US survey shows grantmaking fell 8.4% in 2009

The Non-profit Times reports that during 2009 the amount of grants awarded by 75,000 foundations across the USA fell 8.4 % from the prior year. This despite foundations cutting costs of their own operations. The article predicts that US foundation giving will remain flat at the current level for the foreseeable future.

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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Would your arts "entry" job be a fit for those looking for an arts "exit" job?

When organizations are thinking about staffing an arts position on a tight budget, they often cast the position as an “entry-level” position because of the parttime nature, low salary, lack of job security and no-benefits nature of the position. Sometimes this judgement is made without consideration of the demands of the job description. In some cases the position IS a great fit for a newly graduated student. In other cases, although few hours are demanded, the skill set needed is varied and requires on-the-job experience for success.

If an organization needs experienced grantwriting, financial management/budgeting, and arts marketing savey, they are unlikely to find that in an entry level staff person. It takes a few years of working in an effective team setting to learn these highly specialized skills. A great fit for such an organization may be an arts worker at the other end of the spectrum, easing into retirement or exiting full time arts administration in order to work on their own artistic or entrepreneurial projects.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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The Value of Sharing: Social Engagement

You know you are SUPPOSED to market your arts organization with Social Media, but the messages are confusing. What will work to reach your audience? Who shares what? Where?

No one is better placed to answer these questions than the people behind the “Share This” applet, that is most used to link social networking applications (for example post a link from a blog post to Twitter). Their articles and charts are invaluable in deciding which applications you should be focusing on in disseminating your message.

The Value of Sharing: Social Engagement

Posted using ShareThis

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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Canadian Corporations vow to continue charitable support

The big news in the recently released Trends report on philanthropic giving from Ketchum Canada, is that Canadian corporations intend to hold the line on their charitable giving this year. For the past 20 years, Canadian corporate giving as a share of profits has been slightly on the increase. Each year Canadian corporations have put more actual dollars into philanthropic giving and also dug deeper into their pockets. This year they going to have to dig much deeper just to keep the dollar amount at the same level in the companies surveyed in the quarterly report.

Many companies suggested that their multi-year commitments meant that they had an inability to do much to respond to new requests for funding. At the same time companies report many more new requests coming across their desks as charities feel the pinch.

Austere times have meant a shift in priorities for corporations. Galas are going to find it more difficult to sell corporate tables as company heads find it difficult to justify thousands for black tie dinners when they are laying off staff and the charitable needs of healthcare, housing and poverty relief are in the news daily. Many charities are responding with changing their fundraising events or radically scaling them back.

Arts, culture and sports will be the losers as corporations continue to migrate funding to education, healthcare, and community programs.

Accountability is a key word in corporate funding these days. Corporations are selecting priority areas for their charitable dollars and now more than ever, projects seeking funding need to demonstrate how their activities are a fit with corporate goals. Reporting back to the funders on the reach of their corporate dollars–while always an important step in fundraising–is not an absolute requirement for ever being funded again by the corporation.

The 7 tips for non-profits in tough times is well worth reading this small quarterly.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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Grantwriting Basics — Grantwriting 101

There’s a lot about writing grant applications that crosses international borders and disciplines. I have written successful grant applications since about 1985 for projects as disparate as women’s fitness programs, community centre building upgrades, the establishment of a foodbank, the founding of a community music school, building improvements for a Black History museum, a Jewish children’s theatre production, an outdoor opera festival, a science-fiction themed audience outreach series surrounding a new opera festival, new music commissioning, outdoor music/theatre in the Ontario northwoods, and scores of more conventional arts projects.

Since the bulk of my grantwriting has been in the Canadian arts–where I have to assume a type of applicant and type of funder–that will be the basis of my examples.

Corporate fundraising uses some of these same techniques but as it is substantially a different process than grantwriting, it will not be explicitly covered in this article. Corporate foundations, on the other hand are foundations and should be handled as a part of your foundation campaign.

IDENTIFYING POTENTIAL FUNDERS

Know your government funders and programs: If you are an arts or non-profit management professional, you likely already know the major funders for your program activities. In the arts at the national level you will be researching programs primarily from Canada Council and Heritage Canada. (From time to time other departments offer programs for foreign travel, international marketing of arts events.) Provincially, you will be looking at provincial arts councils and tourism programs that are available to support marketing for cultural events. Municipally or regionally, you will be looking at the programs of civic, regional, or county arts councils and regional/local tourism initiatives. Don’t be afraid to call the Officers administering the programs to ask what programs fit your activities. Book a meeting with them if you are a new grantwriter, or new to the discipline, organization or geographic area. You may learn about programs that fit your planned activities that you didn’t spot on the website, or in the literature. Establishing a good relationship with your Grants Officer is a really important first step in grantwriting for an organization.

