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Arts in Crisis? It’s All in the Planning

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The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced in 2009 a program called Arts in Crisis: A Kennedy Center Initiative, which is designed to provide emergency planning assistance to struggling arts organizations throughout the United States. It is a response to the emergency facing arts organizations today due to the economic climate that has reduced earned and contributed income, decimated endowments and has left some organizations struggling for survival. Companies of all sizes, localities and performing arts disciplines have been affected. In conjunction, the center’s president, Michael Kaiser, who has been dubbed “The Turnaround King,” spoke at Kingsbury Hall, July 15, winding down a 69-city nationwide tour sharing his expertise in arts management.

Kaiser’s philosophy on arts management is simple but structurally different than that of most arts organizations. He said that fund raising is not the first or upmost important factor in running a successful nonprofit arts company; more importantly is making exciting and interesting art, and then marketing it “really aggressively.”

The trend across the nation today is that arts organizations are in fiscal crisis and “their first response is to say ‘Hey, let’s cut programming’ or ‘let’s cut down on marketing.” “But when you do that, your institutional family — your subscribers, your contributors — begin to look elsewhere,” said Kaiser.

Kaiser also stresses to these struggling arts companies to plan their programs, or seasons, five years in advance. In doing so, their institutional family will grow and will remain faithful. “Stay relevant, take risks and follow the audience,” said Kaiser. “Expect failure and budget for it.”

Kaiser also believes talking about what your organization can offer and planning joint ventures with other companies will help sustain a healthy future.

The cuts in arts education in schools across the nation is also a big concern, according to Kaiser. “There is no systematic arts education in our schools, and if there is, it’s not consistent,” he said. The future of arts audiences is threatened because the interest is lost at a young age and could possibly never peak in adulthood.

The Arts in Crisis initiative is open to non-profit 501(c)(3) performing arts organizations, and will provide free and confidential counsel in fund raising, building more effective Boards of Trustees, budgeting, marketing and other areas pertinent to maintaining a vital performing arts organization. Companies that would like to participate should visit and submit an online request.

The initiative will also enable senior arts managers across the United States to volunteer to serve as mentors to other arts organizations. “There are many talented arts administrators around the country, and we encourage them to lend their expertise,” says Kaiser. “If all of us work together, we can turn a time of crisis into a time of opportunity.”

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