Tag Archives: artistic director

«Not being noticed or known by our busy community» How to Deal with the Concentric Circles of Acclaim

spiral

You’re sitting in the middle of a tornado of activity that feels, well, loud.  You spend time and energy with a cadre of equally incentivized artists creating a gallery show, a play, or an exhibit.

Then you go next door and put up a poster.  You hear, “Oh, when’s that happening?”

Then you invite an artist and he forgets to come until after it closes.

Then you invite your doctor and she says, “What’s that?”

Eric Rubio of the Wheaton College Artist Series of Wheaton, Illinois gave us this issue for August.  People working within arts organizations feel the tornado, but just a thought process away, others are ignorant.

PR isn’t an accidental occurrence.  Good PR assumes readers know nothing about the newsworthy piece.  Groundswells of guerrilla marketing techniques may be the answer to your indispensability factor.

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Successful Nonprofit Arts Organizations, Like Successful Buildings, Depend on Successful Hierarchies

Gaudi

Level One:

Bricklayers.  Carpenters.  Stagehands.  Electricians.  Actors.  Musicians.  Painters.  Singers.  Writers.

Easy to find hacks.  Difficult to find experts.  Project-based.

 

Level Two:

Foremen.  Department heads.  Designers.  Curators.  Musical directors.

Small universe of successful ones.  More skills required.  Still project-based.  Work toward a larger goal than Level One, namely a finished piece.  Excellent collaboration skills.

 

Level Three:

Contractors.  Directors.

Smaller universe still.  Hire and manage Level One and Two (no requirement to perform at their skill level).  Work toward a slightly larger picture, although still project based.

 

Level Four:

Architects.  Executive/Artistic/General/Producing Directors.

Scarce universe of specialists.  Determine “what.”  Hire Level Three – several Level Threes, in fact.  Understand projects, themes, and cohesion.

 

Level Five:

Owners.  Boards.

Tiny, zealous universe.  Hire Level Four.  Determine “how.” Has personal stake.

 

Level Six:

The Community.  The Mission.

Top of the hierarchy.  Determines “why.”

Artists vs. Craftspeople – Nonprofit Arts Organizations Require the Former to Act as the Latter

hat

Artists produce work from their creative souls, nurtured by a series of cultural, environmental, and psychological motivations.  They create “a hat,” as Stephen Sondheim once wrote, “where there never was a hat.”  Talented artists create from their current state of mind, without boundary.

Craftspeople produce work to fill a need.  They possess a series of cultural, environmental, and psychological motivations which channel into art that produces a desired impact.  Craftspeople create hats because they’re the best answer to a question.

All craftspeople are artists at their core.  Many artists have no capacity to become craftspeople.

Nonprofit arts organizations require craftspeople.  If the organization is more important than any artist, and the mission is more important than the organization, then employees on the organizational chart need to be, by definition, craftspeople divining an impact, not artists divining inspiration.

Self-Absorbed Executive Search Firms: You’re Lovely, You’re Talented, You’re Dreamy. But Tact is Not Among Your Strengths.

patting-own-back

On behalf of all candidates, to executive search firms:

“Thank you so much for your 3 [hour-long] phone interviews.  I presented 8 tremendously qualified candidates to the client and unfortunately, you were not selected.  But your loss is [company’s] gain.  I’ll keep your info on file and contact you if something comes up.”

We may like you, but it’s not why we applied to that job you’re representing. Your client’s happiness with you means nothing to us.

One hour would have been plenty, not three.

A simple “no, thanks” is more palatable than “didn’t I do a good job?”

Please don’t insult us with passive-aggressive jibber-jabber – we know you’re not going to contact us unless we apply to another client of yours.

And please don’t tell us about other candidates.  If we’re not among them, we really don’t care.

Feedback from You (yes, you): 9 Words That Describe the Nonprofit Arts Issues That Are Placing You at the End of Your Rope

rope

This blog, as most are, is pretty much one-way.  I share experiences, advice, consultation, and observations; you read ’em.  I can discuss 1,000 issues that affect nonprofit arts organizations.

But that’s me.

What keeps you up at night?

What concrete issue (not just “there’s no funding for…”) is fraying your rope?  Or better, what issues are figuratively tying a noose around the end of your rope?