Subscription databases: If you can afford them and you don’t have a good list of funder contacts in your organizational records, you may want to subscribe to one of the subscription databases that are out there. They are expensive but it will only take one additional foundation grant that you would not have received to pay for the Bigonline database or Foundation Search Canada . Even one year of a subscription database will help you build your list of funders to the point where you may not need this resource in future years if cost is an issue. Note that these resources are not without some errors. I have found that where my organization has had an active relationship with a foundation, I have often had more accurate information regarding contacts, programs or even contact information changes. Building and maintaining your own contact list geared to your own program relationships/fits is irreplaceable.

Public tax information of charitable foundations: Okay, you can’t afford an online database but you don’t have much of a list of past donors in your organization. In fact the most recent foundation files are dated 1999? Sigh. I have so been there and done that. My commisserations!

Here is a real tip. Foundations are in themselves charities. As such they have to file a charitable information return with Canada Revenue. And that return is available to you free ONLINE. You can search the name of any foundation you are interested in, or search on a search term like “Foundation”, or by city, to net yourself a list to browse through. You can open up the information to see who is on the Foundation’s board and which organizations they have given to in the year of the return.

See below a screen shot of a search on all private foundations in Ontario sorted by city. All those with icons of returns on the right have accessible returns.

Buried deep within the return you will find a list of the projects and organizations funded by the foundation and the amount of each grant. This, together with the listed mission of the foundation, will give you a strong indication about whether this foundation is a fit for your programs and also what level your ask should be at for a program such as yours.


Finally access the foundation contact information of those foundations who fit and add that contact and any other information about website, deadlines, application forms and process to your grantwriting calendar.

Search public and foundation funders of projects like yours: You know who your competition is, who your colleagues are in the community and in neighbouring communities, and a little skill with online search engines and you are able to come up with some unique search terms that will generate a list of programs and services like your own. When you see a pattern of funding projects like your own, pull out all the stops to track that foundation or charitable giving program down. These are key funders with high probability of success.

Don’t forget local family foundations: Sometimes we overlook family foundations in our neighbourhoods who may not have a discernible pattern of giving to projects like our own. That is because their giving is focused on all quality of life projects IN OUR BACKYARD. They give a little bit to fitness, some to amateur sport and some to education. If we are looking for “arts funding”, we may never find them. However as the local symphony or community arts organization in their community of interest, we fit solidly within the mandate of their foundation and they want to support us! Don’t deny them the chance to give us their money.

PREPARING ORGANIZATIONAL AND PROJECT PROFILES: Annually when your next season is well advanced in planning and before the first major operational grants are due, it is a good practice to update Organizational and Project profiles. This main document will be used in the following ways:

  1. As is for press-release backgrounders, potential board members, foundation appeals to foundations
    that lack a set process, as backgrounders to foundation appeals with more targeted content in the main application.
  2. Tweaked for foundation appeals where the emphasis is on an aspect of the program, expanding some sections, condensing or omitting irrelevant content
  3. As fodder to cut and paste into relevant sections of government grant applications and into the application forms for those increasing numbers of foundations that have a formal application process.

Your organizational profile document will be about 4 to 7 pages long and will include the following, organized into sections and illustrated with photos, charts and graphs as needed:

  1. Mission, Incorporation date and charitable number–if you have a briefer version of your Mission, you may want to use it here.
  2. Brief history of the organization (updated, brief, and engaging)–focus on accomplishments, programs, community impact, staying away from tedious details that are of internal archival interest only. Quotes are great!
  3. Artistic or Leadership statement–Put a photo of your conductor or theatre artistic director beside their own words on what is exciting and valuable about your upcoming program. Don’t under-estimate the ability of Artistic Leaders to frame the importance of their work. If they won’t write something for you, give them a phone call, write down what they said and send it to them for approval. It will help you as a grantwriter. You may be looking at a season that looks like a hodge-podge. You have no “hook” to hang your thoughts on, but when the Artistic Director tells you the season is a “dialogue between the conventional and the new, the audience’s taste and the pressure for artistic innovation”… wow… you are off and running with and angle for your prose.
  4. Main Program Description–Describe your artistic season or core programs. While you might start with brochure content here, don’t stop there. You want to think always from the standpoint of impact. What are the benefits to the community, artists, the art form, ties to education or multiculturalism in your program? How is this program a stretch for your organization, or the artists in your orchestra?
  5. Community Outreach/Education and/or Adjunct Programs–separately describe your audience development and outreach programs. Start with and update the descriptions of annual and recurring programs. Next add what is special and unique about this years programs and share details of one-time programs. Illustrate your content with examples and photos from last year’s successful programs. Include participant’s quotes. Their words are always going to include more weight than yours, no matter how hot-shot you think you are as a grantwriter!
  6. Organization–Who are the key players? Brief bios of artistic leadership and management here. Organizational challenges and triumphs. Any major projects in the coming year. (A Board List will accompany where appropriate).
  7. Financial Position of the Company--If you have a debt, here’s where you explain it. If you have a surplus, here’s where you explain why it is needed and why it can’t be used for operating. Do you need to save to repair the roof next year, or are you on a cycle with a festival every two years? This is only a good news over-view, you’ll need a detailed explanation for funders if you have serious explaining to do. (You’ll attach financial statements where needed).

