I have many favorite business writers: Daniel Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, Jane McGonigal, Jim Collins, to name a few. But at these moments of strikes and closures in the performing arts industry (primarily Operas and Symphonies at this moment in time), I hearken back to an old favorite: WHO MOVED MY CHEESE by Drs. Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard.
I have been teaching arts management since the fall of our survival of Y2K and have worked in the industry well before that. The tropes or myths of the dying arts field has echoed throughout my 20 year career. I believe that the arts are still very much alive, but their (1970s-esque?) institutions are suffering. The organization lifecycle issues demonstrated in the cartoons of WHO MOVED MY CHEESE is comic evidence of why Jim Collins’ models of success in GOOD TO GREAT work. Leaders and well meaning Boards of Directors for the arts seem to forget that they are running a business that abides by these same frameworks.
a) Adapting to change is critical for business success
b) Level 5 leadership is necessary for third-sector (really all sector) greatness
c) Businesses must have the “right people on the bus” — not your best friend, not someone who “knows the industry,” but people with the passion and the skills to move the organization forward
d) Organizations must understand their multiple constituents varied needs and wants
e) Each organizations must know its unique business model: what is the economic driver? its mission-critical programs, etc. (your flywheel and your hedgehog per Jim Collins)
f) Leaders must model a “stop doing” or “don’t do” list of personal work and organization programs. This is critical to prevent the slow decay created through continual institutional isomorphism
High-quality, exciting, engaging work that connects to the community will feed an arts organization’s psychic energy and economic coffers. For some, that might include a simulcast or it crowdsourcing content for an upcoming program. For others, it might be taking the art to the street without a technological intervention or creating one-to-one relationships via peer-to-peer engagement as demonstrated at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Organizations embracing these practices are succeeding across the United States. EMC Arts celebrates and supports these changes through their programs and each disciplines’ support associations share their successes in their news.
Looking for an arts management text to walk through the best practices? Michael Kaiser and Brett Egan’s THE CYCLE: A PRACTICAL APPROACH TO MANAGING ARTS ORGANIZATIONS provides a model that meets these frameworks regardless of size or mission. It has some pervasive underlying assumptions (definitions of family are broad but examples belie the urban wealthy arts supporter) but its frameworks are sound.
Regardless, it is important to note that ALL organizations go through a standard business lifecycle.
Change allows programs and organizations to evolve and lifecycle dynamics reveal the findings of Jim Collins’ work. He demonstrates with data that very few organizations maintain vibrancy across a period of time of even 10 years.
There is no shame in cutting budgets or rethinking programs. Without evaluation and adaptation organizations are producing the same thing over and over and wondering where everyone has gone. Over 70% of Americans believe in the importance of the arts, so arts organizations need to adapt to their current circumstances and move forward with their passions showing. In many ways, arts organizations in particular should embody the work of a strong start-up culture and continually build, measure, learn, repeat. But that argument is a post for another day.