Here’s your assignment.  In 9 words (no more, no less), write that issue and send it to info@137words.com.  That’s it.  Beginning in August, we’ll periodically take each issue and I’ll give my take.  Then we’ll open up the discussion to everyone who reads 137 Words.  Let me know if you’d like your name in or if you’d like to be anonymous.  And if you’d like my help privately, let me know that, too.

Have Nonprofit Performing Arts Organizations Moved Beyond the Idea of Artistic Directors?

leader

Just read this article from an artistic director who wonders whether artistic directors should be their organization’s leader, whether the model is archaic.  Nonprofit performing arts organizations take note. The leader is the mission, not the AD.

Is your artistic director the custodian of your mission, passing that duty on to the next artistic director?  Or does the legacy of the organization reside in the legacy of the AD?  Is “artistic vision” really a thing, or is it theory?  Wouldn’t it make more sense for an executive director with an artistic sensibility to curate the company’s impact?

Maybe your leader ought to be the company’s leader, not merely the artistic leader.  With artistic personnel hired to support the mission (instead of supporting the artistic director), your institution will become far more flexible as tastes and impacts change.

Transformational Persuasion: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Why It Matters – Especially When You’re Running an Arts Organization

ali

Muhammad Ali died last week.  A quote from a Zairian in “When We Were Kings.”

“George Foreman? We had heard he was a world champion.
We thought he was white, then we realized he was black, like Ali….
Ali said [about Foreman], you’re the out-of-towner here.”

Nonprofit leaders that manage organizations, programs, and people well can be quite successful.  But not transformational.  Transformational leaders effortlessly persuade with passion about the mission, not the statistics.  Their material requires no script, just practice to remove the “ums” and “uhs.”

Trump, for example, vigorously (and effortlessly) transforms experienced opponents into “out-of-towners.” Clinton relies on effective policy, experience, and “being right.”

Passion KOs policy every time.  Ask George Foreman.

Doesn’t your arts organization’s constituency deserve the most transformative experience you can offer?  Or do you settle for production excellence and competence?

“But We Saved So Much!” – In Professional Nonprofit Theatre Finances and Structure, False Economies Abound

saveupto50

  • Eight-performance weeks realize the greatest potential.
    • Adding performances only adds increasingly unpopular time slots.
  • Artistic Directors should direct half the season.
    • For half a season, you have no artistic director, but still you have art. So why have an AD?
  • More seats equals higher potential.
    • “The difference between 600 seats and 800 seats is 200 lousy seats.” (Eddie Gilbert)
  • We mailed 50,000 year-end appeals to increase contributed income.
    • Mailings don’t bring in donations. Relationship building does. Disciplined mission fulfillment does.
  • 100% of our board gives.
    • They’d better, but wouldn’t you rather get thousands to give because of your company’s indispensability?
  • We pay performers a stipend or not at all.
    • Professional theatre companies pay everyone a real on-the-books wage. Local performers are great ambassadors for your company.  The positive financial ROI in local artists is greater than any gala (and it’s ethical, too).

Talk to Me Like I’m 10: a Lesson in Long-Term Planning for Artistic Directors and Board Chairs

talk to me like I'm 10.jpg

Does long-term planning cause a rift between your artistic director and those other people?

Does it cause discord between your board chair and those other people?

Seen all the time among arts charities:  carefully (and successfully) executed annual development plans reduced to rubble after the board institutes a high-priced capital campaign.  The capital campaign sucks up all in its path, causing 5 years of stakeholder repair.  Indispensable Chair happy.  Staff leaves.

Artistic directors substituting their taste for vision and their personal and professional relationships for core values.  Idiosyncrasy obviates mission.  Indispensable AD happy.  Board leaves.

Both cases: company imperiled, stakeholders leaving.

Time to create an action plan, written at a 5th grade level.  Make it about impact rather than income.  Test the theory that your arts nonprofit is indispensable.  Make sure that your most important stakeholders don’t leave.

Nonprofit Arts Executives: After the Ask (for anything, actually), It’s Fast “Yes,” Slow “No”… Try a Slow “Yes” Instead

nofrog

If you don’t hear right away, it’s probably “no.”