PROJECT PAGES:

  1. In addition to your main project description prepare single sheets for specific adjunct and optional projects. Are you going to have two composers visit schools next year? Prepare a “Composers in the Classroom” page. Are you going to have musicians from your orchestra give workshops? Prepare a “Young performers workshops” page. Are amateur ensembles going to play before your concerts? Prepare a “Community Overtures” page.
  2. Update or create project pages from the former years projects. If you had a successful collaboration with a youth choir last season, do a one-sheeter on it.
  3. Try to keep your project titles consistent as that will allow you to send three sheets on “Young Artist Spotlight” that detail past and planned activities. Although the activities may have slightly different aspects, the one linking idea–in this example, young artists on the stage–will allow you to build a case for this stream of activity within your organization.

These one sheeters will be used for:

  1. Targetted foundation and corporate appeals
  2. Reports to donors on prior projects funded
  3. Fodder for larger applications
  4. To add to or tweak applications to foundations where added emphasis is needed to match the funder’s priorities or mission.

YOUR GRANTWRITING CALENDAR

  1. You can use MS Outlook, a database, or a spreadsheet to construct an annual calendar for you to chart the deadlines and progress of your grantwriting.
  2. Be sure to keep and include your accumulated knowledge arising from your past successes and failures with the funding body. Many funders ask you when you applied to them last, what for and what was the result.
  3. As you talk to officers, look at websites, add all information into your grant calendar listing. Link to application forms and guidelines where those exist.
  4. Where deadlines are given, you can enter those along with your own projections of when to schedule work on this grant. Many foundations will give vague information such as “meet before the end of each fiscal quarter”. You will have to either find out the deadline or plan to have the application in well before the deadline might be anticipated to fall.
  5. You will determine patterns in your calendar which will allow you to schedule grantwriting weeks where you will lock the doors, turn off the phones for some part of the days and focus on a series of foundation appeals or a major operating grant. In my experience, given basic knowledge and writing skill, the major determiner of a successful grant is the time invested.

GRANTWRITING TEAM TASKS:
“Team, what team?” you ask. I smile as I have certainly written many grant applications on my own. However, there are ways to divide up the tasks to work with one or two other staff members in assembling materials for your more major grant applications. Even if it is only you on your lonesome, it may be helpful to you to think of working on your grant applications in terms of these tasks which may be extracted and assigned.

  1. Pre-read grant application forms, program guideline sheets AND final checklists, making a list of everything you will need for the grant. Please note that due to over-sight, omission or sadism, there will often be some item that you cannot get at the last minute which will only appear on one of three of these documents, usually the final checklist. If you only look at that as you prepare to mail your application, you will be up a creek without a paddle. Be sure you have defin
    ed the deadline properly: is it “postmarked by X date”, “in our office before 5 pm on X date”, or “in our office before midnight on X date”.
  2. Solicit, acquire and create a file of all needed external and internal documents: These can depending on the program include: financial quotes on equipment you are intending to purchase with grant funds, artistic statements from artistic leaders, signed releases from creative partners, signed Motions of the Board authorizing the application, copies of Letters of Incorporation, signed Financial Statements, work samples on CD’s, copies of scores, letters from references, marketing materials, marketing plans from companies on retainer, resumes of partners, etc. You will want to chart progress on these items to avoid nasty surprises.
  3. Create an electronic “fodder” file: On your computer network create a folder into which you throw copies of all documents likely to be of use to you during the grantwriting process. (You will delete these copies later). This will save you oodles of time in searching and opening and re-opening the same documents as you look for re-useable content. These documents will include your organizational profile, individual program sheets/descriptions. Strategic planning documents. Past grant application to the same government body. Recent grant application to other government bodies. Documents on financial planning. Statistics, budgets, and copies of marketing materials.
  4. Fill in grant cover sheet (get signatures done well in advance).
  5. Create separate documents for your main prose sections for the application.
  6. Cut and Paste–Use your current organizational profile and any other relevant content in your fodder file. Do a rough cut and paste of the material into the program sections where it best fits and might be helpful. Do not worry at this point about duplication. You are merely positioning the material for convenient accessibility.
  7. Statistics and Budget pages: Do these as fully as possible before starting on the prose. You can cut the time you spend on editing prose a lot more easily than truncating the time on stats sheets and Budgets. Trends evidenced in these sheets will help frame the prose.
  8. Write and edit. Self-explanatory as this seems, determine well in advance who the lead writer is and who gets to say, “this is done”. Arguments on these points seem to happen frequently in mid-sized to larger organizations and make a tense process much worse.
  9. Proofread.
  10. Make the required number of copies and prepare as required
  11. Checklist of everything submitted
  12. Copy to file.
  13. Cover letter
  14. Mail, courier or hand-deliver. Nothing quite compares with the festive atmosphere in the line-up at the last post-office open in a major city on the deadline of a major grant. It is a time to meet old colleagues and catch up with the news from last year. But really, we’d much prefer to have been home at 5 pm rather than be in a post office at 10 minutes to 10 pm.

