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Knowing I would reference a recent blog from Butts In Seats – Musings on practical solutions for Arts Management sometime in the near future, I had set aside Are You Running Your Arts Org According To A 19th Century Social Movement.

You see, it is prime selling season for us here at Onstage Publications for our Program Book Management System. This is the time of year where performing arts organizations are starting to wind down their current season. I’m hoping to catch these performing arts organizations while the pure agony of producing their own program books in-house is still fresh on their minds. I’ve got tons of notes in my CRM from previous calls, so I can confidently ask how their program book season went. And I’ve established good enough relationships with a lot of the leading performing arts organizations that we can have frank conversations about their program books.

But yet, there are always the few performing arts organizations that continuously tell me that they are going to keep “doing things the way they’ve always done” or they continue to take the stance of “if it ain’t broke…”  And this is where Are You Running Your Arts Org According To A 19th Century Social Movement comes in.

Joe Patti so eloquently puts it in this blog “even though non-profits have proven to be very resilient, you can see how trying to serve the different impulses can result in a hodgepodge approach that may rob the organization of its effectiveness.” With the impulses he’s referring to being volunteerism, professionalism, civic activism, and commercialism. Joe Patti goes on that “the general consensus is probably that non-profit arts organizations fall short of having the discipline to adapt to changing environments and maintain commercial success.” And finally, “often increased funding/revenue means the ability to expand access while maintaining the same profit/loss balance (or defraying some of the existing deficit.) That is an outgrowth of the four impulses.

I love the line trying to serve the different impulses can result in a hodgepodge approach. You see, in the for profit world, well run organizations know their weaknesses and adapt accordingly. They either find another business that specializes in their weakness and outsource that particular function to them, or if they are large enough, they hire the right person or person’s that specialize in the weakness. What I got out of Joe Patti’s blog is that if a performing arts organization starts looking at their weaknesses and approaching them differently, they might have a better chance of being even more successful than they are or think they are.

I actually wrote about this in another blog Focus Your Attention And Energy On The Stuff That Matters! In this blog, I referenced the great video series that was done by Lowell Noteboom that was presented by The League of American Orchestras a couple years ago. The take away from this series is that performing arts organizations need to:

  1. Get the right people on the bus, with everyone in the right seats.
  2. Foster a culture of discipline, with disciplined leaders, thought and action.
  3. Focus your energy and attention on the stuff that really matters.

And as I tried to make the argument in that blog, I will argue it again in this one—is publishing your own program books in-house really a focus of a performing arts organization? Now, I know this is a bit of a conceited view, especially since my company, Onstage Publications, specializes in performing arts program book management. But it doesn’t have to stop here. Do performing arts organizations really need an in-house (fill in the blank) if it truly is not their main core? In my view, the function of a performing arts organization is to do what they do best—put on live performances.

So I ask, are you running your arts organization according to a 19th century social movement, trying to appease all four impulses and having a hodgepodge organization? Or are you running it according to the current times and recognizing your weaknesses, and having a cutting edge, leading the industry performing arts organization? Good selling!

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