That goes for asks, offers, hiring, and anything else you require.

And that goes for you, too, when your stakeholders ask, offer, hire, and anything else they may require.

Reflection is the predictable path toward rationalization to the “no.”  This is why the phrase “upon reflection” is almost always followed by a version of “we’ve decided not to change.”  After all, as a rule, it’s easier not to change than to take a risk.

Many arts charity executives preach the glory of “managed risk” (an oxymoron, of sorts) and value fiscal responsibility above social impact.  To be clear, social impact is central to the success of the mission; fiscal responsibility is a valuable business practice.

If “yes” leads to greater impact, then stop saying “no”… especially upon reflection.

Artists and Non-Offensiveness: The Tyranny of Over-Sensitivity, Feelings, and Participation Trophies

safespaces

There’s a troubling trend.  There’s an absurd unwillingness to offend that seems pervasive among arts creators.

Not that creators are creating “Pleasant Art,” per se.  Writers and artists are creating lots of work that is designed to make audiences uncomfortable.  Which is good.  The work may be about single issues and not terribly complex, but it’s good.

However, there are too many artists raised in atmospheres where everyone wins, even when they lose.  In the name of inclusion and self-esteem, they live in a world where, like toddlers, “feeling bad” is simply unacceptable.

They believe they’re special.

To these artists:

  1. You are not special.
  2. You do not deserve success.
  3. Sometimes you lose.

It’s what you do with that information that defines you.

If you believe that nobody should ever have hurt feelings, you’re not doing your job.

Arts Boards: What to do When Your Arts Leader(s) No Longer Know the Difference Between Boredom and Discipline

Audience-clapping

Your theater produced a hit.  Tickets sold out for days.  Extended as far as you could.

Do it again next year?

No.  Your outward-facing mission execution is more important than the sales of any one play.  Gauge this particular play and its impact.  If it’s a fit (not just a hit), consider rescheduling the next production and run this play until its inevitable end.  Then close it forever.

If all your plays are mission-driven, every experience is predictable in its impact.  That’s called discipline, and it’s what makes arts organizations successful.

Too many artistic directors choose to produce vanity events instead.  That’s called boredom, and board chairs have to act on that kind of crisis in leadership.

Coke may make many products, but they still make Coke.  Remember what happened when they got bored with Coke’s taste?

Ils pétent plus haut que leur cul. Marketing Intellectual Pursuits to an Anti-Intellectual Public, Right-Cheer In These You-Nited States of Murrica

Shakespeare Marx

In the arts, we want to attract more people. Or do we just want more us?

We’re asked to produce vision, impact, and engagement.  We embrace entertainment, but only if it’s at a 120+ IQ level.  Even abject silliness on stage is only acceptable if it’s “smart.”

Case in point:  the brilliantly entertaining, best-people-in-the-world-to-hang-out-with, fucking funny Reduced Shakespeare Company.

When another company produces an RSC script, they almost apologize in their marketing:

RSC: “it’s not the length of your history that matters – it’s what you’ve done with it!”

Other: “Between the rampant nationalism and the recent election, we think it more vital than ever for us to show we’re capable of laughing at ourselves. It, too, is part of the healing.”

Populism in the arts is an open path to success.  Risk being fucking funny, not drolly meaningful.

Face-palms in the arts world: Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light

Head in Hands

Somewhere…

  • A managing director is face-palming because the budget draft is still a departmental wish list;
  • A marketing director is face-palming because the artistic director decided that he knew more about marketing than the marketing director;
  • A development director is face-palming because the board chair has fashioned a multi-million dollar “capital” campaign (actually, a “get-out-of-debt” campaign) with no feasibility study, no regard to the annual development campaign, and no accountability to anyone else;
  • An artistic director is face-palming because the plays she wants to do don’t jibe with the mission of the company;
  • A board member is face-palming because every meeting is about reporting, money, by-laws, and the gala;

And somewhere, performing arts audiences and constituents are collectively face-palming, hoping against hope that the arts folks in their region remember that for them, it’s about the art.

Arts Organizations: What is Your Art? Is it “It?” Is it a Picture of “It?” A Report of “It?” None of the Above?

headline earthquake 240z

45 years ago today, February 9, an earthquake happened. I was shaken out of bed and looked out the window just in time to see a brick chimney fall on Dr. Prince’s new 240Z. That’s what happened to me.

