatives.

Arts managers are there because they really love the arts and they have a tragic tendency to burn out as they try to prop up failing arts organizations.

WHY DO ORGANIZATIONS FAIL? We always hear of arts organizations failing for lack of money, but I have yet to see an organization fail purely from lack of money. An organization that has less money than is needed to fulfill all it’s programming has to be flexible enough to be responsive to the reality and scale back or make economies to live within its means and simultaneously work on seeking more funds. A healthy arts organization with a clear Mission, valued by the community, with an engaged Board and adequate staffing will survive financial setbacks.

When organizations insist on not changing despite annual deficits, money becomes an issue. When artistic mission is muddy, community connections are lost, fundraising becomes extremely difficult. When Board Members are unclear on their roles, unfocused and non-contributing and sometimes caught up in their own politics, an important driving force in the organization siezes up. When managers and staff are called upon to deliver/sell/find funds programs that have no coherence, artistic energy or community connections, it is no surprise that they fail.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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Technology in the Arts Conference

It was my privilege to present to people at the Technology in the Arts conference at the University of Waterloo May 9-10 on the subject of classical music in virtual reality.

My introductory presentation can be found here. In addition I have posted my backgrounder document with more detailed technical information here

But the magic really happened when Alessandro Marangoni, stepped up to the real piano in Italy and the virtual piano as Benito Flores and charmed the participants across oceans and media.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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Arts Programming

The third in a series of articles on arts administration.


One of the most frequent questions an arts administrator gets asked by members of the audience or interested others is, “How do you decide what’s on the program?” Or, on a very bad day, “How did that damned piece of trash get programmed?”

When I served as interim General Director of Opera Ontario, I played a key role in an initiative to look at the processes within the organization with a view to reforming the human resource structures that supported those processes. Here’s what the artistic planning flow chart looked like.

Whether you can read the fine print in the diagram or not, it should be clear that the answer of how program planning happens is not a simple one! This is true of all arts organizations but I am going to speak from what I know best, the planning processes in orchestra, opera and music presenting organizations.

Central to the planning process is the relationship and exchange of ideas between the Artistic Director or Music Director and whomever is in the key Artistic Administrator role–in the case of the chart above the Central role in planning is the relationship between the Music Director and the General Director, with many other streams feeding information into the mix.

Sometimes audience members assume that the Artistic Director or Music Director is solely responsible for what gets on stage or is heard in the concert hall. While the AD has a key role in setting the priorities for the season, usually decides on the theme for artistic seasons and the repertoire for many concerts, it is rare to find a situation in which the AD takes total responsibility for artistic planning. Why?

Time is one obvious factor. In a major US orchestra where I served as Artistic Coordinator, the Music Director spent 14 weeks with us during the year, half of that time was spent in rehearsal, leaving little time for Artistic Planning meetings. Many Music Directors lead more than one orchestra and have active guest conducting lives. Our orchestra performed 150 concerts during a 39 week season. It’s not hard to see that others would have to connect the dots in the Music Director’s plan for the season. The Music Director would set out the plan for major concerts, plan the repertoire, indicate some guest artists, shortlist alternatives and leave it to us to try to make happen. We’d touch base over the roughly three years that it takes from initial plan to season announcement, tweaking repertoire, artist line-up and schedule.

In addition to the input from the Artistic Director, arts organizations have to listen to their audience, consider what their budget can manage, keep on top of trends in the arts community, listen to the needs and abilities of their musicians, consider priorities of government arts councils, and consider other funding sources for programming. Secondarily, arts organizations have to consider links to other programming, ties to festivals and/or community events, and finally, the logistics of production planning.

I frequently hear from audience members who wonder–sometimes with considerable irritation and longing–why we “just can’t program the music that everyone knows and loves.” And there are several answers.

The first one is that audience taste IS a huge part of what we think about when we program–but it can’t be the only thing. Experience has taught arts administrators that even the audience tires of programming that only offers them mainstream repertoire. The fact is that people don’t know what they like until you offer it to them. The sucessful Artistic Director will offer their audience the occasional unfamiliar fare that will fit well with more familiar programming to tweak their interest and give them something novel to think about. Only then does the programming stay fresh.

We pay our Artistic Director for his/her vision as an artist and we have to respect that vision and not subjugate it unduly to audience taste. But obviously we can’t pay our Artistic Director if no one comes to the concerts so those two polarities are really an important balancing act in programming. But they are not the only forces.

In thinking about the development of our musicians, we have to provide them with some new challenges to keep their artistic lives interesting and to retain the best musicians–a goal that also serves our audiences well.

We also have to consider the mandate of our national, provincial and municipal Arts Councils in developing and supporting artists and the body of creative art within their jurisdiction. More than once I have heard Board Members in meetings–sometimes with Arts Councils–say, “but you are penalizing us for programming what is popular, what the audience wants”.

Yes they are, …. and …. what’s more…in some ways, that’s their job.

This is astonishing news to rookie Board Members who often believe that the job of Arts Councils is to reward the number of bodies you put in seats at your concerts. Quite the contrary. The Arts Councils’ job is support the development of art with a longer view–to support that which is not commercially viable, or not yet commercially viable, and in particular to foster the artists and creative arts within their jurisdiction.

So if your organization relies on funding from government arts councils–and in Canada music organizations derive an average of 30% of their annual budget from government sources according to the last survey of the Business and the Arts Council–then you have to consider in what way your programming can utilize local artists and music composed within our own country, province and municipality. For those of us that care about the future of the art form, this is not an onerous task, but really makes us a living part of the art form as opposed to serving in the other important role of being curators of the art of the past. Where would Mozart have been if the audiences of his day turned up their noses at “new music” and refused to listen to what were then contemporary compositions?

