The act of creating art involves risk, experimentation, and learning. There are no right answers, just vision, creativity, expression, and in some cases, connection. In arts management, the same applies. There are no right answers to the business of the arts. And yet, many of the artists, arts managers, and boards seeking our help appear to be looking for the magic formula that makes everything OK, that makes everything easy and keeps it going that way so we can focus on the fun stuff -- the art.
The truth is that today, those who lead and produce art face rising costs, dwindling resources, and no guarantee of donations or loyalty. It is harder than ever to run a successful arts organization. Fundraising does not get easier or go away, and boards will always be comprised of incredible but busy individuals who volunteer their time. Plus, the speed of change in our environment is also now accelerating at a rate much more rapid than any we could possibly match. Instead of becoming fearful, nostalgic, or looking for the right, short-term answers, arts organizations and boards should make sure that:
Step 1. The core artistic product is solid and high quality. Just as many successful businesses commit to product research and development, not enough arts organizations are paying enough attention to their most valuable, marketable asset: transformative art.
Step 2. There is a clear, unified vision for the art and where it goes from here. When pitching to new investors, savvy businesses owners present a concrete set of benchmarks and outcomes that justify the investment. Not enough arts groups have a clear enough sense of what problem they are uniquely solving, why that matters, and what they want to accomplish in the future. Passion is important, but the best donors also want to know details about the longer-term vision before buying in.
Step 3: There is a realistic, actionable plan in place. Too many arts groups have a plan, but it sits on a shelf. This is either because the plan is out of scale or scope with the capacity of the organization, the goals are unrealistic or rely too heavily on forces beyond the group’s control, or the plan isn’t being managed properly or regularly. What a waste of time!
So if a right answer is needed: the art must be exceptional. Everything flows from there.