WRITING TIPS

  1. Make a plan: List everything you want to tell the funder in brief points.
  2. Make it easy for them to give you the money by using their language. In addition to the application forms and guidelines that shape your writing, be sure to take time to read annual reports, strategic planning and online copy from your potential funding body. As you read, highlight (or electronically extract if possible) the prose in their documents that resonate powerfully with what you do or are proposing. Put this in your “fodder” file. Organizing your argument under sub-headings that echo their goals and priorities, using their language makes it easy for funders to see where your activities and plans fit their funding priorities. I worked with one great grantwriter who called this, “finding the money words”.
  3. Tell your positive story first. Find several key points in each section that are strong positives. Put them upfront and in strong brief language. Use quotes from stakeholders, partners and leaders to enliven and add credibility.
  4. Address negatives briefly and honestly – move quickly to your positive plans (the only exception to this is applications for organizational effectiveness projects where you are making a case for the needs of your org.)
  5. Keep to length guidelines: Find out how flexible your funding body is in length guidelines. If they have some flexibility, don’t abuse them. Sometimes copy from one question might be adapted and moved to another question that allows for a more lengthy response.
  6. Have you hit all your high notes? Look back at your list from No. 1. In your edits and moving blocks of copy around have you failed to tell some of your positive stories? See where you can fit those missed notes back in.

If you follow all these steps you will maximize your success with funders. Remember that the funders want to give you the money but you have to show them why and how your activities are the best place that they can invest in order to achieve their goals.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS:

  • Be honest: Any dishonesty or misrepresentation in your application will assure you have a very short relationship with the funder, so you want to be sure that you’ll deliver on everything you have outlined. Fudging on postage dates is mail fraud, unfair to your colleagues and creates a nasty, unethical climate in organizations where leaders coerce staff into going along with submitting applications days after deadline with an old postage meter label. Expose this where it occurs. If extensions are needed due to dire circumstances, often there is a way to submit a barebones application with additional material coming as updates.
  • Don’t forget to file your reports. A part of successful grantwriting is filing reports as required. Since you are reporting on last year’s activities anyway, send reports even to those funders that don’t require them.
  • Recognize your funders: assure that funders have the logo recognition and thanks that meets or exceeds the funder’s expectations. Forgetting the Canada Council logo on your program book today, means you will not want to send that program to them with your next application, no matter how good it looks. When logos and thanks are part of your development team plan, meeting your final requirements and giving courteous acknowledgement is assured
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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The purpose of the Arts

As I conclude my three years with the Toronto Philharmonia, I am led to consider again the purpose of a live performing arts organization in this time of electronic media. Why have a professional orchestra performing in our community when we can listen to such great music on CD, on our televisions or via online podcasts?

Some will say that the social experience of sharing a live performance in a great hall is, in itself a reason to support our orchestras and chamber ensembles. I agree that it is one reason. But is it enough?

If we make our musical organizations simply museums for the display of works by composers long dead and gone, we have no one to blame but ourselves when other citizens find what we are doing irrelevant to their daily lives, or who feel that what we do can easily be replaced by electronic records of performances by a very few orchestras worldwide.

An art form is alive, growing, challenging our assumptions, involving us, and provoking debate or it is dying. Performing the best of music from the past should always be a part of what an orchestra does, but if it is not also encouraging students, new musicians, community artists, collaborating with living composers, creating opportunities for its own musicians to learn, grow, explore new collaborations then it is irrelevant to the artistic life of its own community. It is my view that this is at the core of the mission of any orchestra in today’s society, and not the after-thought, or add-on that so very many organizations regard the role of education and professional development.

Organizations that view contributions to music development, education and professional development as hoops they must jump through in order to succeed with funding applications are unlikely to priorize these activities. Unfortunately it is a common view. I would challenge them to put the musical life of their community at the core of their Mission and view concert presentation as but one way to contribute to that Mission.

Bread and Roses Life, L. Rogers
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