Participating in community festivals can provide several huge bonuses to arts organizations and this participation generally impacts on programming. (eg. In order to qualify for a regional Mozart festival, you generally have to program Mozart.)
Sometimes the reverse happens and programming can suggest festival possibilities. As General Manager of Soundstreams Canada in 2003-2004, we were programming a major concert of works by R. Murray Schafer on the occasion of his 70th birthday year. It seemed likely that others would be doing the same and so we looked about and asked those organizations to join us in packaging and marketing our various concerts as a Schafer festival.

The advantages to this sort of festival are: the ability to pool marketing dollars and get more marketing than any one arts organization could afford, cross-marketing between the audiences of each arts organization, the access to special funds ear-marked for festivals, sharing resources of various kinds between arts organizations, package deals that benefit arts attenders, the ability to build comprehensive arts education events around the thematically linked events. Programming for existing festivals or to make festivals possible is a win-win for everyone.

Less obvious to the audience members may be the links that the arts organization is making to educational or audience o
utreach initiatives. For example, the audience members at an orchestra series may not know that the programming of three works relating to literature over three concerts, is part of a “Literacy in Education” project that is being delivered in community High Schools. Programming those works not only builds cross-curricular connections for students but also allows for some economies for the orchestra in being able to apply some of the educational program funding to administrative costs and rehearsal costs, as allowed by the program. Building an educational program or educational concert on repertoire being offered on a main stage concert makes that program more affordable.

Audience outreach programs both deepen the enjoyment and understanding of existing audience and are initiatives that reach out to potential new audience members. For an example this season, my orchestra, the Toronto Philharmonia, is doing some outreach to the Chinese community that lives within the audience catchment area. We have programmed this concert which features a composition for erhu and orchestra and Chinese classical music artists, in the hopes of engaging newer members of our community and attracting the investment of Chinese business and corporations in the area. But we wouldn’t have programmed it unless our Artistic Director thought it was great music and fit well in the context of this season. We also hope our existing audience will find the program engaging, broadening their experience to the sounds of a Chinese traditional instrument–albeit in the context of a western orchestra concerto.

The importance of programming within budget is largely self-explanatory but the way this plays out within the program planning team may not be so clear. We start with a draft budget of assumptions about artistic costs. When one concert is finalized over-budget because the soloists could not be contracted for less or the Music Director insists on a larger orchestra, we have to make up the savings on another concert. This can involve decisions ranging from presenting an emerging artist, a concert with a chamber-sized orchestra or deciding that the concert must be programmed entirely from music that the orchestra owns–to save on music rental and shipping costs.

Of particular interest to artists is how those rare “emerging artists” spots are filled. It is simpler to tell you how they don’t get filled. In my experience it is never because an agent has talked us into it or an unsolicited CD arriving on our desk has blown us away. Agent material and unsolicited CD’s are disposed of unopened in most arts organizations–a terrible waste but no one has the time or inclination to review them and returning the material costs us money. Most often the Music Director has heard the young artist perform with another orchestra, a recital or at a competition, and extends an invitation to the young performer to appear with the orchestra in a future season. Occasionally the recommendation can come from another trusted source. Sometimes organizations tap into young artist programs from Europe or Asia that subsidize travel or otherwise help with the programming of young artists from their country. Lastly, we may choose to develop and promote the careers our own musicians by offering them a concerto appearance. This year our orchestra is presenting our Principal Violist, Jonathan Craig, playing the lovely Walton Viola Concerto on April 10 2008. details.

When people ask me about how financial considerations affect programming, they are often asking whether corporations, major donors, foundations or government arts councils force particular programming choices on the orchestra. I have to say that I have never known that to happen–which surprises people. What happens more often is that we have two or three artistic ideas and only one of them finds sponsorship. We look at the mandate and interests of a corporate or foundation funder and pitch them the program that we think might appeal.

How does production logistics affect programming? Usually a program starts with one artist or repertoire selection that is non-negotiable and all else is built around that core.

If we have X artist playing Y concerto, we first consider the instrumentation of the chosen Y concerto. If it has, for example, harp and trombones as part of the orchestration, we’ll want to utilize them in the other half of the program–or at least we’ll have that option. If the concerto has a smaller orchestra with limited brass, no harp, no piano, we may want to look at a complimentary programming selection within the instrumentation of our core selection. Otherwise we are adding cost to our program–perhaps to little artistic value.

What else? We consider the problem of seating latecomers in building our program–the main reason why so many concerts begin with short works– and we have to also think about our concert order.

I overheard a group of audience members speculating recently about why the symphony was on the first half and the concerto was on the second half–a less frequent concert order. Speculation ranged from, “they wanted to stop people from going home at the intermission who just came for the soloist”, through, “that symphony would have put me to sleep in the second half”, to “they wanted to end with a bang!”

All excellent thoughts and worthy of consideration. However, the real reason was that the opening small work at the top of the concert had orchestral piano as a part of the instrumentation. Had we also had the piano concerto in the first half, we would have been required to move all of the violins off stage, move most of the violin section’s chairs and music stands, then move the piano from the rear of the orchestra into soloist position–all while the audience sat twiddling their thumbs and rattling their programs. A tasteless interruption in a beautiful evening of music.

These are just some of the factors that must be balanced in programming an arts season. And finally, despite the varied considerations and forces acting on programming, the season must emerge with a sense of unified artistic vision through the Music Director’s ability to say “no” to whatever great or cost-saving idea might come forward when it really is just not artistically possible.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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