Faithful blog reader Drew McManus had a bone to pick with me about my most recent post, that questioned whether cultural facilities behave as assets (as they are booked) or as liabilities. I’m hoping other will join the argument, as well. With his permission, I quote:
Actually, I think you are wrong. A building is not a liability in the sense that it should be managed in such as way as to create either breakeven income or a profit. The problem with many of the larger capital projects is that there is no single owner, rather a foundation or arts consortium. This leads to no clear mission. I’ll look at one of my local examples: the Myerhoff, in Baltimore. The symphony ‘owns’ the hall (not like Pittsburgh, but the symphony management hires the hall management). Therefore, they book renters in addition to the BSO in order to bring in additional income. This results in the facility as an asset. But like any building owned/operated by a nonprofit or for-profit, they have to manage the facility well enough to cover costs. I believe it ties in a great deal to how poorly orchestra’s do in bringing in new audiences. They are seemingly just as incapable to draw audience participation for other non orchestra acts.
I’m a big proponent that a primary tenant must also operate the hall in which they perform. The two management teams must come under the auspices of a single board and the income from ancillary renters must focus on supporting the primary tenant. Without that, then you are correct, a hall is a liability. Perhaps it’s a better observation of bad management vs. good management.
So says Drew, what do the rest of you think?