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From Wall Street Journal: High-culture attendance numbers have been shrinking for more than a decade. Even the New York City Opera wasn’t too big to fail. But here’s a thought: Could it be that some of these institutions should disappear?
From NY Times: A century or so ago, when classical music thrived in a nation of immigrants, orchestras were a powerful force, flagship institutions that helped to put American cities on the cultural map. And the Big Five, when it coalesced, helped, with its cumulative weight, to put American orchestras firmly on the international map. No other country could boast of such a constellation.
But this landscape has changed greatly over the last half-century, much as the country’s economic, demographic and cultural landscape has, and in many of the same ways. The economic fortunes of the flagship ensembles have changed with the fortunes of their cities.
From Huffington Post: I am always amused (disturbed?) when someone attached to a not-for-profit arts organization (usually a board or staff member) rationalizes an annual deficit with: “Every opera company/symphony/ballet company has a deficit.”
Tell that to the Oregon Symphony, which has been in the black two years in a row. As reported in an illuminating article by Anne Adams in the Portland Monthly, the Symphony earned a surplus of over $190,000 on an annual budget of $13.9 million during the 2010/11 season.
From Michael Kaiser at Huffington Post: I have witnessed financial meltdowns of so many arts organization and can only imagine the scene in the board room: Typically different factions emerge. There are the ‘arts lovers’ who worry for the health and happiness of the musicians and the quality of the orchestra. This group is passionate about the mission of the orchestra; they argue that more money must be found for the symphony and that any diminution in number of musicians or their salaries will result in an unacceptable reduction in quality. Unfortunately, this group typically has the fewest resources to contribute which reduces their power in board room discussions.
From Doug Borwick, Director of Arts Management at Salem College: The arts began as collective activity around the campfire, expressions of community. In a very real sense, the community owned that expression. Over time, with increasing specialization of labor, the arts– especially Western “high arts”– became distanced from the community. Today the survival of established arts organizations hinges on their ability to shorten that distance. Engagement is important; engaging matters.
In honor of Theater Communications Group’s 50th Anniversary, the performing arts service organization solicited “what if” manifestos for their upcoming annual conference. This “What if” is pointed in the direction of the the non-profit business model by asking what would happen if resident theaters abandoned up their non-profit status.
There are no crises in the arts – there are crises in arts organizations as they are currently constructed. Audiences are not shrinking, they are growing, but they are not necessarily interested in consuming all the art our member organizations produce. Between 1970 and 2010, the number of arts organizations grew from 2,700 to 27,000 but the number of people funding them, and attending their events, did not grow at all. In this keynote address delivered at the joint annual conferences of Chorus America and The League of American Orchestras, Russell Willis Taylor, President and CEO of National Arts Strategies, explores the extraordinary opportunities that arts organizations have today.
From Andrew Taylor: Too many of our current discussions about new business models and funding structures for arts and culture take it as a given that the organization is the appropriate frame of reference. How can we make arts organizations more vital, more responsive, more sustainable? As if the organization is some universal unit of measure, and always the best unit for understanding and advancing positive change.
In fact, the idea of an organization is a fiction — a useful fiction to be sure, but a fiction nonetheless. It’s a group of resources and people, bound by contract or other agreement, and credentialed by a web of city, state, Federal, and common law. Organizations evolved to solve a particular set of problems. And even though the problem set has changed, our organizational bias remains.