We turned on the television to see films about the Van Norman Dam — in danger of bursting.  I saw that through a lens.

The next day’s LA Times had the front-page story, “DAY OF DISASTER — Quake Leaves 42 Dead, 1,000 Hurt; Periled Dam Forces 40,000 to Flee.” I read that report.

The racing results, as always, were in the sports section.  A square box on the front page said so.  Horse racing is a popular entertainment.  I didn’t care.

Is your art happening to your constituents?  Is it through a filter?  Is it second-hand? Or is it entertainment?  Only one is personally meaningful.

 

Market Collusion: For Nonprofit Theater Organizations, It’s a Discipline That Works

chocolates

Many nonprofit theater board members feel isolated.  They’re told (or they conclude) that the only company that matters is the one for which they’ve chosen to spend their money, time, and expertise.  Board members don’t have the time to discuss extra-organizational collaboration when the basement is flooded and the auditorium is only half-full and, oh yes, they have careers and families and other interests.

Collude. Your market is begging you to collude.  Don’t guess what your competition is up to; collude and be part of the regional success.

Get together with other board members regularly.  Require artistic directors to openly discuss their programming with each other.  Oblige your organization to differentiate.

Think shopping mall, not stand-alone.

Chamber of commerce, not pop-ups.

Constellations, not stars.

Healthy arts communities are like boxes of chocolates, not bunches of grapes.  Collude.

Life on the Unraveling Nonprofit Arts Fringe: Why Hiring Experience and Guile Trumps Everything Else

Actor Hugh O’Brian is said to have coined “The 5 Stages of an Actor’s Career;”

  1. Who is Hugh O’Brian?
  2. Get me Hugh O’Brian.
  3. Get me a Hugh O’Brian type.
  4. Get me a young Hugh O’Brian.
  5. Who is Hugh O’Brian?

We’re in contact with hundreds of highly-experienced, resilient people who have made a career in the arts – and they’re having difficulties getting back into the field.

Some of it is ageism. Boards use headhunters to find smart young guns to lead departments or organizations — only to find that instead, they’ve hired brilliant 2-year placeholders with few people skills, entitlement issues, little flexibility, and quick parachutes.

Studies show those >50 stay longer than those under <40, are more productive, have better improvisational skills and flexibility, and are likelier to bring success.

Forget headhunters.  Do your own search.  Hire someone better than you.

Nonprofit Arts Boards: Sustainability Does Not Equal Survival – Sometimes, it’s Best to Close Up Shop

Laughing republicans

Simplistically speaking, charities are like scientific experiments — unemotional methods to gain insight.

Sometimes, we make conclusions based on these experiments with the bias of survival as a sustaining strategy.

In nonprofit arts organizations, boards often conclude that their organization should last for some version of forever.  It’s the biggest mistake a nonprofit arts organization board can make.

Sometimes, it’s time to close, not out of failure, but out of symptoms/findings:

  • Chasing dollars with dollars
  • Last-ditch “give us a million by next month or we’ll go out of business” campaigns
  • Capital campaigns that mask company debt
  • Doing off-mission work that “pays for” the mission-oriented work
  • Unwritten HR policies that permanently institutionalize attrition
  • No quantifiable proof of external impact

Boards – no shame to close an organization when findings lead you to that conclusion, even when your finances are sound.

Confusing the Messenger with the Message: Artistic Direction Fulfills the Arts Organization (Not Vice-Versa)

chefs

Being a great director has little to do with being a great artistic director.

Directors direct projects.  Artistic directors use a collection of projects to fulfill a mission that serves a community.  These are completely separate skills.

ADs who direct some projects for their own company risk treating those projects as precious.  Too often, they break rules for their project (organizational mission, budget, marketing, etc.) that they would never allow an “outside” director to break.

And in too many cases, when the identity of a nonprofit arts organization is too closely entangled with the vision of an artistic director, the organization’s brand is that much more difficult to recuperate when inevitable leadership change occurs.

After all, succession is not merely an artistic director handpicking a successor, is it?  A company is greater than any individual leader, right?

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